SECOND ALBUM. A SECOND COMPLEX COVER. A SECOND CHANCE AT A FIRST IMPRESSION. TRUST US, YOU’VE NEVER SEEN CASSIE LIKE THIS BEFORE.
By Justin Monroe
Photographs By Gavin Bond
Styling By Anoma Ya Whittaker
What’s changed for Casandra “Cassie” Ventura since last year? Besides being a Complex cover girl, we mean. Well, not all that much: She’s still beautiful, obviously (Filipino-Mexican-West-Indian-African-American, holler at your hyphenation!). But she’s also still striving for redemption. Because as quickly as the public made Cassie a star, it tore her apart once it realized she wasn’t ready to be one. She didn’t know her voice or her artistic identity, and the jealous and jilted ones smelled the fear and claimed she slept her way to her position. Challenged by the vitriol, Cassie retreated to transform herself into an entertainer worthy of stardom. And this time she’s doing it the hard way, so haters can choke on it.
The initial exposure helped land her a role in her first movie, Step Up 2: The Streets, which came out earlier this year. She’s constantly at work in the studio, readying her sophomore album. Yet, the rumor mill is still trying to peg her as a talentless ingenue, linking her romantically to her Bad Boy label boss Sean “Diddy” Combs, who runs New York City and seemingly most of its creative industries. So it’s good to be Cassie, right? Almost.
Your second album was supposed to have come out a while ago. Why hasn’t it?
Cassie: Based on my past and how my last album came out, I really need to come back much, much stronger. I wanted to have more personality. Before, I had tracks delivered to me; you pick and you choose, and there’s no personality behind it, nobody knows who you are. I really want to tell a story when I’m doing a song. Vocally, either you like my voice or you don’t. I’m not trying to blow like Mariah, back when she was doing that.
Did you work on your vocals?
Cassie: I’ve worked with lots of different vocal coaches, but my vocal producer brought something out of me that I didn’t really know that I had. She was just like, “Don’t be afraid to let your voice crack and let things happen.” When you make a mistake, it just opens up so many doors and I didn’t even realize that. I was so scared to make mistakes after my first time around. I didn’t even want to let people hear me hit a bad note in studio—and that’s where you’re supposed to make your mistakes and work through it. With her I got to work through the kinks, and I really figured out what I liked and what I didn’t like. I haven’t decided to belt things out, but I have decided to sing a little bit more and put a little more personality behind what I’m saying.
Would you sing the national anthem at a sporting event?
Cassie: People used to give Ashanti a lot of shit, and I saw her do the national anthem and kill it. I was like, maybe that’s something that I need to do to show people—I was afraid of the microphone and the stage, but I’m not anymore. I would definitely do something like that.
Have you ever tried a few drinks to combat stage fright?
Cassie: No, but maybe I should. When I do come back out, people are going to come [to my shows] to see me fall, but usually people are coming to see you perform because they want to see you perform. You have to go out with that swagger and entertain. It’s not about you being scared. That’s selfish. I spent so much time worrying about what people thought that it got in the way of me actually having a successful first album. I could have dusted it off and gone back on another TV show but I was too scared. Ashlee Simpson got right back on TV, and I was just like, “No, I can’t do it.”
Do you feel confident now?
Cassie: Yes. I’ve been working my ass off, 10-hour rehearsals and vocal rehearsals until I can’t sing anymore.
Do you feel like you know who you are as an artist now?
Cassie: I’m still soul-searching. Right now I’m 22. Last time around, I was just falling into what was easiest to become. “Me & U” had a whole life of its own, and I was just kind of running behind it. I don’t think I was ever prepared.
The Internet helped launch you, but it’s also home to extremely harsh anonymous shit-talkers. How do you feel about that?
Cassie: I love it.
Cassie: I do. It’s ammunition. I used to be really offended by it. It didn’t motivate me before; I didn’t get that concept. I get it now. At this point, the ridiculousness of the Internet and the things that people say—it’s funny.
Like you being pregnant?
Cassie: I’ve been pregnant three times by way of bloggers. I’ve never been pregnant in my life. I wish they would name their sources so I know who they are.
What’s the harshest thing that’s been said about you?
Cassie: “She’s fucking for checks.” I don’t fuck for checks—I’d rather live on the street.
