The DIY Rapper Shoots for the Big Time – OZY

IPhone? Check. Portable speaker? Check. Empty park? Check. Brittney Carter is ready. 

Reciting lyrics over and over in her head, the 28-year-old Chicago native takes her position on the park staircase as rehearsed. Today, her production crew of one is her boyfriend, serving as cameraman and audio technician.

After pulling up the song and positioning the camera, Carter gives a cue to record and proceeds to get lost in her artistry, delivering potent bars with every bit of her lyrical arsenal on display. 

If you’re an innocent bystander, you might think she’s working on a school project or is an aspiring model on a low-budget photo shoot. Either way, you’d be wrong. 

With 11 videos amassing more than 100,000 views and counting, Carter has been able to bypass the middlemen, labels and other relics of music industry old. By using resources most Americans have in their pockets, she bet on herself and became her own gatekeeper. 

Every aspect of Carter’s musical journey has been organic and unforced.

“It was just me saying yes, really,” Carter says. “I think a lot of people are just nervous and scared about putting themselves out there. I did it because I thought: ‘This shit sound cool.’” 

In just a little over a year and with only the guidance of Chicago-based artist management and development agency Loop Theory, Carter has had legends like Bone Crusher reach out to her, won a fan-picked showcase for which she opened for the rapper Jay Rock — of the revered Top Dawg Entertainment label — and even had a song placement on the Comedy Central show South Side.

It’s all the more remarkable considering the self-described introvert didn’t plan on being a rapper. Her first passion was poetry, thanks to a pen and pad that was placed in her hands at age 7. From then on, she spent every free moment writing.

Raised on the South Side, Carter intended to follow her mother’s footsteps into childcare and even enrolled at Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois, as an early childhood and development major before deciding after two years it wasn’t for her. 

Working at Home Depot and taking care of herself while living alone, she didn’t think to perform in public until a friend unknowingly submitted her into the legendary Young Chicago Authors open mic in 2014. But instantly, Carter was hooked. The open mic circuit allowed her to network, eventually leading to her first rap song — a freestyle verse to Mobb Deep’s “Shook Ones” as part of an all-female rap cypher, or informal freestyle group. The exposure encouraged her to perform more often, with the group and as an individual, which is how Loop Theory founder Rafael Navarro came across her.  

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He became determined to manage her, even though she hadn’t established herself as an artist. “A lot of people are good at writing songs, a lot of people are good at putting lyrics together, a lot of people have something to say, but she has this other factor to her. She has a powerful voice,” Navarro says. 

After Loop Theory did some convincing and put together a studio with engineers, Carter agreed to go under its management. The final piece was exposure, which she decided would be earned via mini-drops filmed by iPhone — without micromanagement. Sometimes Navarro finds out about the videos due to his phone blowing up from notifications.  

From falling into performing poetry and traveling the city with the all-female cypher to partnering with Navarro, every aspect of Carter’s musical journey has been organic and unforced. Her flow feels the same way.

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Carter is far from the first rapper to put freestyles on the internet. But her music is resonating because of her authenticity. “My sole purpose for making music and the videos was because I loved it,” she says. “I had a great time finding the instrumental to rap over; I had a great time putting the raps together.” 

Now comes the harder part: taking the next leap to stardom. Nascent, a Chicago producer who was behind Chance the Rapper’s Grown Ass Kid and who’s also produced the tracks “Back Then” and “The Signs” for Carter, says it’s just a matter of rubbing the right elbows. 

“She’s progressing. She’s in a better place musically, and you hear growth from even six months ago,” Nascent says. “Production plays a big role in that too. You need producers to elevate your sound. Skill sharpens skill, so if you’re in a room with 100 people who are good at their craft, some of that is going to rub off and you’re going to learn some shit.”

Carter, firmly a Chicagoan with no plans to hasten the process of her dream, is now at work trying to sharpen her debut album, projected for release in 2020. As for those freestyle videos, she assures more are on the way … and they’ll drop on Carter’s schedule alone.

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