“I Was The Tiger In The Cage:” An Interview with Hook

Mano Sundaresan speaks with the rising Riverside rapper about cultivating her style and fans wanting to spit in her mouth.
By    May 13, 2020

Photo by Gustavo Marinho

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Deep in the dungeon of a 19th century Troubadour mansion, beneath ruddy spires and ancient floorboards, Hook is standing on a plastic table delivering her gothic gospel. 20 bodies tornado into each other like Beyblades as she exhales the contents of past relationships and present anxieties. The raps spill from her gut and out of the speakers like sheets of magma.

One day, Hook will pack out venues much bigger and better than this one. But tonight’s circumstances may never be replicated. The basement in Northwest D.C. was converted to a communal space 18 months ago, and tonight, that space is home to the DMV underground, here to witness and meet a rising star from the opposite coast. There in the sweat and grime there’s Baby Sosa, the angel-voiced alien who has everyone trying to hit notes only she can reach. There’s WiFiGawd, looking immaculate as ever. There’s NAPPYNAPPA and The Khan and Moshpxt, the scene’s finest videographer. There are the Capitol Sound curators and there are writers and photographers who have turned their rabid fandom into a vocation. And then there are the shiny, wide-eyed faces I can’t attach names to but have seen in other dungeons across the District’s sprawl, religious disciples in search of their next miracle.

Flanked by her mentor and producer Nedarb, Hook delivers one of the wildest rap performances I’ve ever witnessed live. Pink braids jangling, she belts songs from her excellent new album Crashed My Car and the two tapes before it that register as slabs of melting concrete hurled at your face and body. Of course we know and sing along to all the choruses; they’re seared into your brain on first listen. “If I leave, I ain’t coming back!” “Walk in. Who is she. Not Hook. Wannabe.” And the dance moves! Atop that lemonade stand table, Hook stomps and spins and shimmies and pounds her fists, whipping out a decade’s worth of choreography like time hasn’t moved.

That night, we caught the Riverside, CA rapper in the perfect moment right before the floodgates opened: before the viral videos, the inevitable TikTok hit, the imminent stream of co-signs, the feature-length profiles. At least that was the story I was telling myself in the hours and days afterward. Up until then, 2020 was looking like a breakout year for Hook. In January, she dropped Crashed My Car with Nedarb, a staggering curb stomp of an album based on a real-life accident, boasting features from Zack Fox, Almighty Suspect, and Lerado.

Then came the ridiculous Pretty Bitty mixtape in February, her take on the Based Freestyle form, wherein she raps in her breathy, fragmented way over a slew of internet classics, ranging from Waka Flocka Flame’s “Snakes In The Grass” to Lil B and Soulja Boy’s “30 Thousand 100 Million.” Next was supposed to be Ily2hook, the follow-up to her smear of lovelorn punk-R&B from last year, but the pandemic has put its release on hold. Her plan to drop four tapes this year is still well within reach, but their rollout may not be what she envisioned.

A global pandemic was not on our minds that cold February night. Hook was. And for at least three devotees, so was Hook’s saliva.

“It’s a bad bitch’s spit,” I overhear near the table-stage after the show. “Where else are you gonna get a bad bitch’s spit?”

Hook seems to have been eavesdropping as well. She eagerly complies, and the ritual commences. She arches her head over the fan’s, purses her lips, and releases a seamless, wet spindle down into the darkness of the stranger’s mouth. It’s probably not something Hook or any entertainer will ever do again.

A couple Baby Keem and Kasher Quon songs later, everyone crawls out of the dungeon up onto N Street. Hook and Moshpxt decide they’re going to shoot a video for “IM SHININ,” the opening track off Itty Bitty. Someone pumps the song out of their car with the windows down while she and a handful of her most loyal fans race out into the middle of the street to rap along. Moshpxt starts rolling and captures everything.

Suddenly, sirens. The opps. An officer who looks like he’d be cast for the minor role of Policeman in Curb Your Enthusiasm pulls up. (See for yourself — he’s at the end of the video.)

