Envelopes, yes. But can mile-long acrylic nails done up in airbrushed art actually open doors? Talk to Kid Sister (aka Melisa Young), the on-the-verge Chicago rapper who has parlayed a full set of Celia Cruz–style talons into a collaboration with Kanye West, a record deal and talks about a future with MTV.
It’s true: Young, 27, owes much to her manicure, her signature accessory since eighth-grade graduation. “It was my first big-girl thing that my mom let me do,” she says, brandishing 10 coral-coated digits painted with white flowers. “They were bright red. I looked like a f---ing harlot! I couldn’t believe my mom let me do it.” Trampy or not, aside from a few years spent away from the acrylics during college, those flamboyant fingertips have become what she calls “my shtick.” So much so that they inspired her hit single “Pro Nails,” a feel-good, old-school-style track with a chorus—“Got her toes done up wit her fingernails matchin’”—that’s undeniably catchy. Last summer, when Young was unsigned and working the music-festival and Chicago club circuits while keeping her day job selling baby clothes, the song caught the right ear—that of Kanye West. He was introduced to it by his DJ, Alain “A-Trak” Macklovitch, Young’s boyfriend. West liked what he heard so much that he added vocals and cameoed in the video, which debuted in December. Fast-forward to spring 2008, and much has changed for Young. Bye-bye baby store, for one; now she’s busy putting the finishing touches on her first album—titled Koko B. Ware, after her favorite WWF wrestler of yore—scheduled for release in late July on Downtown Records.
Young, who has a film degree from Chicago’s Columbia College, didn’t start rapping until two years ago, when she took the stage at a popular party at a local club hosted by her brother, Josh (J2K), one half of the popular DJ duo Flosstradamus. That performance put her in front of some of hip hop’s hottest up-and-coming acts, many of whom contributed to her record—DJ Gant-Man, Trakademicks, DJs Infamous and Develop, Spank Rock and Nina Sky among them. “Who else is on it?” Young asks herself, nearly forgetting her biggest hitmaking muscle: “Oh, Kanye! Kanye! Duh! Don’t forget that, of course.... Kanye is the one that really got the ball rolling on mainstream exposure.”
Indeed, since West lent “Pro Nails” his golden touch, Young has turned some bigwig heads, not the least of which belong to MTV talent execs. In February she did a stint on Total Request Live, followed by performances at MTV Spring Break in Panama City Beach, Florida. And post-interview, she’s off to yet another meeting to discuss potential partnerships with the music network.