“Y’all want to do some dirty talk?” asked a woman dressed-up as the Earth. It was a bright, hot Sunday morning and a crowd had gathered on the sidewalk outside of Ornithology Jazz Club and eyes were fixed on a larger-than-life figure costumed as the third planet from the sun.
“We’re a bunch of dirty New Yorkers who like to pick up trash and clean the city, right? But right now we just want to get dirty, and we’re gonna get super dirty — we’re going to talk about soil,” the inflatable Earth said, proceeding to drop a beat and begin rapping a song called “Dirty Talk.”
Meet Hila Perry, a native New Yorker who also goes by Hila the Killa. She’s an artist, educator, lyricist and an “eco-rapper” who approaches environmental issues through music and performance. Perry lives in Bushwick and has been performing for over seven years and her inflatable “Earth” costume has earner her a reputation as a local symbol of environmentalism.
Crowds go wild when they see her dropping beats and delivering rapid-fire bars about topics like soil, compost, her love of vegetables, and what it’s like to live on what she calls this “WAP” or “wet ass planet.”
“I make music that’s educational and topical, meant to inspire and incite hope, joy, and fun, especially around environmental topics and issues,” Perry told me.
Given the quickly accelerating climate emergency and the corresponding popularity of environmental activism, her lyrics speak to young people’s existential anxieties. Her work as Hila the Killa has gone mildly viral on TikTok at least twice – a video of her performing “Wet Ass Planet” has been viewed over 5.7 million times and another one that shows her falling off the stage of the House of Yes has been viewed 3.6 million times.
“That was a very intense moment,” Perry recalled with a sly grin. “I was not supposed to fall. And it was really embarrassing,” she admitted. “Afterwards, I got to say that the ‘earth’ saved me, because literally that costume is an airbag, and I was totally fine. I was very grateful that I didn’t get hurt and nobody else got hurt.”
Perry got her start performing at House of Yes back in 2016. Since then, she’s released over ten singles and moved on to playing at clubs like Our Wicked Lady, Gold Sounds, Cobra Club, Footlight, as well as public appearances at Maria Hernandez Park, and various other street performances and at eco-events throughout the city.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Perry stopped working part-time jobs and started focusing on being Hila the Killa, full-time. She started scoring sponsorships from companies like the restaurant chain Just Salad, the Disney brand National Geographic and the scooter start-up Lime. Locally, she landed partnerships with various recycling groups like BK Rot, Precycle, and Groundcycle. Perry performs frequently at Clean Bushwick Initiative events.
Perry lights up when asked about her creative process. “There’s so many things that I need to learn about how the earth works, and how things come to be,” she said. “There’s a lot of topics, and I have a very long list that just keeps growing.”
This summer, Perry is working on releasing a new single titled “City Kid,” an excerpt of which was featured among the poems and essays collected in a book Penguin Random House put out earlier this year, called Nature is a Human Right. Perry says the song is a reflection on growing up in an industrial area in lower Manhattan, where there were not too many trees. One of the lines goes: “city kid, I want green on my grid / water running from the tap, no cap, no lead,” while other bars recommend “how to collect rain, how to care for garden beds.”
As for future plans, Perry says she’s developing a pilot for an educational series called “The Earth Show,” that she says will be in the spirit of “Bill Nye the Science Guy,” but with an environmental activism angle. The show is still in an early development stage and Perry is still looking for collaborators to get on board.
“I really want to educate people on how to be more involved in their communities and their society and involved in the earth,” she said. “My whole goal as an artist is that I just want to affect one person’s life positively, and if I can do that, then I’ve succeeded.”
All images taken by Duncan Ballantine for Bushwick Daily.
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