Claudia Feliciano is sitting quietly in a downtown Qdoba, with a Vitamin Water on the table that she is not drinking yet. In the harsh light of a searing Fort Worth summer day, the woman rapidly becoming best known for her bragalicious hip-hop alter ego Snow Tha Product is all business, no drama. Not even a sip of water.
There's little evidence of the feisty, funny party girl of her Drunk Love video, an underground hit thanks to exposure on Mun2 (Mundos), Telemundo's youth channel.
Missing for the moment is the badass rhymeslayer of her Holy S--t video, the one that helped snag a major-label deal with Atlantic.
Not showing up either is the performer who acts like she already kinda, sorta has a hit single under her belt by guest-rapping on the song Alguien, Mexican singer Jaime Kohen's hit south of the border.
And though she's here with her brother, Miguel (who acts as her videographer), there's little of the one-of-the-boys camaraderie of her episodic, daily-life Woke Wednesday videos she posts on her Wake Ya Game Up site (wakeyagameup.com).
She says she wants to be a role model for young Latinas and, right now with her demure demeanor, that seems about right.
In fact, no doubt few coming in and out of the fast-food joint realize that one of the great hopes -- and some detractors might say hypes -- of the North Texas hip-hop scene is sitting right there in front of them. With her new mixtape, Good Nights and Bad Mornings, coming out next month, in some quarters she is being talked about in the same breath as the new wave of female rappers like New York's Azealia Banks, Australia's Iggy Azalea, and California's Kreayshawn.
But Snow doesn't see a contradiction between image and reality.
"It's funny. In rap, you have to be really aggressive, and prove yourself, and be mean and brag," says Snow, 24, with a smile. "Really, in real life, I'm not like that...But we all do have two sides. Sometimes, I wake up and I'm feeling bragadocious and sometimes I'm not."
Forged in freestyle
In fact, it's her quieter side that might have helped her more in the career she originally wanted to pursue: social worker.
Raised in San Jose and San Diego, Calif., Snow had decided to go to San Diego Mesa College after high school. But she soon dropped out to pursue one of her passions, hip-hop, something she'd been dabbling in for years.
"It really all started with freestyle," she says, referencing the ability to come up with hip-hop flows off the top of her head. "It was something fun to do while you're bored with your friends. They heard me and thought I was good and good-good, not just good for a girl."
Through her mom, she met someone with recording-studio connections. "They said, 'rap something,' and they were like, 'You're good'," Snow recalls. "I started going into the studio and I wrote some stuff ... It just went from there. I never took it seriously until I was like 19. I said, 'I think I can do this ... I'm going to pursue a music career.'"
But she needed a hip-hop persona because the name Claudia Feliciano wasn't going to cut it. "It was Snow White originally," she remembers. "Me and my friends were talking about fairytales and princesses and who we wanted to be. I had black hair and light skin, they said, 'You should be Snow White.'
"At the time, I was working with a friend who wasn't a manager but wanted to help and she said, 'I'd like to help you with your music and you should be like a product and I could be the person who's selling you to the label. You can be Snow White the Product.' I said, 'That's great.'"
Of course, Disney said, "Uh, no, that's not great," and the moniker was shortened to Snow Tha Product.
She began to attract notice in California, coming to the attention of Mexico's Kohen. "I did a lot of aggressive rap in Spanish and he was looking for a female rapper," Snow says. "His manager called me and said, 'Get to LA.' I went over there and [we met]. A couple of months later, I was on a flight to Mexico. They shut down a block and we shot a video."
The song Alguien appeared in telenovelas and on the radio, and she is on Kohen's 2010 album, Fotosintesis. (She's listed as "Claudia White" because "it's hard to translate 'Snow Tha Product' into Spanish," she says.)
Around the same time, she made the move to Fort Worth "to be with family," though she won't go into details.
"I don't talk about that," she says. "There's a difference between rapper me and personal me." (Though, if she blows up big, it remains to be seen how long this approach can last.)
One of the first people to take notice of her when she moved here was fellow Fort Worth rapper Smoothvega. "Lyrically, she's a good artist, whether male or female," he says. "But you don't have a lot of females that do the things that she can do. She's bilingual and that adds another element to what she does. And she's ahead of a lot of artists in terms of the way she envisions herself and executes what she does."
Then, he adds with a laugh, "It doesn't hurt that she's not an ugly woman."
The whole package
Manager David Gaona, based in Houston, began working with her in 2010. He had been taking note of her since 2006 when he heard one of her early mixtapes.
"I liked her rapping skills," he says. "She can run laps around people. She's marketable, she has stage presence. She came down and did a showcase in Houston. She can command and control a crowd and that's what you have to do as an artist. She got your attention."
Snow concedes she was at first hesitant to sign with Gaona, having always done things herself.
