Princess Superstar Talks Being a Broke (and Also Rich) Musician

I live on a prime Upper East Side block in New York City, between Fifth and Madison, in a one-bedroom apartment with my husband and two-year-old.

I live on a prime Upper East Side block in New York City, between Fifth and Madison, in a one-bedroom apartment with my husband and two-year-old. In this neighborhood, if you want to buy a sandwich at the place next door, it’ll cost you $30. That’s not hyperbole; they really do sell a sandwich that costs $30. My apartment is right near some of the most expensive real estate in the world, including a $100 million mansion that I once visited. (“See that bed? It was given to Marie Antoinette by France!”) From my apartment, I can see into our billionaire mayor Bloomberg’s backyard. (No, I have never seen him naked in socks or anything.)

But after 20 years in the music biz, sometimes I can’t afford my “reasonable for NYC” rent. I am totally broke.

I haven’t always been a rich little poor girl. In 2006, my song “Perfect (Exceeder)” hit #3 on the UK pop charts and I used to fly to Europe every other week to perform and DJ. I would turn down gigs if I was too tired or if they paid less than $3,000 (this is for an hour and a half of work, mind you). In short, I was a bit of a spoiled brat and thought that life was always going to be this way, which was completely delusional considering I had been broke just a few years earlier after burning through the cash from my first hit “Bad Babysitter,” which reached #11 in the UK singles chart. Then there was a perfect crapstorm that flooded my financial scene: the 2008 economic crash that caused promoters to stop flying out overseas DJs and paying them exorbitant fees, rampant file-sharing (yes, that affects my ability to buy a bagel and pay rent, so please don’t do it!) and the fact that I didn’t release very much material because I had a baby… with my husband, who is a musician/producer too. Oy vey. This kicked my ass, and continues to, but I have used the experience productively on my path. As Sarah Silverman said, “When life gives you AIDS, make Lemonaids!”

So even though I am broke, my abundance portfolio, a term coined by my amazing spiritual guru Guy, is ginormous. I am Princess Superstar, so I live in magic and miracles, where you can manifest what you need (but not always what you want) and things magically appear just when you need them. Don’t get me wrong — having tiny cash flow sucks sometimes, but living in fear is not an option for me. Sometimes you have to go on a journey of being broke to really have gratitude for the money (and your life) in the first place.

By the way, I wasn’t always this full of ancient wisdom — I used to be an obnoxious, materialistic, drug-addicted white-girl rapper who had a huge transformation about nine years ago — but that’s a story for another time. (Especially if you want to give me a huge book advance to write it!)

A few weeks ago there was a Forum question in the Talkhouse: “Does the ‘new paradigm’ require a struggling musician to be too much of a huckster?” The question provoked a lot of thought in me. I had to look up the word huckster just to be sure. One of the definitions is “a mercenary person eager to make a profit out of anything.” And I gotta tell you, um, YES, I am officially a huckster. I used to say, “I will NEVER use my music to sell a product!” Does anyone remember the ’90s, when, like, you were really lame and sold out if you licensed your music to a commercial? Does anyone remember when the band Trans Am turned down $100,000 for a Hummer ad? Well, right now, I’m up for a commercial for Fiber One cereal. I am nearly salivating for the Fibery Goodness to send me a check that can cover half a year’s rent for my family.

If you’re a musician, you have to be a street hustler or you can’t do your music anymore. I started my record label in 1998, it was called A Big Rich Major Label. Then, in 2000, just to give you a sense of my punk-ass ethic, I renamed it The Corrupt Conglomerate. And with punk ethics and not selling out to the man comes, well, a bit of financial struggle. I am assuming that I am possibly the only person in my neighborhood who is on food stamps. I wear this like a badge of pride. I love the dichotomy of my address and my food stamps — kind of like how Ol’ Dirty Bastard used his food stamp card on the cover of his record Return to the 36 Chambers: The Dirty Version. (By the way, food stamps are now referred to as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka SNAP, which I really like. It takes the shame out of it, like, “Ohhhh SNAP! I’m about to go to Whole Foods and get free kale chips! Thanks, Government!” Double SNAP-tranny style!)

Once I had to feed my family on $2.95. I did it — on-sale organic pasta, a tiny bag of arugula that cost 50 cents and some free parmesan cheese. (Thanks, Fairway!) Next thing you know, me plus my baby plus a babysitter were flown out to Europe so I could DJ a club in Belgium and stay at a five-star hotel. This lifestyle keeps you humble, and, last I checked, the meek shall inherit the earth. So yay.

While Drake proclaims he can’t see you “because the money’s in the way” and he’s speaking about the literal stacks of money in the way, I can tell you that I can see how money can really get in the way of experiencing magic and abundance. Living up here amongst the insanely wealthy you just have to look in their faces sometimes to know it. That said, money can be nice too, and I’ve had it and will have it again, I just know that next time, things will be different. In my own personal mini-MC Hammer drama, I have made hundreds of thousands of dollars and lost hundreds of thousands. I was super psyched when JD Samson of Le Tigre wrote this article about how hard it is to be a successful musician, and how the perception of being “famous” is so strange. I have thousands of fans, been on the cover of many, many magazines; I’ve had two hit singles in the UK. Sometimes there are screaming fans who cry and hold out my albums for me to autograph. And sometimes I have to figure out how to feed my family for less than five bucks.

I am firm believer in “everything happens for a reason” and I know lots of reasons why I sometimes have to live with no money. The gratitude and respect for money that I have now is unbelievable, something I never had before when I was flying first-class to go shoot a video with Moby (although I seriously miss the Givenchy pajamas Virgin Atlantic once gave me.) I have found new and fulfilling ways to make money, including teaching kids the art of hip-hop (including break dancing and beatboxing) and acting as an artist mentor. (Or, as I like to think about it, a life disk jockey, getting the party that is your life to be totally rocking!)

But this is the only thing I know how to do. I am a rapper. I am a producer. I am a DJ. And, as of now, I am also a writer, writing this. This is my life, my passion, my blood. I have thought about quitting so many times, but it doesn’t go very far. I wouldn’t really know what else to do and I know in my gut I am supposed to do exactly what I am doing. The love of music and performing, my loving fans — it all keeps me going. (And the critical acclaim doesn’t hurt.) Also, every time I think I’m going to quit (I got rejected about 25 times trying to get a record deal for my new album, but I always remember that nobody wanted to sign the Beatles either), some miracle has happened where the universe doesn’t let me. I just got a record deal with the legendary Richard Gottehrer, who co-wrote “My Boyfriend’s Back” and “I Want Candy,” and who was so forward-thinking that he founded the Orchard back in 1997, when digital distribution didn’t matter.

How did I get this deal? Twenty years ago, I was a waitress and waited on his table and got his contact information, because at the time I was a guitarist in an all-girl band called the Gamma Rays. A few months ago I contacted him — a last-ditch throwaway effort to get signed after being rejected a million times — and whoa, he remembered me, and loved my new music. And he signed me. Miracle!

So I’m probably about to be a millionaire. I’ll check back in with you soon.

One of the first female rappers to mix up hip hop and electronic music in a modern way, Princess Superstar has two top 20s under her belt, including “Bad Babysitter” and “Perfect Exceeder” (#3 on the UK charts), and has recorded six astonishing albums. She is currently working in comedy (she just appeared on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”) and is releasing a new song with Margaret Cho very, very soon. Princess Superstar will be launching an Indiegogo campaign for a revolutionary kids record. More info here.

(photo credit: David Yellen)