Ness Nite Is Redefining What It Means To Be A ‘Dream Girl’ — In Hip-Hop And Beyond

Posted by Caitlin White on

POW Recordings

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In middle school, I had a recurring nightmare about showing up to school without a bra. In retrospect, this is hilarious, because I have no breasts to speak of and surely no one would have noticed. Yet for roughly 15 years, I felt compelled to wear an underwire push-up bra every time I left the house. They left red marks on my ribs and itched when I sweat. At 30, I realized these bras served no purpose. I have nothing to hold in place. I decided time is up. 22-year-old Ness Nite, whose Twitter bio boasts, “I make braless music,” understands this well.

Born Vanessa Reilford, the artist’s mantra is “braless, flawless, lawless.” (She sings it on the first song she put on Soundcloud, “Yes,” which caught the attention of her current producer Mike Frey.) To me, the mantra immediately evokes bra-burning of the 1970s women’s liberation movement. While harking back to second-wave feminism, Ness Nite’s music also shows how far we’ve come.

I ask Ness on the phone whether her debut album title Dream Girl is an ode to living in her head, or a nod to the record’s dreamy soundscape. She says the album title represents neither, rather it’s about having the freedom to represent what women before her dreamed of being. As she told Stereogum, “Dream Girl is not ‘I’m the girl of your dreams.’ It’s the concept of having the ability, space, and opportunity to achieve our dreams.” While many seem preoccupied with how we’re probably in the “end times,” it’s refreshing that Ness acknowledges the positive: The patriarchy is being toppled.

While Ness tells me she’s identified less with the term “girl” since putting out the album in March, the overall sentiment remains true. Now, she considers herself more genderfluid, an option unavailable to women before her. Ness is also queer, a fact she doesn’t feel the need to shout, but which she instead casually integrates into her music. Not having to bear the unreasonable burden of announcing one’s sexuality, on top of already being marginalized for being queer, strikes me as yet another aspect of being a modern “dream girl.”

Just recently, Ness tweeted: “somewhere between not wanting to pigeonhole myself as a lesbian artist bcuz (.. gender.. and ..fluidity..labels..) but also being super disappointed at the lack of visible (femme & femme in particular) representation in media that isn’t made for the male gaze,” to which I replied: “mooooooooood.”

“To be a 22-year-old in 2018,” Ness tells me on the phone, “is very different from being a 22-year-old in 1988.”

“It’s even different from being a 22-year-old in 2008,” I say, “when I was 22.”

In my early 20’s, there was no Syd’s “Body,” no Internet’s “Girl,” no Janelle Monae’s “Pynk.” Being a queer music fan in a world where every song I loved depicted hetero-romance made me feel very alone, which is what Ness tells me her music is designed to combat. She expands that when integrates female pronouns into her songs, her goal is for it to be “normal […] like, this is life for people.”

And women-on-women romance in music is beginning to normalize; some could say it’s having a moment. On Spotify, Ness has a playlist called “Mag!c B!tch Rad!o,” which is filled with fellow “dream girls”: ABRA, Janelle Monae, Solange, Yaeji, Kari Faux, Tommy Genesis, Junglepussy, Willow, Solange.

All witchy, genre-bending womyn pushing against music industry standards. ABRA calls herself “the duchess of darkwave,” Junglepussy raps about loving Trader Joe’s more than her man, and Ness Nite is out here on Twitter advocating for femme-on-femme representation that doesn’t cater to the male gaze. These women definitely didn’t exist when I was 22, just 10 years ago, but oh do I wish they had.

For Ness, being a 22-year-old in 2018 also meant that the computers in her Chicago high school came equipped with Ableton, among the most popular music sequencing programs. In a class called “Music In Media,” Ness had daily beat battles with her friends. When she realized she was skilled (“I’m kind of competitive”), she was inspired to start making beats outside of class. Ness eventually bought Ableton with her student loans when she was in college. She had played violin in the orchestra for ten years but never felt comfortable in the culture of classical music. “It’s a very structured discipline,” she told me, then laughed, “…discipline is not my strength.”

Before she dropped out the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minneapolis to focus on music full-time, Ness’ college radio station hosted a contest in which students submitted original songs, competing for inclusion on a sample CD and the opportunity to perform. Ness submitted her song on a whim, not expecting much, but when it was picked, it ended up changing the way she saw herself. She got high on the adrenaline of performance. “That was the first time I felt like Ness Nite,” she tells me. “Like I stepped into the world and embodied the name I’d made for myself.”

Once shy and unsure, Ness’s confidence has since escalated. She says that while she was more moody and solitary on her first EP, Nite Time, she felt more courageous on Dream Girl, which pairs boisterous lyrics over airy production. On “Xtra,” she spits the pre-chorus with delicious swagger: “I rock my fur coat in the summer, tryna cop Malia’s number,” which I confirm is a reference to the Yung Obama, who I’ve heard is “one of us.” While Malia’s alleged homosexuality is mere rumor, the image of a genderfluid Midwestern musician picking up the former First Daughter in a summer fur definitely screams: dream girl.

Ness’ self-assuredness only continues to grow. When I ask her where she wants to be in 5 years, she says without hesitation: “I definitely want to be playing arenas.” Then, after a short pause, “I want to reach as many people as I can.”

Dream Girl is out now via POW Recordings. Get it here. If you’re in Los Angeles, RSVP to attend our RX show featuring Ness Nite on June 21, more info here.