Kid Sister's star shines bright in music world
By Greg Kot
Melisa Young — better known in the pop world as Kid Sister — has just completed an exhausting month of promoting her debut album, "Ultraviolet" (Downtown/Universal), one of the most talked-about albums of the year with its cutting-edge merger of hip-hop, dance music and pop.
"Last night I had dinner with Questlove of the Roots, and he played a little DJ set in the meatpacking district (in New York)," she says. "It was very yuppie, but a lot of fun. I danced around in my underwear."
For some performers, an underwear dance might connote something provocative. But Young makes it sound anything but, more like a bunch of girlfriends enjoying themselves at a slumber party. "I am a nerd," she says. "I'm not a celebrity."
Yet in the past few years she's become one of the brightest new faces in club music. She's collaborated with artists such as Kanye West, Pharrell Williams and Gnarls Barkley's Cee-Lo Green, all of whom requested to work with her.
She made her first network TV appearance a few weeks ago on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," showing not a hint of stage fright as she frolicked in the audience while performing an energetic version of her single "Right Hand Hi." Already a veteran of main-stage appearances at festivals such as Coachella in California, and appearances at DJ-centric nightclubs such as Next-Door in Honolulu, she is preparing for a new year of heavy touring.
Through it all, Young remains unfazed, a budding pop star who still remembers very well where she came from: a blue-collar upbringing in Markham, Ill., and years of trying to squeeze music making between shifts clerking at retail stores.
"I don't think I realized this was my full-time job until about nine months ago," says Young, 29, of her music career.
Young was born in 1980 to parents of different races: her mother of Irish and German descent, and her father African-American. Her brother Josh was born three years later. Both parents worked and kept the family fed and sheltered, but could afford few frills.
Melisa Young played a number of lead roles in high school musicals, and she studied film while attending Columbia College in Chicago. She worked behind the scenes on a couple of Hollywood movies. A stint as an assistant on a reality TV show convinced her she was in the wrong business.
Meanwhile, her brother was ripping it up on the DJ and dance scene in Chicago with his friend Curt Cameruci.
A LUCKY BREAK
Their mash-ups of hip-hop, pop, rock and electronic music brought a measure of underground fame in the duo Flosstradamus (which made an appearance at Honolulu's SoHo in November).
Melisa Young started rapping and became a regular presence at Flosstradamus shows. In 2006 she met one of her brother's friends in the business, Alain Macklovitch, aka A-Trak (also known on the Honolulu DJ circuit), who was the DJ for rising star Kanye West.
"I was working on some new sounds, moving from hip-hop productions to messing around with a lot more clubby, up-tempo tracks with synths and electronic influences," Macklovitch says. ... "It was cool to test out my stuff with a new artist who didn't have any preconceptions about what this could be."
Macklovitch launched his record label, Fool's Gold, with Kid Sister's debut single, "Damn Girl."
The follow-up, "Control," began to establish her sound and persona. She eventually signed with New York-based Downtown Records, home of Gnarls Barkley, Santigold and Mos Def.