The first time I met Nicci St. Bruce—or Push Push as she’s known in her musical incarnation—I hated her. A lot of people do. That’s what happens when if you’re a brash, stylish woman who owns her shit: you’re polarizing. But it’s taken some time to find out just what exactly that shit is.
The petite Greek has been a music lover from a young age, but it took years to build the confidence to clamber on stage herself. Growing up in the small coastal town of Port Elizabeth, St. Bruce “played every instrument and did every type of dance.” Her passion for performing continued when she moved to Cape Town at 16 and took up music lessons. Nicci dreamed of studying music theater but self doubt got in the way. “I sound like Fran Drescher from Port Elizabeth.” So instead, she went into fashion, then law, then blogging for Bitches Must Know (now reimagined as They Know). Her first time making music was with the rap crew Oh! Dark Arrow before finally venturing on her own. In the meantime, St. Bruce has been a stripper, a presenter, a model as well a host of other modern job titles that wouldn’t exist without the internet. Basically, she’s been busy.
Since Oh! Dark Arrow’s demise, Push Push has put out a two track EP with Thor Rixon that somehow got onto Broad City. That’s a wild accomplishment for an artist based in Africa’s most southern tip. Now Push Push and Rixon have teamed up again, this time with the Zulu Michael Jackson, Okmalumkoolkat and "Bury Me with Diamonds"—premiering below—is unlike anything you’ve ever heard before. I dare you to try and say “this sounds like ___” because you’re wrong. It’s a charismatic combination of Okmalumkoolkat’s obscure references (Young Bruce Fordyce, I go for the win), her ferocity, and Rixon’s wacky, elastic sonics that make for a unique listening experience. On the brink of this killer single, we chatted with Push Push about the song, stripping, blogging, fashion and catching shade online.
Noisey: When I first met you you were a part of an influential blog here called Bitches Must Know. How did you go from blogging about rap and street culture to actually rapping with Oh! Dark Arrow and on your own?
Nicci St. Bruce: I was writing about music and getting so excited about putting South African artists on the blog, and one day I just got tired of telling other people's stories, you know? Like why am I sitting here writing about Okmalumkoolkat when I should be out there on a song with Okmalumkoolkat?
How'd you get the confidence to do it though and what made you think you could? Have you always been musical?
My family isn't musical at all and I didn't have music around the house growing up. I was unbearably ADHD though and my mother signed me up for a bunch of lessons after school to tire me out so that when I came home from school I wouldn't tear the house down. So I ended playing a bunch of different instruments and using them in songwriting growing up. People who knew me always knew that music was important for me, but I never really thought I could show other people because at any given moment I was reeling with anxiety and self-loathing. It was only in my teens that I thought I could let that go when I started listening to artists like Watkin Tudor Jones/Max Normal who was so unashamedly South African. He made me feel like if he could get up there and rap in this accent and just be himself, then so could I. A few years later at the last ever Max Normal TV show (before they became Die Antwoord) I got called up to rap onstage with them for a track and when it was over I felt like "shit I can really do this."
How has Cape Town treated you as a relatively new female rapper? Has your online “fame” been a help or a hindrance? I’ve seen you catch some hectic shade but at the same time people talk shit online all the time, but it has no effect IRL.
It's been a bit of both to be honest. It's mostly only in my own city that I get thrown shade, which is sad but inevitable in a small creative environment. Sometimes it feels like Cape Town is too tiny for everyone to do well at once. I'm all about supporting fellow artists and even though some of my peers might not make music that I dance to in my bedroom, I still get so hyped that so much gold is coming out of this country musically. People are always going to talk smack about me but I get it, because I do a lot of questionable shit. I understand that most people don't get where I'm coming from, but I can only hope that one day they’ll either catch on or fuck off. Get with it or get hit with it.
You studied fashion for a bit but dropped out. Was the industry not what you hoped it would be?
