For the last century or so, artists from around the world have converged on Los Angeles to seek out their fame and fortune. It’s a never-ending gold rush, although most of the prospectors leave empty-handed with their pockets turned out.
As it stands, underground South African rapper and singer Push Push (Nicci St. Bruce) has her hands full and her pockets are getting fatter. But when she initially left Cape Town, she never intended to move to LA. It just sort of happened. In hindsight, it was a stroke of genius. While the divisive musician was steadily building her career in South Africa, with South African and international media support (and even having a song featured on Broad City), she never could have imagined the opportunities that would open up by relocating.
Push Push has gone from working with some of SA’s best alternative artists like Thor Rixon and Alice Phoebe Lou to collaborating with the likes of Pussy Riot (Nadya Tolokonnikova) and Tommy Lee (with Fred Durst directing the video), to putting out the fantastic No Gods EP in collaboration with her husband, Moon Bounce (Corey Regensberg).
“When I met Corey, we weren’t, like, planning to do the forever thing,” she divulges to OkayAfrica in a Skype call, “I was just here for a month. He was just this guy that I’d been flirting with on the internet for a while.” The lack of a future together allowed them to open up more than they usually might have, “I was very painfully honest with him from the beginning, because I was like, ‘I’m never gonna see this person again,’ and so was he. So he was like, ‘This is my vibe’, and I was like, ‘This is my vibe,'” she explains.
Their vibes aligned and she realised that she might want to stick around for longer than a month. “And then we were like, ‘Well, if I’m gonna stick around, I might as well try and stick around forever.'”
Tommy Lee – Tops feat. PUSH PUSH (Official Music Video)
Forever has been three years so far, and judging by their work together on No Gods, the two have chemistry. One of Push Push’s biggest strengths has been working with forward-thinking producers who push her artistically, and No Gods sees her going beyond previous limits. She opens up creatively and emotionally as she uses the EP to let go of the past and move forward with her life in LA.
Multiple songs are about exes back in Cape Town. You might think it would be awkward to write songs about dalliances with past paramours with your husband, but for Push Push, “It’s actually cool because Corey’s a grown-up. And his parents are therapists. So he’s, like, the most understanding mentally well-adjusted person that I’ve ever met.”
Throughout the EP, Push Push see-saws between moments of vulnerability and audacity. This duality is most apparent on “Slowly”, where she fluctuates between pining for a lover who doesn’t pine back and being a no-fucks-given truthsayer who claims that if she had a dick, she’d be Adonis. “It’s about somebody who wants to be with you, but not enough that they can just slow down and stay in one place with you. But what that line is really about is like,” she pauses, “I don’t know, it’s more like a derivative of a larger idea where I guess my main thought was, how you get called all these names as a woman, but if I had a dick, you’d call me a conqueror or a slayer.”
What initially comes across as bravado is actually commentary on slut-shaming and the double standards women face: “I just thought if I was a dude, I would be this Greek god. I’d be this, like, absolute conqueror of the opposite sex, but then it gets switched around on me and it gets demonised—and that’s the thing that people always remember about you wherever you go.”
Push Push has been on a conquest with her music in 2020, managing to score collaborations with Pussy Riot and Tommy Lee. She’s had to balance both new fans from the Pussy Riot collaboration on an anti-cop, discordant punk track (“ACAB”) and the hate from old Tommy Lee fans who obviously aren’t as open to new ideas as Tommy is.
With “Tops”, Lee aimed to create a song that was driven entirely by drums, with the bass drum playing the melody, which perfectly suits Push Push’s tendency for experimentation. It’s a proper thumper and one of the most original songs in Tommy’s catalogue, but, judging by the torrent of hateful YouTube comments on the music video, his fans would have preferred if he just rehashed his old stuff.
“Look, I was never expecting them to like me, but I also wasn’t going to say no.” She drifts off for a second, “I just wasn’t gonna say no.” It’s rare to find a musician who would say no to working with Mötley Crüe’s Tommy Lee, especially if it means getting to shoot a video with Fred Durst in the director’s chair. “I liked it when Fred Durst and Tommy were on a track, that was cool Methods of Mayhem moment,” she explains. “And I was hoping people would get that. But they didn’t.” While the song and video were rejected by Tommy’s fanbase, Push Push doesn’t hold it against them, “Imagine seeing me now for the first time and you see me in that video. I would also be like, “Who the fuck is this bitch?””
Photo by Beatriz Valim.
The Pussy Riot collaboration fared much better, gaining Push Push new fans, but some were a bit confused by the sounds on her EP compared to what they’d heard on “ACAB”. “People who followed me from Pussy Riot had only ever heard ‘ACAB’. So when my EP came out, they were still following me and listened to it. I got a lot of messages from people being like, ‘woah, I’ve only ever heard the Pussy Riot song, I didn’t know that you were like a pop person. Like, what’s the vibe?’ And me just being like, ‘I’m so sorry to tell you there is no prescribed vibe.'”
Having no prescribed vibe is what has allowed Push Push to thrive. As a fan, you never know what’s coming next, but knowing Push Push, it’s going to be unlike anything she’s done before.