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  • Urb Feature 2003 (with Peaches)

    Can't Touch This: Sex-rap sisters Peaches and Princess Superstar personify a very new feminism, arming themselves with a sharp wit, a dope beat and a dirty mind. Unafraid to get real on race, rap and religion, these sonic goddesses prove there's real power in the pussy.

    Around 4 on a winter afternoon in NYC, Peaches steps into her publicist's loft space. She's just flown in from Miami after the last show of her recent nationwide tour and she looks like she hasn't showered in three days. She wears a navy blue aviator's jumpsuit that inexplicably reads "Arkansas Children's Hospital Angel Flight."

    Peaches grew up in suburban Toronto and now lives in Berlin, but she speaks with something close to a San Fernando Valley, CA, accent, lilting her words and saying "like" and "you know" a lot. She talks fast, with all the impatience of someone who has not waited for things to happen. She gets distracted even more quickly.

    "The people I'm staying with here really like to get drunk and party," Peaches explains, "and I didn't know this, but last night someone used my toothbrush to puke," she says. "So I put my toothbrush in my mouth this morning and I'm like, "Hey, somebody stuck my toothbrush up their ass!"

    The Miseducation of Merrill Nisker

    Peaches' 2001 debut album, The Teaches of Peaches, was an instant critical success. Before that, however, her career was hardly taking off. For a decade before Teaches, Peaches led a double life: By day she was Merrill Nisker (her real name), music and drama teacher for young children ("I started teaching because I was dissatisfied with my own schooling with creativity, and because kids have pure creativity, with no sexual motives"); by night, she was living out of her car and playing rock shows all over Toronto.

    After starting a folk band called Mermaid Café (named after a Joni Mitchell song) and trying avant-jazz with another outfit called Fancypants Hoodlum, Peaches hooked up with MC "Chilly" Gonzales and fellow Canadian Mocky (both jazz- trained musicians) and Ontario-based heavy-metal queen Sticky. Together, they formed an experimental guitar outfit called The Shit. "We weren't literally sleeping together - we were just writing about it," says Peaches, "which made things more interesting." Gonzales moved to Berlin, and when Peaches visited him there, she performed an impromptu show. Unbeknownst to her, a label rep from Kitty-Yo was there. She was signed on the spot.

    Teaches snapped critics to attention as much for its gritty, electro synth-pop, noisy guitar rock and rap fusions as for Peaches' cocksure, trash-talking image. Ever since the album's 2001 release, Peaches has been on the road touring. "People are still diggin' it and I want to get it out there. I'll tour it for four years. I'll be shameless," she says.

    Like most rockers, Peaches feels the pulse of rock & roll most keenly on the road: the excitement of an uncertain stage and playing to new audiences in strange cities. Last summer, Peaches opened for two rock bands, Queens of the Stone Age and . . . And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead. "Both bands were so nice," she says. "It felt great to have rock bands respect me and not just be like {adopts a mountain-man voice], 'Hey, we have some pussy on the tour.' I was a rock & roller and they recognized that. Which was important, because I'm getting caught up in this 'electro' title. What people don't realize is that I only made Teaches electronically 'cause there was nobody else to play music with."

    So did rock audiences buy it? "Half of them loved it, and half of them were like, 'Get the fuck off the stage, gay man!' Giving me the finger the whole show," she says. "Two men in Denver turned their back on me in protest on me the entire time, but that really helped me with my heckling skills. I got to cut down those meatheads right there. They'd be like, 'Get off the stage'.' And I'd be like, 'Get on the stage! You're the sucker- I'm gettin' paid!' Or they'd say, 'You suck!' And I'd be like, 'Yeah, and I swallow too!"'

    Peaches later played Larry Tee's Electroclash tour, where she was "the virtual Van Halen of the show," she says, grinning. She waves my tape recorder around carelessly, like she's back on stage. "It's really amazing how much rock presence I can get out of a stage and a microphone."

    URB: Does it piss you off that women in music have to be sexy just to be heard?
    Peaches: I played with the Strokes for an NME showcase and the headline read "Grandma, You're Scaring the Kids."

    URB: What does that mean?
    Peaches: It means, "Bitch, you're old, get off the stage and let the cute boys play their rock & roll." {laughs] Now I'm No. 20 on their list of the "50 Coolest People in the World." See? All the angles are wrong.

    Peaches is rock & roll. Which is to say she isn't sexed up like teen pop queens Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears or glammed to the teeth like hip-hop divas. She's grungy, unkempt and totally unrepentant. She personifies what you'd hope a punk rocker would be: a true rebel. Her lowbrow breed of punk electronic music might not be everyone's thing, but she delivers her performances with such conviction that it's hard not to be moved, if only by her sheer nerve.