I blink for a second and suddenly we’re all scattered. I was promised an interview with Hook, and amid the chaos on N, receive a text from her manager to meet them at an Airbnb god knows where. A blur of a car ride later my friend and I are in yet another dungeon, this time one with a living room, island countertop and more water than either of us has seen all night. Hook has swapped out the sports bra and red track jacket from earlier for a bedazzled belt and a green T-shirt that says “PSYCHO BITCH.” She’s somehow still simmering with energy, and I ask her all the questions that matter. — Mano Sundaresan


What do you think goes through the mind of a fan of yours when they’re like, I want Hook’s spit in my mouth?


Hook: Do you want me to be honest?


Yeah.


Hook: They’re horny! They want me. That’s literally all it is. I don’t care. I wanna be desired.


Describe the first time you heard “30 Thousand 100 Million.”


Hook: The first time I heard “30 Thousand 100 Million” was the day I recorded it. They were trying to show me the video and I think it was flagged or something.

Nedarb: I’m a Lil B Stan and I’ve been putting her on to hella old shit. And I was like, yo peep this beat, this shit is crazy.


That shit is so ahead of its time.


Hook: That shit’s insane. I swear the first time I recorded it was the first time I heard it. And I’m just like, what the fuck! I can’t believe I missed out.


Is it true you recorded Itty Bitty in a day?


Hook: In a day. That’s no cap.

Nedarb: Yeah, we did it in like three hours.

Hook: It just be fucking around though, I’m just having a good time. If you’re gonna be stuck about it, don’t listen to it.


Did you do everything one-take?


Hook: Pretty much. I think towards the last song I was like ok, let’s change this, let’s change that. But the whole tape was pretty much the first thing that came to my mind, whether it be trolling or something for real.


Is that how you record all your music?


Hook: I used to write. I don’t write no more. I just go in the booth and do whatever I want, whether it’s a melody, it’s words, it’s not.


I feel like so many rappers these days say that they don’t write, and like 99% of them can’t actually do it.


Hook: It’s a developing thing for me. I understand why niggas write. There’s nothing wrong with writing. I used to write in my fucking car and go to the studio, like, three weeks later.


But also with the way you flow, I couldn’t imagine it being natural to sit down and write in that style.


Hook: Honestly, most of BULLY was written. Crashed My Car was mostly just like, let’s put the pen and paper down, let’s get into it.


Growing up in Riverside, what sort of music did you have around you?


Hook: Met my step-sisters at like age 9. And on some joking shit, we did a girl group. We would go into my mom and step-dad’s room at 7 o’clock in the morning and then be like, we have a song to show you. And at like Christmas, Easter, we would go to them and be like, let’s perform our song. And then they just took us seriously. Then by like the ages of 12 to 14, I was really out here, like, vocal coach, choreographer, all that shit.


So you can probably legit sing from that?


Hook: Everybody’s telling me I should sing! I was with a vocal coach for a year, maybe a year and a half, two years at most. Basically you learn the technique and you just apply it. Niggas don’t practice that everyday, they’re not gonna get better. Same thing as rapping.


Were people paying attention to your girl group?


Hook: I think the right people were. I had the right type of focus as far as artist development. I feel like I had the right eyes on me at that time. If those people weren’t there, then I wouldn’t be the person I was. Gratefully, my step-dad was kinda already in the business, so he already knew multiple people that worked for like, Mindless Behavior and B2K, groups like that. So they kinda shaped us into the persona of a star in the nineties. So I’m here, but like, from the past and in the future. I think it shaped me as a person.


Yeah I’m sure it did. But how did you go from that type of smooth shit to straight-up Hook music? What was the turning point?


Hook: It’s like, your tiger’s in the cage. You open up the cage. What do you think the tiger’s gonna do?


He’s gonna get the fuck out.


Hook: He’s gonna get the fuck out, he’s gonna eat you. I was the tiger in the cage.


Who did you eat?


