Up-and-coming Oakland rapper Stunny was hard to miss when he walked into Plank, an upscale entertainment venue in Jack London Square. He wore a bright blue t-shirt, a matching windbreaker, and black nail polish that contrasted with his bleached hair. His colorful ensemble complemented the dizzying neon purples and pinks of the venue's arcade — where he spent "too many fifties" last week, he admitted. (Sure enough, At the arcade, babe, I'll hit you later is a lyric from his off-kilter party anthem, "Kelly Slayter.")
The West Oakland-born rapper has been gaining traction over the past year. His high-energy live performances in warehouses and downtown art galleries draw large, eager young crowds. And the oddball persona he projects through his fashion and online presence resonates with the East Bay's youth culture. He's more kawaii than street. In one Instagram picture, a Hello Kitty ski-mask covers his face as he mimes curling his finger around a trigger; in another, he hits a pink bong, his Sailor Moon backpack perched beside him.
Only eighteen years-old, Stunny is fresh out of Berkeley High School and has spent most of his time since graduation "just doin' how I feel," as he put it. With his loud style — and a stage name that implies he's staying fresh — he embodies the "based" lifestyle that Lil B pioneered, which emphasizes individuality and self-expression.
And Stunny's sound is just as eclectic as his fashion sense. The rapper's airy production doesn't hit like the refrain of a Future song, and it lacks hip-hop's familiar 808 drums and heavy bass. Instead, his songs are laidback with a lo-fi, electronic feel that skews ambient, synth-driven, and psychedelic.
The recording quality of the singles he's put out so far tends to vary, but his DIY style brings a certain intimacy to his rap, leaving him accessible to his listeners. Sometimes, like with his song "Freazy," his muffled voice fades in and out as if he's underwater. It can feel like he's making the music in front of us.
Stunny's nonchalant flow is catchy and well placed. It's easy to imagine getting hyped to his songs at a live performance but, for the most part, he avoids the bravado commonly found in top-forty rap.
"My shit is alternative. ... I don't really think I've truly found my sound yet," he said, gathering his thoughts. "Basically, I'm not tryna be hella ... what's the word? Basic." Currently, Stunny is working on a mixtape he hopes to drop sometime this winter. His clique, Glacier Army, which he describes as "a team of productive young men," is also working on apparel.
Although Stunny is still finding his sound, he described his music as a way to escape Oakland street life. "[Music] takes my mind off all this," he said, alluding to times he had been in trouble with the law.
"I feel like jail's the reason why I started doing music," he divulged. "'Cause I used to do hella bad shit, and now I wanna just have fun without worrying about police."
The rapper broke his blasé façade for a moment to express his discontent with Oakland's push for rapid development at a time when problems of poverty and gun violence continue to fester. "I'm a product of my environment, and I have no choice but to walk through what Oakland's going through right now. It's a lot of prostitution and drugs and fuckin', just like, murder."
He continued, referencing a public art project in downtown Oakland that features photos of smiling residents holding signs with messages about the city. "I seen shit get shot. It's not even cool. I don't like that shit that they be havin' on Broadway. They got posters saying, 'Oakland's not a bad place.' But it's hella dangerous. I seen two shows get shot up this summer. And on top of that, it's just sad that everything is changing here."
While figuring himself out, Stunny simply wants to keep creating music and telling his story. He may be young and unsure of his future (he's even contemplating going to cosmetology school to get his barber license) but he knows what he's passionate about and wants to share it with as many people as possible. His upcoming mixtape will definitely be a step towards that.
"This is Glacier world, baby." Stunny smiled widely. "Icy."