Interview: Kitty Cash Dishes On Curating Her ‘Love The Free’ Series & Shares The Pheels’ “French Toast”

In 2014, I walked in to a colorful, blossoming room with gold lining the walls and an open bar. The end to New York’s fashion week and only my second month living in the big apple after years in the south. I danced the entire night away at Saint Heron x 1MSQFT and just knew I had to be apart of this culture in some way. I’ve always been a huge admirer of music, and I noticed that there was a female DJ that knew all the exclusive hits both new and old to get us on the dance floor. I remember just pausing and basking in the moment. Disc jockeys will always find a way to move you in some way or another.

Three years later, between the tours, parties, and mixtapes, Kitty Cash has made a cozy spot for herself in the art and music worlds. With the pleasure of our recent conversation, I’ve uncovered the growth within her music and within herself. You will find that Kitty Cash’s passion and work ethic is unmatched, which is what led her on this righteous path.

Today we are thrilled to premiere our interview with the Brooklyn native, along with a new track from the final installment of her Love The Free series. The track is entitled “French Toast” from Atlanta-based duo The Pheels.

With music elites like Dev Hynes, Sampha, Vic Mensa, Kelela, SZA and many more already leaving their mark on the admired series, Vol. 3 is sketched to hold a stellar roster of artistry. You can expect to hear sounds from the likes of Lion Babe, St. Beauty, BOSCO, and a slew of other noteworthy contenders. Take a listen to The Pheels’ latest, and read up on what Kitty Cash had to say on developing the series through the years.

Where did the name Kitty Cash originate?

It’s really funny because whenever I hear the name I kind of chuckle inside. My name is Cachee, and my family calls me Cash. When I decided I wanted to be an artist, I said that I wanted to differentiate what my family and close friends called me. At that time I was with Kilo Kish, and I was going on tour to be her DJ. We were in a bar with about two other friends, and we literally just sat down with margaritas. We were throwing them back! We began just throwing out names to go before Cash. Kilo Kish has two names, so we were like, “okay what can we do for Cash?” It could have been the tenth or whatever number drink, and we came up with Kitty Cash. We all were like, “We like this right here, this is sick.” I think I love the name even more just because I created it with my friends, and it’s just such a good memory. Every time I think about it, I get super warm because we were all so lit. It was just one of those things that just stuck, and I’m happy with it. I love my name.

That actually builds on another one of my questions for you because I was introduced to you as Kilo Kish’s DJ. Was that during the time when you actually broke out as a DJ?

That was my introduction, yes. That same night actually was possibly the second meeting me and Kish had about it. She basically said, “I really need a DJ, and I can’t find anyone. Why don’t you just try and do it?” At that point I was a little scared, of course, but I also wanted to be there for my friend. She was trying something new too. This was the first time she was being an artist. It started off as a joke her damn self. Just joking around like not thinking it would become a whole new career path for her and an entire new passion for her. I did it out of love for her. So yes, touring with Kish was my introduction to DJing. We started within a few states then we did a European tour, and we were on tour with The Internet at the time.

What was your favorite place that you visited?

I really love Belgium, and I also really, really love London. When we went to London we had a show with SBTRKT, and it lasted all night underneath a bridge. I think it ended around 7 in the morning. It was insane, and there were all of these amazing DJs that I really love. It was one of my favorite shows. I just love the energy of London, especially that type of party. It was so underground, raw, and so real. It was something that I connected to. In that moment, I knew that I had to do this.

So let’s take it back. When did you fall in love with music, and what was the first genre or artist that you just could not get enough of?

I definitely fell in love with music as a baby. Both of my parents played a lot of music. For my dad, it was a lot of old Soca and Reggae. So that is a very big part of who I am. Unapologetically, I’m a Trini gyal at heart. Everyone knows this. From my mom, she played a lot of Portuguese music, R&B and soul. So everything from Tony! Toni! Toné! to Lucy Pearl. I just always remember her playing Lucy Pearl and being like, “this is my jam!” She also loved Maxwell and Raphael Saadiq. It’s funny because when I was younger my mom took me to this concert and I was really excited because she was surprising me. It was a Maxwell concert. I thought she was taking me to a Biggie or Lil’ Kim show. I was trying to hear some Kim, so I got an attitude actually. I had to be about 12 or 13, so I was pretty young. At that point, I was listening to a lot of Jay-Z, a lot of Lil’ Kim, and all of that. I’m from Brooklyn, and that’s what I loved at the time. Even though I loved what I was listening to with my parents, this was the music that my friends and I were listening to. Anyway, moms took me to Maxwell. I went there, pouting and everything. I’m talking about attitude. But, once Maxwell hit maybe the third song I was in there body rolling in my seat. I got a smile on my face. My mom tapped me like, “Oh, you’re enjoying yourself?” I’m like, “I mean it’s cool,” trying to play it all tough. Fast forward to now, it’s such a joke because I listen to Maxwell like once a week. A lot of my moms favorites are my favorites right now. Everything that kind of stems from Love The Free is partially because of my mom. Then with my grandmother, she only listened to the disco and funk. I would go to her apartment and she had a little living room that was sectioned off. She would be like, “We’re about to have disco night!” She had a record player, and she’d literally play disco and funk all night long. We would just jam out. I have a lot of lovely memories of music for sure.

