Kat Stacks – real name Andrea Herrera — was the bad chick who shook up the hip-hop game. Around 2010, if you were a rapper you did NOT want your name to cross her lips. Kat was all about exposing their ostensible taboos and dirty laundry, in a series of jaw-dropping, now-internet-infamous YouTube videos like this one. (Warning: That link is NSFW, obviously.)
Everyone from Nelly to Bow Wow to lesser-known Cash Money crew members came under fire (yes, NSFW again) in a series of call outs and beefs that stretched across social media. Soon, Kat became the most wanted woman in hip-hop – well, at least in certain circles of the industry.
But it turns out this was part of a larger story in which Kat was really the true victim, forced into sex trafficking as a teenager and later caught up in an immigration-law morass that led to her imprisonment for three years. Her story speaks to an intersection of hot-button issues: women’s exploitation in and around the music industry, the prevalence of sex trafficking within U.S. borders, and unjust deportation procedures.
The Kat Stacks saga also speaks to a greater human truth. Before you condemn someone for the way they look, speak, or even act, it’s best to reserve judgment until you know their whole story.
We caught up with Kat recently near North Miami, where she grew up after arriving with her family from Venezuela at age eight. After three years on immigration hold, she’s ready to speak her truth, with a tell-all book due out in 2014 called Admire Andrea: Surviving Savagery.
Here’s Herrera's version of the real story behind the woman who became Kat Stacks.
TROUBLED TEEN YEARS
Kat recalls a troubled, physically abusive home life in North Miami, where she lived with her mother, grandmother, and two uncles. “My mother was actually never home. My grandmother, she had mental issues,” she says. “
INTRODUCTION TO THE GAME
Stuck literally walking the streets, Kat soon found that the pimp game bore little resemblance to the seedy glamour often portrayed in pop culture.
“Mostly the pimp game is a mental game. So they have that girls’ mind,” she says. “They don’t ever leave, because they think it’s love. And they just – the self-esteem is so low they don’t have the strength inside to just get up and be like, ‘I’m out.’”
Even if a woman in this situation were to gather the mental strength to try to leave, it’s not always that easy, Kat explains.
“There’s some pimps who’ll be like, ‘Bitch just go.’ And they don’t care. But then there’s those gorilla pimps that say, ‘Ain’t no f’-in way you’re leaving unless you got a bullet in your mouth,’” she says.
So how did she finally get out? It wasn’t through the kindness of Good Samaritans, a sympathetic trick, or even a nonprofit. Though several organizations exist to help girls and women get out of the life, Kat says she wouldn’t have known to even look for one, anyways. “I think nobody could have helped me back then. My mind was so gone,” she says. “And I was with a gorilla track pimp and those are the worst. I was always just alone in my mind.”
Instead, it took an arrest finally, at age 19.
“I had a firearm. And they tried to deport me, but they released me because I was pregnant. So they said the only way they wouldn’t deport me and I could be released was if I stayed with my family with an ankle bracelet,” she says. “He couldn’t come close to me. And then having my family’s support and their love, and plus I had had [his] baby, it was just a different experience from what I was used to. “
DRAMA FOR PAGEVIEWS
Bored at home on house arrest, she says she teamed up with the head of web site WorldStarHipHop to release a series of profane viral videos in which she dished on rappers’ supposed bedroom secrets. It seemed, at first, like the second coming of Karine Steffans, an infamous video model and hip-hop “groupie” known as “Superhead” who wrote a series of tell-all books about a decade ago.
Was Kat Stacks a video model? An escort to the industry stars? A side chick? Nobody really knew – and she kept it purposefully ambiguous. She says today it was all made up in cahoots with WorldStarHipHop for pageviews. Pressed on the issue, she simply replies, “It was all entertainment.”
But, she says, this would come back to haunt her in court. Throughout this whole episode, she finished her house arrest time, later embarking on a promotional club tour that cashed in on her notoriety. But her legal status in the country still remained tenuous.
THREE YEARS LOCKED UP
She had arrived in the country legally with her family, and remained here legally, but neither she nor her mother had gotten naturalized by 2010. This left her open to deportation thanks to the felony charge – even though that charge came under duress, through forced prostitution. As she and her immigration lawyer, Eduardo C. Fuentes, attempted to fight deportation proceedings, she tried to enjoy what could have been her last days in the U.S., the country in which she had legally grown up.
Then, thanks to a paperwork mix-up, Kat missed an important court date. And when attempting to leave Nashville, Tennessee on November 5, 2010, she got arrested and put on indefinite immigration hold. She would wind up serving almost three years in immigration jail, her status always indefinite, even though she hadn’t committed another crime.
“They were gonna release me, but they didn’t, because the prosecutors showed my WorldStar videos in court. So then the judge said I was rebellious and tried to deport me. So then we had to appeal again,” she says. “Then I went to the media and I spoke about it and then they petitioned to Obama and all this mess started. And they just released me because they were tired of the recklessness with the media.”
In the end, a judge released her, granting her amnesty as the victim of underage sex trafficking.
“I realized how the DREAM Act and other organizations tried to help me from being deported,” she says. “I really realized I was a victim when I went to counseling and I had to take medication and understand what I went through, what I didn’t know back them. Cause I just thought he was like, my boyfriend and I’m in love. That’s what I thought for years and then I realized, no, this is what he did. It was brainwashing, it was abuse, it was torture.”
The abrupt about-face from laughing industry villainess to reformed, budding activist might surprise those following the arc of the Kat Stacks character. But she says she’s ready to reclaim it, using her massive social media platform (a current follower count of more than 450,000 on Twitter and more than 93,5000 on Instagram alone) for good. Besides the forthcoming book, she’s also planning to open a foundation and eventually a shelter for survivors of sex trafficking.
“I feel like Andrea was that scared little girl when all that crap happened and Kat Stacks was a survivor, and there are many other upcoming Kat Stacks running around, and I feel like I’m proud of it,” she says. “I can use my experiences to help others that are in the same situation I was in.”
Arielle Castillo is Fusion's culture editor, reporting on arts, music, culture, and subcultures from the streets on up. She's also a connoisseur of weird Florida, weightlifting, and cats.