Hook: You’re here right now. I’m just saying, I was the tiger in the cage as far as not being able to do what I want. Somebody opened that — Ned opened that — and then he was like, do what the fuck you want. Don’t worry about nobody. I was working a 9-5 and I was in college.


Where were you going to college?


Hook: RCC, Riverside Community College. I was there for a couple months, and my sisters, they didn’t wanna do the group no more. So I was like, I’m still gonna do music. Even if it was as a hobby, even though I knew this was my destiny, even though the studio was right there, it was more like I do it and let’s see where it leads to type shit.


There’s no one who really sounds like you right now. What music do you think really inspired your style?


Hook: To be honest, the thing that changed my life: I was off psychedelics, I listened to Chief Keef – Back from the Dead. And just noticing his rhyme patterns, how he rhymes his words, it inspired me so much. ‘Cause, like, he stay safe, but he don’t stay safe. So I listened to that, and then I was like, I can do whatever I want. He did it, so why can’t I do it? I just think other artists inspire you to do what you want, and it’s kinda crazy that I’m one of those artists now. I learned from everything I grew up on. I listened to R&B – Mary J. Blige, SWV, my mom was playing that shit. My step-dad was playing Rick Ross, Nipsey, RIP. My biological father was playing chopped-n-screwed shit, he was really rapping. So it was like all those shits together, you create who you are. Every artist that’s out right now, they listen to some shit before them and they just take pieces. I don’t give a fuck what nobody say. I’m just a new color, really. Y’all see blue, green, yellow, I’m a different color. I did like four-plus projects in a year, cause that’s just how I’m changing. Not to brag about it — it’s not even a thing like, she put out four projects, it’s more so like, oh she just working. If you work in the office, you finna give out a whole bunch of resumes, you finna give a whole bunch of prompts and bullshit. So that’s basically the same thing.


You’re definitely dropping at this rate where it’s like a day job for you now.


Hook: There are some artists who are secretive. I’ma post when I want. I feel like I’ma be in the game a long time, so you can have it. I’ma be in the game till I’m 39, nigga, 40, 45. If I’m not rapping, I’m producing, if I’m not producing, I’m behind the scenes making all the songs you hear in the movies, and if I’m not behind the movies, I’m in the movies literally. It’s destined, like I don’t know what to tell you.


I saw you tweeted at A24.


Hook: Fucking A24! I’m obsessed with cinematography and all of that shit. Right now at least, movies inspire me the most for the music. I just watched The Talented Mr. Ripley. I’m working on I Love You 2 mixtape and this is all based on like, France and all that. The movie takes place in Europe and all that shit.


Would you wanna act?


Hook: I would wanna take it so seriously. I don’t know if there’s time for music in acting. Cause the same way I would get into the music world, just tapping into the beat, you gotta tap into the script and the whole persona of the character. So I would definitely wanna take it seriously, I don’t think there would be time for music. I could make time of course, nothing is impossible, but if I were in a movie I would wanna take it serious as fuck.


You need to have had so much heartbreak in your life to write these songs, but you seem so happy. How does that work?


Hook: Nobody’s ever asked me that type of question. It’s definitely a good question. I don’t know. You can dislike things about people, but you never hate, you’re not gonna like everything. I think all my melodic shit is inspired by relationships and regular shit that females, maybe even niggas my age go through. I don’t really trust nobody at all, so I think that’s where I Love You, Hook come from. I need a sign of loyalty.


Do you feel like there’d be that same pain to tap into even after your life got a lot better?


Hook: Nobody’s life is perfect.


I feel like some artists get really big, but then lose whatever made them special.


Hook: I don’t think that would happen with me. I’m a person before I’m an artist. I’m not religious but I believe in a higher being. It’s more so like, be grateful for everything, the bads and the goods. This shit is life, life happen. I don’t try to dwell in my bad, I don’t try to dwell in my good. Something great could happen, I’d be like that’s just hard, next. But when the bad happen, I be like damn, fuck. I’ma talk shit, but let’s put it in a song.

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