3D Na’Tee: “But this time it wasn’t drugs I was passing out. It was music.”

3D Na’Tee has got to be one of the hardest working women in the game. She made a promise to God that if she could have a chance at successfully making music that she would turn her life around and that she did. Her career trajectory and talent level, research skills, and money-making business savvy are among a few impressive things about her. She was an easy choice for my Blavity listicle, but it was an even more obvious decision to share her full interview. This Q&A was originally published in The Living Room.

LR: What is one of your personal career highlights?

3D Na’Tee: I’ve had many memorable moments career-wise, like opening up for my favorite artist, Lauryn Hill, collaborating with and being mentored by Missy Elliott and Timbaland, and my appearance on Sway in the Morning where the legendary morning host paired me up with Kendrick Lamar for a one-on-one cypher.

However, I think my favorite moment ever was making my first 100K from music sales. There was a time when I was risking my freedom to survive and after a few run-ins with the law, I had one of those “Hey God, it’s me” moments. You know, the ones where you promise God that if he gets you out of a particular situation you’ll change your whole life? Well, leave the streets alone to focus solely on music was my promise, and that 100K mark my goal. So when I hit it, especially as an independent artist with no major label machine, management team, or silent investor, it felt like confirmation that I was on the right path. That I was keeping my promise.

LR: Aside from having complete ownership of your work, what other benefits are there to staying indie?

3D Na’Tee: The main benefit for me as an independent artist is peace of mind. Anyone who’s self-employed will tell you, the hours are longer and you work harder because you’re not just a component of someone else’s business. YOU ARE THE BUSINESS… but I find peace of mind in that. I love being hands-on. I love making quantifiable goals and tracking my progress via spreadsheets and shit like that. I also still get to be human. Although, I’ve done deals with major corporations, like Russell Simmons’ All Def Digital, I’ve always made it a point to maintain creative control of my content. Therefore, it allowed me the freedom to learn, grow, and not be boxed in by what a label thinks is cool for their bottom line. I dictate my cool.

LR: Based on your experience, what advice do you have for artists on the rise?

3D Na’Tee: The main thing I would advise an independent artist to do is to invest in self. Not just monetarily though. Invest time strategizing and goal setting. Invest time reading and studying those who did it like you want to do it so you can prepare yourself for the obstacles you may face. Document everything so you can study your past moves and plan your future ones. Invest in self. Think as big as the boss. Work as hard as the employees. Yet, remain as grateful as the interns.

LR: What platform, outlet, or resource has given you the best ability to showcase your work and earn money?

3D Na’Tee: By far, creating my website and my mobile app, The Official 3DNATEE Mobile App, has changed my life money-wise. I noticed that many artists don’t have websites and mobile apps. They rely on social media as their only way to communicate with supporters but I’ve always looked at social media like rented real estate. We’ve seen it happen with Myspace, with Vine, etc. When those platforms fizzle out, creators are forced to make a mad dash to the next “hot” platform to maintain relevancy and hoping that their current fans follow suit. With my site and my app, my supporters always know where to find me. In addition to the storefront on my website, as of recent, YouTube has been an instrumental platform for me to create additional revenue. I’ve always loved working with my hands, thrifting then repurposing items, and doing DIYs. During the quarantine, I filmed myself doing some projects around the house and posted them on Youtube. The response was crazy! Over a half-million views and a spike in Adsense revenue seemingly overnight. That was new for me because I had only looked at YouTube as a platform to share my videos. Not as an additional revenue stream. So both my website and mobile app plus my YouTube have all served as spaces to showcase my work and earn money.

LR: Any indie artist myths that you want to bust?

3D Na’Tee: One myth about being an indie artist that I want to bust is that artists chose the indie route because of lack… Lack of interest from labels, lack of understanding, and an unwillingness to cooperate. Totally untrue. There are deals on the table for me now and, thankfully, there’s been a consistent cycle of new ones for years. I would definitely sign a deal but, to me, record label partnerships are like marriages. You have to find “The One” what you could create your legacy with. If you don’t, you can end up losing everything in the divorce.

LR: Myths about women in rap to bust?

3D Na’Tee: I would also like to clear up the myth about women in rap only rapping about sex. I remember the statement Jermaine Dupri made a while back about that. I feel people who think like that are lazy. There are plenty of multidimensional female artists in hip-hop. In addition to that, guys are hardly ever criticized for their repetitive subject matter. Don’t just complain about what you don’t like. Find and support what you do.

