Manhattan’s Financial District typically harbors a “Do Not Disturb” roar. Tourists hover over Ground Zero and the Freedom Tower while Wall Street stockbrokers are unimpressed, as they grunt from one skyscraper to the next. However, in the heart of the holiday season, that rigmarole is somehow interrupted by a 14-year-old.
Danielle Bregoli, now known to the world as rap phenom Bhad Bhabie, walks into a downtown eatery and eyes follow her to her seat. A pair of girls (about her age) hold court at the table next to her as she tilts and smiles at them. One’s face turns redder than the newcomer's fire engine-tinged tresses, though all Bhad Bhabie really wants is chicken salad.
“I don’t like chicken salad with too much in it,” she declares, scrolling through the restaurant menu she loaded on her phone with her clawlike nails. The menu finally arrives, but she’s already made her decision: Chicken salad it is. One of the admirers adjacent to her walks up and says, “You look familiar, can I have a selfie?” Her reputation would have anyone believe she would flip a table at her peer and then steal her mother’s car -- but instead, Bregoli politely replies, “I would, but I’m in an interview right now. Thanks.”
To the world she’s come to familiarity with the troubled teen from Dr. Phil’s show who threatened an audience member for attempting to heckle her -- thereby birthing the now-viral “Cash Me Ousside, HowBow Dah” expression that has infiltrated every meme and conversation surrounding the new artist. It was cheeky at first, though now a point of consternation, considering Bregoli’s success has eclipsed even her follow-up episode on Dr. Phil where she advises that she gave his career a boost with her appearance. She now waves off any discussion regarding the self-help guru, especially when the South Florida native has earned a consistent track record of success in 2017.
Raised in Boynton Beach, Florida, Bregoli didn’t have the most idyllic upbringing. She details some childhood trauma in her latest video for “Mama Don’t Worry (Still Ain’t Dirty),” though per her mother Barbara Ann Bregoli, her daughter turned a dangerous corner when she got sick. Danielle’s mother, a two-time cancer survivor, explains that her second bout with the disease changed everything for Danielle.
“That’s when she starting acting up,” she admits. “I don’t think she could handle it.” By the time they reached the Dr. Phil stage (at the behest of family and friends), Danielle was already stealing cars and selling prescription pills. The show kept its promise and Bregoli was bound for Utah at a program for troubled youth, which she describes as even worse than prison. By the time she was released, she had a small following that erupted in less than a calendar year. At the top of 2017, she appeared in fellow Floridian Kodak Black’s video for “Everything 1K” that was simply a fluke -- as the song was simply playing during a filmed photoshoot for Bregoli, and Kodak liked the visuals.
Her video for her own breakout single “These Heaux” reached over 53 million views on YouTube within months. The follow-up banger “Hi Bich” hit a mini milestone in October when it was the highest charting first-week debut the week it appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 (at No. 68). That video now has over 60 million YouTube views. Her reaction series -- where she snarkily criticizes user submissions -- bounces between a million and five million views each (she adamantly denies having a joke writer).
These are not numbers pumped from a random reality TV/Internet moment that somehow went viral. This isn’t William Hung awkwardly swaying to “Livin’ La Vida Loca” on American Idol. This isn’t “Damn, Daniel” on Snapchat. This is a teenager who, like many young artists of her ilk, found a way out of terrible conditions with dumb luck that translates into talent -- despite what many may make of her seemingly self-imposed saga of hater-filled fame.
And like so many before her, rapping found Danielle before Danielle found rapping. Though raised on hip-hop, the concept of pursuing it never appeared within reach -- until now. It’s not the only goal for the teenager, but certainly her first stop on the road to superstardom: Danielle inked a record deal with Atlantic Records in September.
Billboard sat down with Bhad Bhabie for a candid interview about her career thus far and where she plans to go from here.
So on a scale from Aggravated Assault to First Degree Murder, how angry do you get when people still yell, “Cash Me Ousside, HowBow Dah?”
They’re giving me the Death Penalty without a last meal. Just giving me dirty water. [Laughs.]
Do you find it weird having fans who are so much older than you are?
No. I mean, I’ve had anywhere from two year olds knowing who I am to 91-year-olds.
I guess at this point it would be lazy to ask about your haters…
It’s just like, whatever. I really don’t care. I mean, I knew there were haters, I just didn’t know there were ridiculous haters. I’m just kind of taking what I get and making the best out of it, honestly.
You have some bangers out, but did do you feel like you had to go the extra mile to prove yourself given how you entered music?
Yeah because… I always told myself, no matter where I was in life, I’m not gonna end up like other people. I’m always gonna do my own thing. I wanna be something — whether I’m 19 years old working at a pet store or I’m 19 years old with a No. 1 record — I wanna be the biggest I can be to my crowd, no matter what my crowd is. I’ve always been the popular one in my school, in my town. Everyone always knew who I was.
Do you feel like the Dr. Phil situation helped or hindered your progress in music?
Would you have pursued music without it?
Nope. I mean, I always rapped, but not my lyrics. I always knew every song word by word. So that’s how that happened.
What was it like coming up for you in Boynton Beach?
