New Orleans MC 3D Na’tee (real name Samantha James) has been on quite a journey to rap’s mainstream. A former fixture in the city’s battle scene, she’s been growing her empire as a solo artists since the release of her 2007 debut mixtape 3’s Company Vol.1: The Rapper, The Hustler, the Diva. Na’tee’s buzz began to take off around the time of her third mixtape, Heavy Is the head That Wears The Crown and Guess Who’s Coming 2 Dinner. Getting noticed on outlets ranging from MTV, Thisis50.com, and XXL Magazine among others, she was seen as one of the most promising spitters to emerge from the Crescent City in years.
It seemed like the chance of a lifetime would arrive after Timbaland caught wind of a video Na’tee shot and edited herself entitled “Switch.” The five-plus minute lyrical slaughter on top of the legendary producer’s best instrumentals was featured on her Guess Who’s Coming 2 Dinner project. Flying her to Miami directly after he saw the video, she would get a chance to work with everyone, including Missy Elliot and Justin Timberlake. Once Timbaland’s Mosely Music Group presented her with a deal, she couldn’t agree on the contract’s terms. “Timbaland is one of my favorite producers. I was very excited about the situation but I didn’t know what I wanted and started seeing some of the things that was offered,” Na’tee explains her first major negotiation. “It taught me to know what I wanted next time I got into something.” Never one to slow down, she would release The Coronation, featuring the cautionary tale of a young girl without a father figure, “Lil Kim,” shortly after negotiations with Timbaland fell by the wayside.
Dropping everything from new music to videos, Na’Tee caught the eye of iconic industry veterans Russell Simmons and Steve Rifkind through staff workers passing her videos around. The two were then starting their All Def Digital brand. Some emails, phone calls and online video conferencing later, she was in Los Angeles speaking with both. “I needed to look in their eyes and feel the vibe of both of them,” she added. “Within a few days, they flew me out to L.A. and that was right after I had just come back from L.A., after meeting Baby and Cash Money.” Citing Simmons as well as Oprah as business idols, she admits to feeling jittery about meeting the Def Jam co-founder. It didn’t help that some planned projects were pushed back due to scheduling conflicts. “When I first met him he said, ‘You stood me up. What happened?,’ Na’tee said jokingly. “That kind of broke the ice because that was my first time physically meeting him. We started talking about stuff while everyone was trying to get at him but his attention was focused all on me.” It was also important for someone to understand Na’tee’s more traditional approaching to hip-hop and lyricism—something that Rifkind would know. “Steve is just a cool dude; he gets hip-hop and rhyming,” she explained. “He’s the guy who discovered Big Pun and Wu-Tang. He has a greater appreciation for my music just as Simmons appreciates my business aspect.”
Something about All Def Digital’s work atmosphere “felt different,” according to Na’tee. “Everybody was excited to be working and weren’t a bunch of people following the superstar,” says Na’tee. “It just felt like a good environment.” Describing a period of time with All Def Digital as “work for hire,” she remained an independent artist until officially signing a deal with the brand through Universal during a press conference for an upcoming New Orleans Jazz Festival performance in late April. Until inking the deal, she recorded music and shot her own videos while All Def Digital promoted her work. “I thought that was pretty good on their part, because they didn’t have to do that,” she continues. “That showed that they had real interest and believed in me as an artist because that was exposure for me.”
Considering herself “very excited” about the new possibilities of this venture, she’s currently in the process of recording new material. The new recordings will possibly make her upcoming project The Regime. Originally slated as a free mixtape before her deal, The Regime was put on hold when negotiations became intense. According to the self-proclaimed “Queen of The Solar System,” when released, the follow-up to The Coronation probably won’t be a mixtape. Until a release date comes from her mouth, expect Na’tee to release videos and music periodically. “One thing that Simmons told me was give until you can’t give no more,” she said. “That’s one reason why I’m in the position I’m in now, because I wasn’t holding back.”
Na’tee has come a long way from essentially doing everything—from her website updates to music videos—herself. “Believe it or not, some of the people I went and talked to saw that as a disadvantage, but I knew that the people who wanted to sign me would see that as an advantage,” said Na’Tee. “Now I’m in a position where I can work with a big video director and tell him what my vision is.” For Na’tee, the joint venture with All Def Digital/Universal “doesn’t feel any different.” With an inked deal and the struggle of building her brand behind her, she embarks on a new mission to disprove naysayers and not disappoint her believers. “I know there are a lot of people looking at me being proud but there are people who still doubt me so I have to prove to myself as well as them,” she said. “Regardless, I’m not trippin’ off the praise nor criticism.”