You talk about how you’re from Brooklyn. Were you born and raised in Brooklyn? Tell us about the neighborhood you grew up in. Do you think it shaped your upbringing as far as who you are now?

I was born and raised in Brooklyn. I’m a native. Where I grew up was Ditmas Park or Flatbush. Flatbush is known for Caribbean culture. You walk down Flatbush, the outfit that Rihanna had in the “Work” video, that’s Flatbush right there. That’s it. It’s embraced and to me, Caribbean people are just very proud of who they are and where they come from. I would definitely say that has influenced me and how I dress, for sure. My confidence, sexuality and not being afraid to show skin, in a respectful manner of course, that’s all inspired by my culture. But, it’s something that’s embraced by the culture. I feel like us Caribbean women have a certain spice to us, and that kind of exudes from who I am. I always talk about Carnival as well, Trinidad Carnival. I’ve been playing Carnival in America because my grandfather was very big in that scene. He played steel pan. It’s one thing to go to Carnival here, but when you go to Carnival in Trinidad the whole country is involved. It is a culture experience that is life changing. No matter your color, your body type, whether you think you’re on beat or off beat, whether you got a big butt or little butt, stretch marks and all; it’s all embraced. I think going to Trinidad also helped me to kind of love myself a little bit more. Everyone is so warm. They embrace everyone.

I will never forget the time I met this woman. She was the thickest woman I’ve ever seen. I’m talking about caramel, just thick. Thick legs, thick big ol’ butt, and just a very full, voluptuous woman. She had on her costume, and I had on mine. I was busting a whine in the middle of the street because that’s what you do during Carnival. She had on her thong and she asked me, “Why you have on them tights?” I’m like I didn’t want to be all naked. She looked at me and said, “You ain’t got nothing to hide. You need to go rip them things off right now.” It was so funny because I feel like when you’re in America when someone is voluptuous, they want you to cover it up. She looked at me like I was crazy, like I needed to be proud of what I have. It was this beautiful boost of confidence that I needed. I loved everyone there, and I didn’t want to leave. So, I say all of that to say I think that definitely shaped me. Growing up in Flatbush, you meet every kind of person. Yes, it’s very rich with Caribbean culture, but right across the street you have Indian culture and then two blocks up it’s the Jewish community. That makes me very open, and I think it makes me very welcoming, and nonjudgmental. Also, my mother is Muslim, so I was raised in a household where my mother converted when I was 14. I’ve been open to a variety of cultures, and I think that’s also influenced me in making sure I kind of tap into all of that as a DJ, artist and as a talent.

From listening to your Love The Free series we sense that you hold an eclectic ear in selecting features. We’ve heard dreamy alternative R&B tracks like Kelela‘s “The High” and melodious rap bangers from artists like Rome Fortune. We wonder, how do you curate the artists and track selections for your projects? What do you listen for during the development stages?

This project is a process that I think seems a lot easier than it is. Even for me, sometimes I’m like, “girl are you overachieving right now?!” But the process is me being very involved in every part of it. I’m always on SoundCloud, reading up on who is new, or trying to find artists who have yet to be mentioned on publications. I want to find them first. It’s almost like the job of an A&R that I put myself into just because it’s something that I’m passionate about. I love finding new talent in an organic real way, and not because this artist has a hundred thousand plays. That doesn’t make you great, and that doesn’t mean you have that thing that is different or stands out. Putting this together, it’s just me and Shabazz. She helps me reach out to artists because it can be a bit overwhelming. So, I’m very grateful for her. You have these two girls reaching out to people, signed to labels and everything. Some of them get so excited to be apart of the project, and it’s amazing to get that response from them. I usually have a brief with the artist where I tell them kind of what I’m going through and the story I’m trying to tell through the project so that the messaging in the song is right. I give them different topics of discussion that I want them to talk about so that it fits what Love The Free stands for. So, it’s not just like, “Oh send me your submissions.” That’s cool, but that’s not what this series is about. It’s about me really putting in that time, effort, research and the energy to find artists that I love and believe in and that I really feel are shaping the sound of today and tomorrow.

