“I couldn’t separate myself from the way my culture influences me even if I tried,” the rapper tells People CHICA.

Credit: Courtesy of Nitty Scott

“I'm going to burn my Celia candle pretty soon,” Nitzia “Nitty” Scott says, referring to a gem of a souvenir she found in New Orleans. The Puerto Rican and African American rapper has always admired Cruz, the Queen of Salsa, who was one of the biggest Afro-descendant superstars in Latin America. “I couldn't separate myself from the way my culture influences me even if I tried,” the 28-year-old tells People CHICA. “I became more deliberate about centering it.”

Starting out in the music industry at age 19, Scott was always fully aware that she was a black woman in a male-dominated field, even though her identity wasn't at the forefront of her lyrics. “I was experiencing all kinds of sexism, misogyny and racism,” she says. For a while she took it personally, thinking it was only happening to her. She says she was told at one point that she couldn't join the Smokers Club Tour — a showcase that's featured rappers like Wiz Khalifa, Juicy J and Lil Uzi Vert — because she was a girl, and later realized she had no control over her career decisions. “I think about it now, flabbergasted, because it really is the boys club,” says the rapper, whose lyrical style has been compared to artists like Big Pun, Lauryn Hill and MC Lyte.

Now recognized as an outspoken, queer Afro Latina whose unafraid to rap about her identity, Scott became interested in creative writing at a young age. “I had a very wild imagination when I was younger.” she says, recalling the adventurous short stories she wrote as a child. One of the earliest she remembers was about a girl who traveled the world in a hot air balloon with her dad. “I saw I had a way with words and was passionate about it,” she says. Scott eventually became editor of her school's newspaper, and during this time began to write poems that she set to background music — a habit formed by performing at slam poetry events. Satisfied with the flow, she thought, “What if I choose the music first and write to the beat?”

Scott became a sensation in 2010 when her freestyle to Kanye West's “Monster” went viral; a year later she released her first mixtape, The Cassette Chronicles, soon followed by a second one titled Doobies x Popsicle Sticks. Her debut album, The Art of Chill, appeared in 2014, but she still didn't feel like she had much of a say in her career. “I would explain something, and if a man explained the same thing it would have value, it would matter,” she recalls. She says she was frequently told by her team that people wouldn't see her as a “smart and progressive” rapper if she dressed provocatively, and believed for years that they were right.

Finally, after being asked by her manager to change her outfit at an event, she reevaluated her situation. “I was told, ‘Nitty Scott would not wear that,'” and in that moment she asked herself, “Well, who is Nitty Scott?” She did end up changing her outfit that night, but she felt she'd hit rock bottom. She recalls looking at the other women in the room not in admiration but in envy — they could wear what they wanted while she couldn't. This, along with the fact that she couldn't openly embrace her bisexuality, frustrated her.

Scott realized she needed to clean house, management-wise, and start fresh. She now fully manages herself and creative-directs all her projects — and is in full control of her wardrobe. As an advocate for women of color, feminism and Afro-Latinidad, she's no longer reluctant to center her identity and experience. Her latest album, Creature!, features Afro-Caribbean beats and percussions, and includes songs like “La Diaspora” where she raps about her Afro ancestry. She also says she's booked more shows and made more money than ever since she put herself in charge of her career, which makes her feel extremely liberated.

Currently on tour with Jamila Woods, Scott says she's already looking ahead to a new chapter. “I'm currently working on my next project, called For the Sad Girls,” she says. “It's exploring what our journey to healing collectively can look like.” The album will tackle the topic of mental health, particularly among women of color, and Scott plans to work with an all-female crew, from engineers to featured artists. No matter what the future holds, though, one thing's for certain — she'll always be in the driver's seat.