I was really confused at the time about what I wanted to do with my life. I mean, I knew what I really wanted to do, which was originally musical theater, but I had a kind of weird, distinctive voice that would just never have been adaptable enough to play so many different characters on stage. So I pussied out and did the next best thing that appealed to me. I thought it was fashion, because I liked clothes and I liked gold things, but I quickly realized that I was sailing down the wrong river. Fashion school is the place where all actual crazy humans go to die in a bunch of Truworths offcuts.
What influences your style now and how important are aesthetics when it comes to your music?
I can't really say I have a distinct style these days. Aesthetics are important to me, but style isn't something I really think about or focus too much on. I'm way too all over the place to have a key "look." Just like I'm way too all over the place to have a distinct "sound."
You were a stripper for a while and when it eventually came out after you stopped, it created quite a stir. How'd you get into it?
It was a really fucked up time to be honest. I had just gotten back from New York and had pawned all my gold for cash to get there and I needed to buy it back ASAP. At the same time, ODA was on hiatus after we had to admit Disco [her bandmate] to hospital after a psychotic episode where he'd gone missing before our last ever show. Every private rehab we went to wanted at least 35k upfront. Obviously none of us had that kind of money lying around and I'd heard that I could make that in a week stripping and get my gold back. I emailed the only strip club I'd ever been to and went for an interview that same night.
How comparable is being on stage as a rapper and as a stripper? Stripping is often one on one but when you're rapping you're having to connect with a larger audience.
When I'm onstage as an artist, I'm with the audience, I'm on their level. I feed off of their energy and it reflects on my next move and especially impacts my delivery. I love to single out the motherfucker standing at the back and look into his eyes and rap the fuck out of the verse till the point where he cannot look me in the eye any longer. When I'm dancing onstage as a stripper it's so different. Before I was a stripper, I used to assume the girls were dancing to seduce customers, or to hold their attention, but it's completely the opposite. I can only talk about what I've experienced, but from what I've seen, the girls aren't dancing for you. Whether you (the customer) are there or not makes no difference. When I'm dancing, I'm not with the audience. I'm in my zone. I'm not looking at you. If I'm looking at anyone, it's the new girl in the club, and I'm looking at her to let her know that if I can do this, she can do this.
Do your family know you rap and strip? How do they feel about your lifestyle?
Mostly they think I’m really strange. I have an insanely amazing mother who has always supported me no matter what crazy shit I get into. My mom is the best person that ever lived and I’m not just saying that because she’s my mom. She is this tiny Greek woman who definitely does not get what I do but I think she’s come to terms with that and now just gets who I am as a person. My family are Greek Orthodox and obviously hearing that their first born daughter was a stripper wasn't their favorite news of the year, but they've still got my back when it comes to following the dream.
The song we're premiering today is produced by Thor Rixon and features yourself and Okmalumkoolkat. How'd the three of you come together?
Thor produced a couple of tracks of mine that ended up in season 2 of Broad City, and Smiso I've known for a while and always looked up to as an artist. At some point this year we were all in Thor's bedroom, I think there was some sort of gathering happening at his house, and we just got on the mic to this beat. It sat on Thor's laptop for quite a while until he found it again, actually.
What was it like working working with Thor and Malum? They're both arty dudes who are both known for being at the forefront of experimentation, was there any pressure and how do you like the finished product?
Working with Thor is always a good vibe because he is the most unpredictable producer. I am terribly stubborn with 99 percent of the universe but when Thor throws me a challenge I accept it willingly, knowing that while I may feel uncomfortable working outside of my comfort zone, the end result will always be worth it. To work with Malum was a bit of a doozie for me in the way that, while we've been friends for some years, I am also a huge fangirl of his and to balance the two without looking and sounding like a giant dork isn't easy. His music is one of the reasons that I grew to be comfortable with who I am as an artist and so to be on a track with him feels like a moment for me.
You're heading to New York again. How long are you going for and what's the plan once you get there?
I'm taking a couple of months to make some new stuff, remove myself from what I know and just throw myself into the deep end a bit.
Lastly, how the fuck did you get your tracks on Broad City?
Because the internet is crazy, man.