"I've always been very independent and I was, 'Who are you? Why are you trying to help me?,'" she says. "It took a year of me dealing with them to say, 'OK, cool, it's time to start working together.'"
Last summer, she generated a big noise with her short but deftly defiant Holy S--t video, 95 seconds of smack-talking that put her on Atlantic's radar. "Everybody posted it and it got a lot of websites buzzing," she says. "A lot of people started calling, not necessarily putting bids in, but just wanting to know, 'Who is she? What is she doing?'"
In fact, when the video was posted on 50 Cent's ThisIs50.com site, hip-hop fans definitely took notice with comments like "DAMNNNNNNNNNNNNNN she raw" and "She's official ... the girl can spit!!!"
Gaona says that earlier videos like Drunk Love and Woke Wednesday had gotten some play (see video emeds below). "[But] there was a viral buzz that catapulted Holy S--t and it got everyone's attention," he says. "And they'd seen the numbers for Drunk Love and the labels started looking. We were in contact with Sony, Universal and Atlantic."
She has also attracted industry attention by appearing at South by Southwest for two years running.
As her reputation began to grow, Snow began to get lumped in as part of a new generation of women rappers or "femcees," as some wags call them. But Snow has mixed feelings.
"[Being a woman] is one of the hardest things to do in rap because men can do whatever they want -- be in relationships, not be in a relationship -- and it doesn't affect them. If you're female, it does. Every little thing you do -- weight, makeup, beauty, hair, whether you sell sex or not -- affects a female's career. In terms of networking and people taking you seriously, it's kind of hard," she says. "Honestly, if it weren't for Nicki [Minaj] coming out and showing that a woman can sell rap, I don't think the genre would be around now for a career choice."
She defines her style of rap by two things. "I do the aggressive kind of shock rap [where people say], 'Whoa, she raps!," she says, referring to tracks like Holy S--t. "And then I do [songs like] Drunk Love. Girls like them. There's more singing and hooks and melody but it's still fast."
Tall, cold glass of haterade
Unsurprisingly, the haters have come out to play as well. Go on any hip-hop site where she is being discussed and there will be the diehards who still say women can't rap.
She doesn't check comments sections online anymore, and she says she gets guff from some who don't like her name.
"Back in the day, I would see people say, 'Oh, what does 'Tha Product' mean?,'" she says. "I think now, 'You'll get it when you get it.' I'm not going to sit there and explain myself to everybody. But a rapper is a product. That's what they are and that's what we are."
Some in the local media took her to task for getting a major-label deal when other local acts, who may have been around longer, may be more deserving.
"I didn't get signed because I'm from Fort Worth," she defends. "Atlantic didn't come to Fort Worth and say, 'Hey, who in Fort Worth needs a deal?' I got signed because of the work I've been putting in throughout the years and they saw something. It sucks that people have to rain on your parade when I'm not doing anything negative by representing Fort Worth or Texas."
But she's heartened by the response she gets from other young Latinas.
"I get a lot of e-mails and I appreciate it," she says. "Even though I curse a lot, like a sailor, I feel at the end of the day, my ethics and morals are still there and people can see what I'm representing. I get a lot of guys who say they want their daughters to look up to me so it makes me proud to know that.
"I'm not doing it just to be a superstar; it's not just for the money," she says. "I don't see Latinas in the forefront of the entertainment industry at all ... It's hard to find many Latinas who are Spanish-speaking that I can relate to. There should be more."
Though she's not particularly political in her raps, she does touch on some issues in her Woke Wednesday videos she posts where she and her posse deal with everything from Arizona's controversial law allowing police broader powers to stop people they believe to be illegal to how ants organize themselves. Though many of them are also just Snow and friends goofing around.
"My plan is to always do them because it's cool for people, at any point in my career, to look back and see it build," she says.
Also, she wants do more bilingual and Spanish raps, though she realizes she has to be careful. "Sometimes as a Latin artist, they put you in this box and you're on MTV Tres and you're going to get the Latin Grammy, not the regular Grammy. I don't want to box myself into anything like that."
Staying in Texas
Right now, she just wants to concentrate on working up new material, some of which will be on the Atlantic album due next year.
So, it seems like the move to North Texas has worked out well for her, though she wasn't so sure at first. "Honestly, at the beginning I was like 'Fort Worth, Texas?' but when I got here and met people, and people say 'Hi' to you for no reason. I love how nice people are and the price of houses is pretty good. You can settle down here and feel good."
But she's not a big fan of one thing.
"I really miss California weather," says Snow, who dreads the heat and tornado scares. "I would love to go back but I really love how Texas is, its lifestyle. I'd like to own a little doughnut shop here when I grow old. It's so much like what you see in the movies about life down south."
Follow Snow Tha Product on Twitter, Facebook, and through her web page. Also, check out some of her videos below. Warning: Strong language contained within. May not be suitable for some readers.