But is your single “Official Girl” a marketing ploy to cash in on the rumor that you and Diddy are dating?
Cassie: Nope. It wasn’t planned. It was just a song I really loved that I heard. Nobody will ever know who “Official Girl” is about. They think it’s about certain people but it’s not. Anything that happens in my personal life is personal. I never actually put anything out there. Nobody’s really known who I’ve dated.
What’s your definition of an “official girl”?
Cassie: I hear it going a few different ways. For me, I’ve experienced it where being in public, it’s more about keeping your private life private.
So, are you somebody’s official girl?
Cassie: I might be. [Laughs.] I’m not in a relationship right now, but I’m 22. I’m dating people. I’m not one to be like, “I’m dating that guy and that guy.” I don’t want it to be about who I’m dating. I want people to take my career more seriously.
Fair enough. There are rumors that you’ve dated Ryan Leslie and Diddy. If these rumored flames fought, who would win?
Cassie: I’m not answering that question! [Laughs.]
C’mon! It’s hypothetical!
Cassie: No way. That’s totally up to the public. What do you think?
Diddy stands to lose much more in that fight.
Cassie: I like how you’ve thought about this.
Laughs.] Puffy’s bigger, so it’s a bigger deal if somebody knocks him out. So anyway, if a guy makes a girl his official girl, can he have other, less official girls on the side?
Cassie: No. Never.
Is that for you or generally speaking?
Cassie: I don’t think that’s right, but guys will be guys, right? [Laughs.]
Yes, we will. How was your experience acting in Step Up 2: The Streets?
Cassie: I don’t think I took enough classes. Reacting to five other people is completely different than being with an acting coach, which can become comfortable. I’m a horrible driver, and my first day on set I had to drive a car and act at the same time. I was thinking about too many things at once. I had to hit the gas and hit the brakes, and I almost ran over the girl that I was talking to. It was just a mess.
Have you seen any of the debates about your ethnicity online? It’s just like Dave Chappelle’s “Racial Draft” sketch.
Cassie: What’s funny about it is, when I was growing up, I wasn’t confused. I knew exactly what I was. My dad’s Filipino, my mom is Mexican, West Indian, and black—I’m a little melting pot. In school, you were either black or white. Being Asian really wasn’t anything until I got to high school and was modeling all the time, and it was important because it intrigued people. Black people definitely didn’t claim me before. They were like, “Light skin over there, she’s just not for us.” [Laughs.] It’s all perception. The other day, I was at the drugstore and this girl in line was like, “She’s next, the white girl.” I’m not white. I’m not even close.
What kind of female body do you like?
Cassie: I prefer voluptuous over pin-thin, even though people accuse me of having the body of a 12-year-old boy. When I don’t work out, I get really skinny. I started working out with my trainer, and I was like, “I need a booty.” I did three sessions with him and people started noticing the difference, and I couldn’t fit into my jeans anymore. I had to wear spandex.
Speaking of body modification, do you enjoy the pain of getting your tattoos?
Cassie: The pain of this one, I did enjoy [brushes back her hair to reveal “Amour” behind her right ear]. It didn’t really hurt for some reason, and it healed in two days. But I’m really tolerant of pain; there’s something about it I enjoy.
Was it super-painful when you got your nipples pierced?
Cassie: I don’t have any nipple piercings!
Um, yes you do.
Cassie: Can you really see them? [Laughs.] It’s not like I was trying to hide them. I wear T-shirts, so you’re going to see them. I think it’s sexy. I’m proud of them. I wasn’t expecting that [question]! No, it’s not too painful. It stings when it happens. It’s a really strange feeling.
When did you get them?
Cassie: It was kind of for a reason: my mother is a two-time breast cancer survivor. They have gene-testing for that cancer gene, so I got tested. I got my piercings before I got my results, like positive energy. I’m sitting there with my parents, my mom’s sobbing after she finds out that I don’t have the gene, and I’m like, “Guess what, Mom and Dad, I got my nipples pierced!”
[Laughs.] What did they say?
Cassie: They just laughed at me. But it was nerve-racking because I was like, “My mom’s going to kill me if I have this gene and I got these things.”
What do you think about piercings for sexual purposes? Pro? Anti?
Cassie: I’m not against them. Oh my God, I hope my Dad doesn’t read this.
Don’t worry, we’ll cancel his subscription.