LR: Could you tell me about your idea to create your app and how that direct access between you and fans has helped to generate success and revenue? What did it take to develop it?

3D Na’Tee: I created The Official 3D Na’Tee Mobile App as a platform for me to continue to connect directly to my supporters. As I mentioned before, most artists rely on social media as a place to connect with their fans but what about when these popular platforms decide to change their algorithms or, even worse, when they are no longer relevant?

I saw that happen with Myspace. Although I created my page right before the tail end of its decline, I had close to 100k “friends” on the site and then it collapsed following the introduction of Facebook. Luckily for me, I used my street knowledge to create a rapport offline with the people who followed me. I asked each and every one of them for their physical address. I informed them that I needed it to send them a free copy of my mixtape. People like free shit! In the 3rd ward, hustlers, where I grew up, called it “giving out samples.” If you have a good product, you give it to your “testers” and let them consume it. If it’s really great, word will get around. The streets will do your marketing for you… But this time it wasn’t drugs I was passing out. It was music. Music they could feel. I spent thousands of dollars doing this. Therefore, when Myspace disappeared, I had already built a connection. Those “friends” from Myspace became fans and then consumers. Thousands of them still follow me to this day whenever I sign up for a new platform. So The Official 3D Na’Tee Mobile App just took it a step further allowing me to connect directly to fans, reward them for their use of my app, send notifications when I’m in their town, release exclusives, and more. It’s like a community.

LR: I want to talk about OnlyFans — how it has helped you build community and inspire others.

3D Na’Tee: When I created my OnlyFans page, it was because I wanted to be disruptive. At the time, OnlyFans was being used by sex workers and other content creatives to share soft porn but I knew for a fact the founders of the platform did not intend for it to be used that way. I researched the company and learned that their initial goal was to build a space where creatives could connect directly with their fans. It didn’t have to involve nudity. So I ran with that.

Outside of music, I also buy and sell real estate, operate a thrift store and I own a commercial studio space called 3D Studios in New Orleans, which includes two recording studios, a podcast suite, a green screen sound stage, and more. I wanted to showcase what it takes to make all those things run cohesively as well as teach everything I know about the things I’ve learned, including being an independent artist. When I announced what I was doing, my OnlyFans page debuted in the top 10% of all creators on the platform. That felt good because I did it all while sharing knowledge and helping my people.

LR: You have seen impressive levels of success, including commercial acclaim, why is it, as it seems, more important to you to sign agreements outside of your direct work as an artist?

3D Na’Tee: It has always been important to me to retain ownership of my work. So although I haven’t signed with a major label as an artist, I’ve done licensing deals with companies like All Def Digital, Universal Records, and a few others. Basically, they paid me to use my work for a certain period of time but the deals were nonexclusive. I like nonexclusive deals because they do not prevent me from collecting revenue in other areas like my placement in the movie Black and Blue, directed by Deon Taylor and starring Tyrese, or the appearance of my likeness in NCIS.

LR: In what ways do you believe you’ve grown as an artist — from your lyrics to your performances; what has shaped you into the emcee you are today?

3D Na’Tee: I’ve always had provoking content, superb lyrical ability, and an energetic stage presence but the area where I’ve grown the most has been in connecting with my fans. I teeter on the line of being an artist who knows visibility aids success but I’m also a former drug dealer who possibly suffers from PTSD and am always watching over my shoulders. I was living in survival mode back then though. I have much more love, peace, and joy in my life now. All of which I’ve created for myself. I’m from New Orleans so I’ll always be cautious but I’ve grown the most by embracing the love that I receive and giving it in return.

LR: What’s next for you?

3D Na’Tee: Right now, I’m currently working on my next album called CRXWN, which will be executive produced by PJ Morton. I’m also doing a series on YouTube called Monday Morning Exercises where I take suggestions from fans on what mainstream beats I should remix. If I choose the beat they suggested, I shout them out in the clip and they have a chance to win prizes like studio equipment, personalized merchandise, and more. I am also focused on making 3D Studios a one-stop-shop in New Orleans for creatives of all types! I’ve turned my dreams into reality even with a lack of resources in my hometown so I want 3D Studios to not only be a place for artists to come and record, shoot films and take photos but also a place where they can come to turn their concepts into reality!