If you think about it, it takes me about five or six months to put this together, then artists blow up like seven months after that. It’s kind of crazy. In the beginning it was literally me doing it for fun. I just wanted people to be on what I’m on too. I’d be like “Oh you don’t know who The Internet is?” or “You don’t know who Kilo Kish is?!” I’d kind of get upset [laughs] because I’m big fans and I’m on tour with them. Then I realized I started feeling that same love for other artists, and I wanted to put that all in one place under one home, so that’s kind of the basis of Love The Free and the process. A lot of artists have tried asking to pay me to be on the project and people have pitched their clients, which I do listen to because I can miss something, but it’s not about that for me. I will not accept any payments because it would dilute everything that I’ve worked for. I don’t think people get that sometimes. I want to keep it to the streets. I want to say with this project that we have our ear to the streets. This is what’s next, and this is what’s next before the blogs find out about it. Sometimes it’s like I’m working on the project and the artist gets discovered, and I think to myself that I took to long. But, it also still reassures me that I’m on the right path and I still have this ear. I have this vision and other people are noticing. I think that’s kind of cool as well.

That leads me right into my next question. You kind of touched on it, but we want to talk about the beginning of Love The Free. You began the series a few years back and the final installment is on its way. Where did the idea of the name for Love The Free come from? Can you explain it’s origins and why you’ve decided for the series to come to an end?

I came up with this idea during the European tour and at the time it was just Kish and myself. We were getting a lot of free shit and we were like, “yo, I love the free.” But, I was like this name is kind of cute and at the same time I was thinking about dropping this mixtape. I told them about the idea, and everyone was super supportive about it. But because I thought about it on tour, I kind of wanted to tie it back to that. I switched it up to Love The Free because at the same time when I thought about it, through this new passion I definitely discovered a new side of myself that I never met. I never really thought I would say that, but I did and I felt very free being able to express myself creatively through music, as a DJ curating these mixtapes. It was like a new found love for me. It started as “we love the free shit,” but then the more I thought about it, I realized that I’m really just loving my life right now. I was meeting all these people who were going through the exact same thing as me, so the title was another way to tie it back into almost like my personal diary. This series is literally like a musical diary for me. I could tell you about the first one, where I was, what I was going through, and the same thing with the second one. Now, its the same with the third one and all the growth that has happened thus far. This is why I kind of want it to come to an end. I don’t really want it to come to an end, as I’ve been debating it. The decision gave me a few gray hairs. But I think for me it’s about growth and taking myself to the next level.

The last project I had the visual tape and this time I have a few other tricks up my sleeve for y’all. Then after that I kind of just want to be in the next phase of who Kitty Cash is. So if that’s me really focusing on production and coming out with my EP and then an album, then I need to be able to do that. Even though this is curating music, it is very time consuming and sometimes draining. I don’t have the backing of a label. It’s two of us up all night harassing people like, “I’m sorry I don’t want to be annoying, but please can you send this now?”. Then its also the fact that this is all coming from my pocket. If I need studio time or anything, it’s a process and I don’t think people see that part. Each time around, I’m just trying to be better than the last time. It’s like a game with myself. I feel like all three of them together, the trilogy, just tells a very consistent story and I think it’s a very beautiful closing to a chapter.

What is your favorite thing to do as a DJ? Events, touring, or just being in your solace making mixes? Do you think it’s important to be alone sometimes in your field?