    Princess Superstar, who Peaches recalls "was big" in Toronto, became one of Peaches' idols. "Princess Superstar was a huge influence on me," she remembers. "I met her eight years ago. I was like, 'Let's play together sometime!' Then Princess asked me to booty dance on her while she was singing 'Fuck Me on the Dancefloor' at the Electroclash opening party. I licked her belly and fell in love."

    As it turned out, Princess Superstar was never really that far away. Before Peaches left for Berlin, some of her students' parents asked her whether she would continue teaching their kids next term. "I explained that I couldn't because I was moving to Europe to get my musical career going. One morn asked me, 'What kind of music do you do?' And I'm thinking, how do I explain this to a mother? So I said. 'Well, I guess I'm a punk-rock-rapper person.' And she's like, 'Really? What do you sing about?' Meanwhile, I'm teaching her kid music and I have no idea what to say. Finally I just said, 'Well, like, urn, sex.' She's like, 'Oh, I know all about that! My cousin is Princess Superstar!'"

    We Got Panache

    On a freezing winter's night in Manhattan's East Village, Princess Superstar strides into Acquiloni, a small, smoky cafe that offers things like "Italian Crepes" on its menu. She cuts a sleek figure: platinum-blond hair recently cropped short, dark rock-star eyeliner and delicate, pink, heart-shaped lips. From her "Princess Superstar" cursive gold chain to her fluffy caramel-colored fur coat, she looks like a perfect Gotham vision - except for her wide, generous smile.

    Over some frothy lattes, Princess laughs loud and guffaws often, her voice resonating with the kind of self-assurance that comes from following your gut despite bad apartments and small paychecks. Like Peaches, Princess Superstar writes and produces her own cuts. Unlike Peaches, she also owns all of her own tracks, retaining an artistic control that is virtually nonexistent for young musicians.

    "I worked for the Financial Women's Association, and they encouraged me to start my own business, which I did in '97," she says. (Her label, previously named A Big Rich Major Label and then re-dubbed the Corrupt Conglomerate, has licensed all of Princess' work to !K7 and Rapster since her first album, the now out-of-print Strictly Platinum.) Her next full-length is slated for release in about a year. Junior Sanchez and electro legend Arthur Baker have already signed on. "It'll be more dance-y, like house but with hip-hop beats," she says.

    All of Princess Superstar's albums (especially her last two projects, The Last of the Great 20th Century Composers and Princess Superstar Is) drew an overwhelmingly positive critical response with their heady mix of deft rhymes and cutting, self-deprecating lyrical humor. In a unique happenstance, the Princess (herself once a journalist for Jane, Citysearch and the now-defunct Sleazenation) jump-started her career directly from the press. "CMJ actually gave me my big break because they wrote about my demo tape in their 'Futures' section, and [they] printed my home phone number," she recalls. "Suddenly, all these major labels were calling me." In another fortuitous media hook-up, Princess' newest MC, 7even, contacted her after reading about her in URB magazine. "In a way, the power of the press has really kept me going," she muses. "When you're broke and you're not really selling a lot of records and you think that nobody cares, it's nice to know that somebody thinks you're a genius."

    URB: Isn't a white woman rapping still considered a novelty act?
    Princess Superstar: You'd think that because I do so many different things it would erase the novelty factor. It's like, I'm rhyming, I'm singing, I'm playing instruments and I'm DJing. What kind of novelty does all that? I'm not Weird Al Yankovic! I'm a woman, I have a sexy image but I also use humor in my music. But it's easy for people to push me into the novelty category.

    URB: Do you remember some of your very first rhymes?
    Princess Superstar: Yeah. They were really bad: "Fried chicken/that's in a bucket/a side of coleslaw and I slurp it and suck it." Or "I'm white and I'm from Pennsylvania/I don't have no goals and I don't have a pager."

    URB: Part of you seems suburban, like your track "Bad Babysitter." Some would say you're not all that legit.
    Princess Superstar: When I was 3, we were on food stamps and I was in Spanish Harlem. So it's like, oh, that's legit. Then I moved to suburban Pennsylvania, and that's not exactly the hood. I don't fucking give a shit either way, because all that's ridiculous. I can see if I was trying to be hard, if I was comin' out like, "Yo motherfuckers, I was poor, aiiight!" But I don't play those games. I just make my music.

    URB: You've always been strictly indie, but some tracks, like "I Love You," seem MTY-ready. Would you ever work with a boy band like 'NSync?
    Princess Superstar: Hell no! {laughs loudly] You know what pisses me off? I've been to two hip parties where people are playing that Justin Timberlake song. And it's like, what is wrong with everybody? Just because the Neptunes produced it doesn't mean it's good music! It's still that guy from 'NSync! He's not cool! I think that the world is losing its punk-rock integrity.

    URB: When she's 80 years old, Peaches wants to start up a rock band called the Cougars. Maybe you'd want to join?
    Princess Superstar: Hell yeah! I want to be the drummer! (laughs) I want to have all saggy arms and wrinkled skin and wear cut-off shirts and drum my ass off. I'll be 80 and all like, "Yeeaah!"

