05.07.2016

Push Push

Nicci St Bruce pushed in, pushed buttons and won’t stop pushing her luck

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photographs: Nick Gordon

Nicci St Bruce’s Soundcloud bio simply states that she puts the ass in gymnastics, on YouTube it’s “your girlfriend’s favourite rapper”, and her Instagram is similarly succinct, “Get with it, or get hit with it.” There are three different Facebook profiles, because she keeps reaching her 5000 friend limit, and a request: “Basically – if you don’t f**k with me can you delete my ass off here so someone who deserves my time can take your spot?”

Vice calls Push Push “the polarizing South African rapper who doesn’t give a damn what you think” and it’s true that everyone seems to have an opinion on this brat rapping in a PE accent. That’s because Nicci is one of those people you feel you’ve known forever, which is due to the way she lives her life on the internet, sharing everything, and then some, from eating junk food in bed, to selling gothic jewellery and clothing online, to being a type of It-girl socialite who was made for party photos.

From the friendly city of Port Elizabeth, Nicci was schooled at an elite private school in Grahamstown and then an all-girls school in Cape Town, after which she studied law and then fashion while building a large online presence off the back of her blogs and body.

Like a bad teen movie, the duckling lost her headgear, got good hair, the cystic acne cleared up and medical aid bought her a new nose. In the early days of her internet presence no Monday morning was complete without combing We-Are-Awesome’s “nights” folders to see what Nicci wore, or didn’t wear, while captured in a lewd pose that would probably be pulled down by lunchtime.

There was also her beautiful engagement at the aquarium, like something out of Love Actually, which was published on Diary of Ward. She later joined Paul Ward and Hayden Manuel to form a collective, Bitches Must Know, and more recently did an agony aunt YouTube show, Ask Push Push, with Galore TV. Despite all these things she’s contributed the most internet terabytes to breathless status updates, private chats and bitchy gossip, especially after the worst-kept secret in Cape Town came out – that she’d started stripping in order to put a friend in rehab and buy back gold that she’d pawned.

Gold? What, you keep a treasure chest of doubloons under your bed?

“Greeks have gold! I have my christening gold, my 21st gold, my dad’s gold… Everything gets passed down. I realise how this sounds, but Greeks just love a gold. So I pawned all my gold to buy a ticket to New York and needed 30k to get it back. Then I needed another 30k to get my friend into rehab, and I was like, ‘You know what, I’m just going to be a stripper!’ When I was 18 I’d read an article in the Cosmo – shut up – about this journalist who worked as a Mavericks girl; also, once I’d got really drunk, doesn’t matter who I was with, and I got this dance from this girl and I was completely transfixed, thought that I was going to marry this girl, and we went upstairs and I asked her if I could work there, too. And she said, ‘Cool, just take your top off’ and only after they took some photographs did I realise that I was 18 and obviously couldn’t be a stripper.”

Now if Nicci seems reckless at 26 you should’ve met the 19-year-old version, a girl she says should be dead with all of the lunatic things she did. Which is why stripping wasn’t too out of character considering she’d been in and out of rehab for doing Class As out of her school blazer, a habit she sustained by selling her Ritalin outside of the Virgin Active.

And, sure, stripping is scary, but the money makes it less terrifying, and by the time the village of Cape Town was a-froth with the news that Nicci St Bruce was stripping, the Greek community had already found out and reported it to her mom.

Having made the money that she needed, and then some, Nicci quit that strip life.

 

Even if you think that Nicci is a privileged, spoiled brat who has hijacked rap culture, what can’t be denied is that she’s lived a life, which means that she actually has plenty to rap about. However, instead of writing about getting her uglies out and grinding on old men, or her days as a juvenile delinquent, she’d rather write lyrics about love. Sort of.

“I like to – long pause – all my raps are actually love songs. Actually. I know they don’t sound like that but they’re all basically about this one person – that I really loved. And then we couldn’t be together, and then I got really good at life, and he saw that, and now every time I’m on stage, being a badass bitch, I’m like, ‘Look at this, mate! Are you joking?’ Do you know what I mean?  So that’s how it started, me writing to an actual person, who I now picture whenever I write my raps.”

“That thing that your boyfriend showed you, that’s my trick, but keep it, ‘cos you’ll never do it like I did.”

In the same way that Elon Musk was bullied at school and is now trying to get back at the human race, Push Push isn’t just putting together rhyming couplets. And she’s also true to herself in other ways, like rapping in a PE accent, which hasn’t been done since Hagen Engler rapped about “red ared jorlers” while fronting The Jedi Rollers.

Not that Nicci was ever privy to these heady times of the PE rap game, and instead her influences include Disco Israel, Spoek Mathambo and Ninja, but back when he was Waddy, because what she admires about these rappers is how they were able to be themselves while getting their message across.

Still, a lot of people will call bullshit on Nicci for embedding herself in a culture that’s not hers, employing a long list of phrases from the woke lexicon, ‘white privilege’, and ‘cultural appropriation’ among them. 

Nicci admits to being put on blast after joining an already established group, Oh! Dark Arrow, and says that that’s exactly what she wanted to do ever since watching Fergie join the Black Eyed Peas. And then, drawing from a youth spent at after-school dance-lessons, music classes and everything else her parents signed her up to in an attempt to tire her out by the time she got home, where she’d then lip-sync to the Wu-Tang Clan’s ‘Gravel Pit’, Nicci performs in a way that is authentically Nicci. That’s all she’s ever wanted to do and be. Her rap moniker is the nickname that her grandmother gave her.

“When I was a child my parents would always catch me rubbing up on the furniture, or touching myself. ‘No push-push!’ my Yia Yia would say, and so my whole life I thought something bad had happened to me, like, maybe I was molested or something, because I’m so sexually fu**ed up, but you know what, there’s nothing actually wrong with me.”

Peter Georgiades, also Cypriot Greek, works as a stylist and has dressed Nicci in all the outfits she’s wearing in this story. The two have been inseparable ever since they met five years ago, more so after moving to New York together last year, where Nicci got gold fronts and smoked dabs with Cannibal Ox and Peter interned for Patti Wilson on shoots with Lady Gaga.

“Nicci’s probably the most difficult person I’ve ever worked with. She’s very fussy. That can be helpful though, because she knows exactly what she wants. Today we’re trying to keep it on brand, so that people associate her with a sporty, edgy, chavvy sort of something… She’s one of the bravest people I’ve met.”

The pair worked on a music video together last week, which features Laura Windvogel in her directorial debut. The Push Push team can be extended to include Thor Rixon producing with beats by Jakob Snake. There’s also interest from a label overseas…

“My rap career is about to get lit, mate. Everyone has been talking a lot of shit about me, asking what I’ve actually done, but there’s been lots going on behind the scenes, and it’s just that I’m not one of those people, like, ‘Big tings, mate. Big tings cumming, mate.’ Like, you know what I mean? You know? You know? My first ever show was at Yoh!, and it still feels good to play an Assembly stage because it feels so homely.

I used to wait in line and now I’m part of the lineup.”

In the pipeline are two videos and an EP that’s going to be put out by a UK label, because there are many who don't see Push Push as part of the South African music industry, which is fine by her.

“There’s no beef, I just feel that I’m in the same position as Petite Noir and Spoek were, where my market’s overseas. I think what we do goes over a lot of heads. You have to be an early adopter, because it’s not like regular music and if everyone does get it then you’re probably doing something wrong. It’s a tough one. We’ll see what happens. The internet is incredible. If I had been born 50 years ago I’d probably be working as a counselor for wayward women.”