It’s almost a cliché to point out that being a young female rapper in today’s society comes with difficulties on the road to the top, but Chicago MC Nina Tech has already proven herself to be unique. “I wish to be like that, [the way] Nicki Minaj is such a business woman. She has her fingers in the pot, all around,” Nina says grinning, perched by her bed in her room at Purdue University, Indiana.

Between studying for an engineering major and rapping, Nina Tech is determined to succeed in her studies while making her mark on the music world. She’s influenced by current affairs, her upbringing in Chicago and her mom. Referring to her mother in many of her answers, it’s easy to see how the elder Tech has a massive and positive effect on her daughter, steering her away from the difficulties and dangers that come with life in the city.

Dropping her first video, the sweaty, aerobics inspired, ‘Nina Knapsack’ quickly followed by the tracks, ‘Now You Know’ and ‘Winning’ in the months that followed, the outgoing rapper has shown no signs of slowing down since she supported Playboi Carti at his first headlining show in Chicago for Red Bull Sound Select. Viper speaks to her about her hometown’s influence and what keeps her focused.

Your debut, ’Nina Knapsack’ came out in 2016, what’s your take on the success of the song?
Honestly, I took a chance when I did it. I was hoping people would accept it because it isn’t anything like the typical music videos rappers create. That’s what I wanted mine to be like, I didn’t want it to be the same as any other video like waving guns and jumping around. The fact that people are really accepting it and liking it makes me both happy and excited!

How did you come up with the concept of the workout video?
We were brainstorming ideas at my friend Killavesi’s house and her mom had the two-piece that I wore in the video… I stole it and honestly thought it was so cool that I should wear it. Then the question arose; how would I use this in a music video? My friend Maiya was like, ‘you should do an eighties [inspired] music video’, which really interested me. So from there we contacted the director, Matt Gottesfeld and he loved the idea. He by chance had the perfect space – the all white wall – so we got some dumbbells and tried the concept!

Killavesi is your best friend who appears in the video alongside yourself and Maiya. Was she always there for you in regards of your career?
Oh yes! When I started rapping it was myself, Killavesi and Maiya. We were a rapping collective, but eventually we branched out because we had different styles. Maiya is more of an artist than a rapper so she doesn’t rap any more. But myself and Tyler (Killavesi), were a duo for a while but decided that our sounds were really different. We’ve since become solo artists but she is still very supportive of me, just as I am of her. From the beginning when I decided I wanted to be a rapper, it was with her and she has always stuck with me 100%. When I told her I wanted to be a rapper, she was really surprised but look at where we are now!

How did you get the inspiration to start rapping?
Well, before I started rapping I wrote poetry. I was always too scared to actually do it… to put it out there and do open mic [nights]. My friends were extremely supportive of me but the prospect of open mics being face to face was quite intimidating. My poems are really personal but rapping in a way enables me to do poetry on a less personal note. Also, my friends and I were always listening to instrumentals, we had a thing for songs without words, just because we really liked them. We had the idea to put our own words over them. When I started rapping and recorded my first song, it was so much fun, it made me want to keep doing it! I just knew… I gotta do this.

Many of your lyrics are quite explicit, is there anything in particular that made you write these kinds of lyrics?
Honestly, the reason I write these kinds of lyrics is because most of the things are true to my life. It’s really fun to express myself, and it’s also a way for me to talk about my surroundings, like talking about guns and violence. I am really surrounded by that. So, writing about this is a depiction of my environment. It’s just really another way of me expressing myself.

I know that in Chicago where you grew up, Nina Tech is slang for a gun. How did you come up with that name?
My real name is pretty complicated and people tend to have a hard time saying it. Ever since I was young, I wished that I had a simple name that anyone could say if they read it. One time, I was listening to a song and the person rapping said something about Nina Tech. And, immediately I thought that it sounded really cool. For a while I went by Nina [then] added the Tech because I felt like it made my name sound cooler.

This is an extract from Issue 7, The Barely Legal Issue of Viper Magazine. Read more from the magazine here. Buy physical and digital copies here.

Photos by Bryan Allen Lamb
Words by Milica Cosic