    These days, mainstream rap remains unquestionably a black medium. Following the path cut by the Beastie Boys, Eminem's commercial success has visibly challenged this status quo (Dr. Dre's weighty role in Slim Shady's career notwithstanding). Without what's generally accepted as "black-centric" lyrics or image, Princess Superstar has been dubbed, as she has mockingly notes in one of her own tracks, "the female Eminem." Of course, the hasty comparison doesn't altogether work. Princess Superstar's raps don't punch with the same aggro force as Marshall Mathers' do: After all, suburban Pennsylvania (and even NYC's East Village) ain't Detroit. Her lyrics don't drop Em's gratuitous anger, either. "Of course I'm white and I have blond hair--just like Eminem," she drawls sarcastically. "People started calling me that after 'Bad Babysitter,' which I suppose could be considered an Eminem-like song, because it's funny and I'm rapping fast. Even though I've worked with some brilliant people like Curtis Curtis, I've never had a Dr. Dre to back me. I'm truly doing my own thing." (Check out the hilarious call to Eminem on her track "Welcome to My World" for evidence.)

    Former managers have offered interesting ideas about how to make Princess come across as more of a girl from the hood. "For my first album, I met with this one manager who was like, 'All this stuff is real cute that you're trying to do, but we really need to name you Cream and you're gonna be all in furs and you're gonna be like, I ain't trying to go to the ghetto, and by the way - my name is Cream, motherfucker!' I was like, thank you, bye-bye!"

    Besides, most of Princess Superstar's rhymes are about sex, not slanging in the streets.

    "There's nothing funnier to me than mixing sex and humor," she says. "Like that Black Sheep song 'Strobelight Ho,' where they're talking about seeing a fine girl from afar, but then it turns out it's just her silhouette in the strobe light and up close she's nasty.

    "My sexy image is more a reaction to the fact that I was a dork in high school," she says. "I was president of the Latin Club.,1 was a smart one. And smart didn't fly very well in Pennsylvania, so now I get to play dress-up." She smiles. "That's one thing I really like about Peaches. She'll do her whole hairy thing and push boundaries of what's considered sexy. She's great!

    "It's fucking awful that women in the music industry have to be sexy, though," she says, "especially when we have to look at guys like Fat Joe. Hello!"

    Hot Girls in Love

    URB: When you first met each other, were you what each other expected?
    Peaches: It was love at first sight.
    Princess Superstar: Even though I didn't know her music, I knew that her band was called The Shit. So I knew she must be really cool.

    URB: You're both white and Jewish. Do you think your backgrounds affected your music?
    Peaches: When I would come home from school, people would call me "dirty Jew" and throw stones at me. There was a Catholic school around the corner.
    Princess Superstar: That's terrible! Or did they mean "dirty" like "sexy"?
    Peaches: Maybe they did mean it that way, and that's why I became Peaches.

    On a wet, dismal day in the in the industrial area of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, it's quiet chaos inside the photographer's whitewashed loft. Peaches and Princess Superstar are busy primping. A bevy of artsy-looking people are running around and changing backgrounds, retouching makeup and choosing outfits. Somebody keeps hiding the photographer's stuffed toy dog under a rainbow wig, while Biggie Smalls floats on the stereo. The bright lights make it hotter than a heat lamp keeping fried chicken crispy.

    After the first wardrobe change, Peaches struts around in black panties that say "POPLIFE."

    Princess Superstar laughs. "I want to make underwear that says 'POLITE,"' she says. Princess Superstar is the picture of graciousness: Despite fashion stylists fidgeting over her nearly every second, she's extremely calm. Her right nipple keeps popping out of her outfit and her stiff, vertically sprayed hair could give the rafters a run for their money, but her poised manner is almost stately.

    Peaches is a total ham. She licks her unshaven armpit and leaps in front of the camera, her body and face so unabashedly hardcore that next to Princess Superstar, she's very much the naughty child. She grabs her crotch, and Princess does the same, although a bit more daintily.

    "This is our favorite pose onstage," Princess Superstar tells the photographer, smiling.

    "Yeah," says Peaches. Then, very earnestly, "We're not being funny here."

    Lips pouting and limbs draping over each other, the women's bad-ass expressions look well-rehearsed and automatic. The photographer wants more poses of Peaches on top of Princess. The shot looks hot, but Peaches gets up quickly. "I have bad knees," she says, waddling off duck-feet style, in a decidedly un-sexy manner.

    Occasionally in between takes, the women's thickly made-up faces break out into quick smiles, sticking out their tongues and speaking quietly behind turned hands and, for a moment, it's as if two small children are in front of the camera, giggling and whispering to each other, sharing the kind of secrets that only little girls can keep. Acting, as Peaches would say, like adult children, still chasing their pure creativity.

    Written by Janet Tzou, Photos by Howard Huang

     
    Article reprinted without permission.