My house was on the West side of Boynton on the other side of [Route] 95, but all my friends and my school were on the East side of Boynton. From the age of like 12, I never really slept at home. I was on the East side of Boynton where the bad things happen.
How old were you when you first learned to drive?
Ever since I was younger, I was fascinated by cars and driving. The first time I actually drove a car, I was twelve years old. I was with my friend and one of these dudes her dad knew. We were coming from Lake Worth going to Boynton and he was like, “Do you wanna drive?” I said, “Sure!” So I did it, and I was good! I automatically knew what I was doing. The second time I drove, I stole my mom’s car [Laughs].
With the keys or you boosted it?
I took her keys. I said, “Mom I have to get something from the car.” [Waves goodbye] I took off.
Didn’t you try and boost a car from one of Dr. Phil’s people?
I didn’t boost it; I took it! That lady’s keys were on my dresser. I was gone!
She worked there?
A makeup artist.
Where did you even go?
Oh, all over. I made a couple stops, and then I got bored. So I started driving in circles around Boynton [Laughs].
When you can legally drive, what car do you plan on getting?
I want a [Porsche] Panorama. I had one for a little bit of time, but I was like, “What are we even doing with this car sitting in the garage? Can we get rid of this thing?” It was a pain in the ass and the engine was getting shitty.
So the story behind the Kodak Black “Everything 1K” video was really just that he took the video from your photo-shoot?
I hope you overcharged him.
[Laughs.] I didn’t even handle it. I was so new to this. I recently met Kodak. Everyone always says, “Oh, she fucked Kodak. She’s dating Kodak.” I just met Kodak at Day N Night [Festival] in September. I FaceTimed him in like, February. [Points to manager] he was there the whole time. I don’t know how you fuck over the phone. I don’t know how that happened. It doesn’t make any sense.
It’s a shitty rumor.
When you’re a female artist, you’re always fucking somebody. Always. No matter who it is. I take a picture with YoungBoy [NBA], I’m fuckin’ YoungBoy. I take a picture with Jackboy, Kodak’s friend, I’m fuckin’ Jackboy. I take a picture with Kodak, I’m fuckin’ Kodak.
Is that something that still bothers you?
No, it’s dumb and makes no sense. Like, how would I do that? Take him in the back of [the festival] and say, “Can I just clear this area, please? Thank you.” It’s like every single male artist I’ve taken a picture with I’ve had sex with, apparently.
Your YouTube videos keeping putting up numbers. Does that pattern excite you or make you nervous to keep hitting them?
With my fans and everyone around me, I know I’m gonna get there no matter what. So I’m cool with it.
So you listened to country music as a kid.
For about five months [Laughs].
Well, then you moved onto hip-hop. Who were some of your favorites?
Plies, Trina, T-Pain. Keyshia Cole.
Now that you’re having to write your own lyrics, is it harder than you imagined?
Yeah, it is, though also not at the same time. Certain things are easier.
In speaking to you, you can tell your personality and sense of humor are real, which is funny how the rumor was you had a comedy writer write the scripts for your YouTube series.
Yeah, okay. [Turns to manager] Make sure Dave Chappelle is next to me when we do my next YouTube video. I need to have my comedian on standby writing my jokes for me.
Are you going to be putting together an album or a mixtape?
A mixtape, hopefully in February or March. I’m in the studio at least three to six times a week.
Who are some artists you want to collaborate with?
I already said Travis Scott, but… most people I’ve wanted to collaborate with, I already have.
You’re only turning 15 next year, which means you have a long career ahead of you. Have you made any long-term goals?
Not yet, really. I’m going with the flow. I don’t wanna push myself to the point where I’m ridiculous. You never know what’s gonna happen. I can go past whatever I goal I set or I can never make it to that goal for whatever reason. Then it’s like, “Shit.”
Where were you a year ago?
At a program in Utah.
Sometimes they make those places look like spas. Was it a spa?
Hell the fuck no. I noticed I have anxiety now in cold weather. It upsets me. I was forced to sit outside in the cold with like just a t-shirt on. Freezing.
How long were you there?
It was supposed to be 100 days, but it was six months for me.
Did you go to classes?
Yeah, that was the only normal thing about it.
So it was like prison?
Worse. I would say to myself everyday, “I would rather be in jail than be sitting here.”
How were some of the other kids in there?
Anyone from prostitutes to — I was one of the worst kids there. There was some kids who didn’t deserve to be there, but they were. It was so sad. If I made enough money to buy that place, I would buy it twice. Just to save some of the kids in there. There was some crazy ass shit in there.
Some kid killed someone in there. That’s how bad it is. Kid killed one of the night staff. And they don’t tell you nothing! There are two places there: where you start off and where you end. The kids who were starting off, they sent them upstairs and told us, “Oh they just have to stay here.” We were like, “What the fuck?” A day later we find out this guy dies. And he was actually one of the staff that gave a fuck.
Was the kid who killed him already a murderer?
No, they said he so-called drank bleach. If he drank bleach he wouldn’t be able to pick up anything [to kill someone].
On to happier things… what has been your biggest purchase since signing with Atlantic?
I don’t really buy things. I just spend on my nails. My nails are always done. I’ve always had them done, though.
So if you weren’t here doing this, where do you think you would be?
At home. Starting trouble.