Kesha, The Rapper: A Look Back At The Singer’s Flirtation With Hip-Hop

by | PopCrush
iHeartRadio Music Festival - Day 2 - Show Kesha
Ethan Miller, Getty Images

Before she dropped the dollar sign, before bravely exorcising her inner demons in the public eye, and before the increasingly messy legal dispute with longtime producer Dr. Luke, there was Ke$ha, the gold toothed, glitter-drenched girl with a penchant for Jack Daniels and beards.

Following the slow-burn success of “Tik Tok” — which took several months to climb at radio before becoming the inescapable hit it was — Kesha became America’s premiere trash-pop princess, supplying irreverent, sweat-soaked anthems like “Blah Blah Blah” and “Your Love Is My Drug,” best consumed at college ragers and dingy dive bars.

But with her uniquely Kesha-fied speak-sung drawl, the singer earned a more unlikely reputation…as a rapper.

Back in 2009, when “Tik Tok” was still breaking at radio and the public was hearing her name (and seeing that dollar sign) for the first time, the New York Times carefully considered Kesha’s fence-straddling sound in a piece called Changing the Face (and Sound) of Rap, in which a variety of label executives and producers weighed in on whether Kesha was indeed a new ambassador of the “white-girl rap thing.” (Dr. Luke’s words — not mine.)

She mostly shrugged off the association at the time: “I love the Beastie Boys — that’s probably why ‘TiK ToK’ happened,” she explained. “Rap in general has never been my steez, but I like it.”

VIBE Kesha

Even still, the distinction would follow K$ for years as she continued to infuse her music with hip-hop beats and her signature cocky flow, including Cannibal‘s speaker-knocking “Sleazy” and Warrior‘s unapologetic rebel anthem, “Crazy Kids.”

Three years ago, VIBE placed the “We R Who We R” singer on the cover of their October/November 2012 issue, labeling her “Hip-Hop’s Guilty Pleasure.” It was a historic move, too: She is the first living white woman to land a solo VIBE cover.

“The first time someone called me a rapper, I started laughing,” she told the magazine. “But then, Andre 3000 was telling me how he thinks I’m a good rapper. And Wiz, who’s a good friend of mine, thinks I’m a good rapper? Snoop? It’s crazy and funny to me.”

In a time when Iggy Azalea‘s “authenticity” is hotly contested as it is celebrated — she just won the Billboard Music Award for Best Rap Song amid serious allegations of cultural appropriation earlier this year from acts like J. Cole and Azealia Banks — it’s interesting to compare the largely hostile response to I-G-G-Y in 2015 with the amused, if not welcoming reaction to Kesha’s occasional hip-hop posturing just a few years prior.

Whether because of her entirely unserious attitude about becoming a contender in the rap game or (hopefully!) because of her talent, the K-e-dollar sign-ha backlash never went beyond the typical “This is Top 40 garbage!” gripe.

The singer has since shown even more sonic diversity since her debut, from the glam rock “cock pop” shtick on cuts like Warrior‘s “Gold Trans Am” to serious-face acoustic singer-songwriterdom with “Love Into The Light” and “The Harold Song,” proving that she is, in fact, a genuinely great singer.

But, let us never forget: There was a time when Kesha was considered (and possibly still is?) a kinda-sorta rap-pop princess.

And now, some of her best rap moments:

“Slow Motion,” a pre-fame demo from the Animal sessions, samples Juvenile and Soulja Slim’s track of the same name, features Three 6 Mafia and positions Kesha as a deliciously cocky, empowered woman on top — in every sense of the word. (That the song was never released remains a criminal decision to this day.)

Cannibal‘s “Sleazy” is probably Kesha’s most straightforward hip-hop foray, as she flips off rich dudes left and right across a Bangladesh-produced beat so phat, it’s gonna make her come…over to your place, that is. The fiercest lyric slaps us across the face right off the bat: “You can’t imagine the immensity of the fuck I’m not giving.” Andre 3000, Wiz Khalifa, T.I. and Lil Wayne all jumped on a mega-remix months later.

Warrior fell below the radar pretty quickly, but not before Kesha served up an in-your-face IDGAF #RebelHeart anthem. “Your homegirl hatin’, I say who she? / Ke$ha don’t give two fucks, I came to start the ruckus,” she proudly brags. Deuces.

The song that started it all, which elevated her to rapper status within certain circles. In retrospect, she really did bite that electro-rap Uffie sound hard, no? Whatever. She evolved.

And she’s only just begun having her fun: While out on the road this year, Kesha’s been taking on her Pitbull collaboration “Timber” solo, proving herself more than capable to fill in for the bulge-y Latino with her own spitfire verse. In just 15 seconds or so, she effectively shuts down at least a few careers.

Next: Kesha Covers The Beach Boys' 'California Girls'