I’m very close to my family and a lot of my friends I’ve had for a very long time. I love to keep them close to me because I feel like they keep my grounded. They’re real and they just know me as Cash. I really love doing the events. I love dressing up, I love every part of it. But, I also love just being at my uncle’s house, in the basement and it’s a family affair. I’d just play random Soca tunes for 40 and 50 year olds. I love being in my house and having house parties. I think those are my favorite moments because I’m all about creating memories and things that you can’t really buy. I’m really big on that. Although I do love art, fashion, and music events so much, even tour. Touring is so much fun because you get so much of a culture shock sometimes. Like going to Scotland and realizing there’s not that many black people there, so when I’m walking around with braids to the floor they’re looking at me like “whoa whats going on?!” But for me, personally, I love being with the people I love and just having that party at my house. It could just be my sister and I, and I’d have the time of my life. That’s kind of my favorite thing to do, honestly. As an artist, it is true that I have to be out and seen a lot and, no matter what I’m going through, I have to be on. I need to have that positive energy so that people can receive me in the right way, especially if that may be the first time we’re meeting. You could have had the worst day ever, but when you have to be out, you have to be on. So, I think it is important sometimes to kind of distance yourself from that and for me, it’s always about being true to yourself. So, I definitely do have those trips. I will go to my mom’s house in Jersey, turn my phone on airplane mode and I am unreachable. I’ll go to my grandmother’s house and we’re there for hours just talking and I’m not paying attention to anything else. I’m not online, I’m not on social media or anything else. I think you have to detach sometimes so when you step back into it you understand what’s real and what’s not. This is a world of smoke and mirrors that we’re in right now, and I think sometimes people get lost in the idea of or the facade of not realizing that these are created realities for a lot of people. I don’t want to get caught up in that. So alone time is very important to me, along with family time because that’s part of my alone time.

You’ve obviously been very innovative in your approach to your career. Prior to the power of the internet, it was a rarity that you found the glorification of female DJs. Do you think that the internet affected your career in giving you a larger platform to be heard? Are there any negative or positive experiences you’d like to share?

I think that the internet has definitely allowed access and that’s what was lacking before. You didn’t have the access to hop on your computer, Google that person and set something up immediately on your phone. You didn’t have the access to get on someone’s Instagram, see who they’re associated with, see what they like to do or anything of that nature. You didn’t have the access to go on SoundCloud and listen to someone in Australia and get that song AND for free. You didn’t have that access, so I definitely think that it has opened a platform for me that I needed to take advantage of. I have fans reach out to me from all over the world, and I’m still in shock about it. As with too much of anything, it becomes a double edged sword. There are negatives things on the internet and people always have comments. I don’t take that as a stab at me, but people have opinions. You now open up this door for people to have opinions about you, and I guess that’s something I’m getting used to. I’ve realized that people have opinions about me that can be positive or negative. But, it’s not for me to internalize that. It’s for me to continue on that trajectory that “this is who I want to be, this is what I want to do, this is my vision,” and sticking to that because at the end of the day people project their insecurities onto you. A lot of people do this online, and that shit is crazy because it’s like you’re writing this, you’re saying this and you’re a real person just like me. You get up and brush you’re teeth, hopefully, you do what you have to do but then you’re sitting there criticizing me or trying to be mean for no reason. It’s like, what do you get out of that? You’re trying to knock me down because it’s like, “Oh it’s not a big deal that she’s doing this or that.” Well, if you feel that way, do what you want to do but I’m not stopping you. I just think it’s that kind of thing with the internet sometimes. Even when it’s not with me, but I’m seeing someone write on my friend’s page and I’m like wow that is so mean why would you say that? We all get on our Instagram and check our DMs. It doesn’t matter who you are. So, I’ve learned not to internalize that and make it affect me in a way that is destructive.

Lastly, do you have any advice for female DJs or any females new in the industry?

A lot of times people would ask how I’m doing what I’m doing because I don’t have an agent. I don’t have a booking agent or a manager. It’s all through word of mouth. It’s all through having a certain level of respect for myself online and offline and then of course being good at what I’m doing. People organically reach out to me and are interested in seeing what I do and how I do it. So I would definitely tell women, especially young women, to be aware of what they are putting out online. I think sometimes, especially because I am an older sister, younger people forget that people check what you put on social media and how that can affect your brand if you’re trying to build one. Also, definitely never think you’re too big for something. Like I said, I love doing the parties at my house all the time. If my friend is a DJ and they’re coming over I’m like, “you’re going to spin, let’s have a party.” Theres nothing wrong with starting small and growing little by little. You have to utilize what you have. You have SoundCloud, Instagram, Mixcloud and it’s for free. I think sometimes people think that they need all of these people behind them, but you don’t. You just need yourself. You need your vision and yourself to start especially if it’s something you’re just passionate about. You just need to start doing it and after, everything else will come in due time.

Photography: Hannah Sider and Whoop Tonelle
Illustrations: Mithsuca Berry

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