With her blunt orange bob, porcelain skin, and freckles, Kacy Hill doesn't fit the stereotype of Kanye West's much-maligned "multiracial only" model casting calls. Yet the 23-year-old singer, hailing from Phoenix, landed her first big break when she was cast as a backup "dancer" for the rapper's Yeezus tour, following a brief stint as an American Apparel model. (The Italian conceptual artist Vanessa Beecroft, who works with West on his fashion shows, did the choreography.) "I was mostly standing and doing static movements," Hill said recently at the Def Jam Upfronts in downtown New York City. "It's weird to say I was a backup model, but that's essentially what I was." She must have done something right, because soon after leaving the tour prematurely, West—after hearing her demo—immediately signed her to his G.O.O.D. Music roster. Ahead of her debut album, Like a Woman, due out June 30, Hill got candid about tattoos, belfies, and working with West.
What was it like growing up in Phoenix?
There wasn't a huge local music scene. I was really obsessed with looking at new artists on MySpace—I would scour the music pages all day. It was endless.
I assume you have some hometown pride since you got "Arizona" tattooed on your hand.
Honestly, I got it in Portland when I was on tour. I just wanted a tattoo so it seemed to make sense! I think I have 13 total. A lot of them are covered, or white.
Tell me about the decision behind your butt tattoo.
One of my best friends from back home was visiting me in L.A. and she had been wanting to get her first tattoo for a while. So I said, "If you get your first tattoo, I'll get 'babe' tattooed on my butt." It's my favorite.
Judging by your Instagram, I think you've definitely mastered the belfie.
Honestly, I don't even know how to do a belfie. It's just more so that I have a lot of people who are willing to take pictures of my butt for me. [Laughs]
Do you have plans to get back into modeling now that American Apparel has officially closed?
I think that fashion complements music well, so it's just about using both of them to create more space and make the other one more meaningful. [American Apparel closing] feels bittersweet. It's been the catalyst for everything in my adult life.
Who are some of your favorite designers of the moment?
Gucci for the past year and a half has been really special; Balenciaga right now is amazing. I really like Alyx and Saint Laurent is always fun, too.
What was it like being on the Yeezus tour?
Everything was insane. I've never been a religious person, but there's 100 percent a very connective, spiritual moment in being around that many people and seeing the energy, especially toward one person. It's godlike. It's church-like—the power it has on people. That experience really made me want to feel that for myself one day. I ended up leaving after the first leg of the tour. It was amazing, but I needed to do my own thing. Then after I left, I think that prompted [West] to be like, "Oh sh-t. She just left my tour." [Laughs]
Did Kanye give you any advice about breaking into the music industry?
I've been pretty lucky in that he lets me do my thing and spend time discovering myself and developing my own sound. I think that's a really valuable thing for a new artist.
What's the inspiration behind your debut album?
It's about things that I feel and things that drive me and make me feel something. Listening to it now, I feel very vulnerable knowing that everyone knows all of this stuff about me.
You're very open on social media, too—especially when it comes to politics.
I try to create a space for people to feel safe and understand things. That's my outlet. Being a multifaceted, educated woman, it's important to speak out and have opinions and not feel like you have to be silent.
I've noticed that you don't wear a lot of makeup. Are you trying to make a statement there?
Not really. I've just never liked makeup on my face. I have freckles, so foundation doesn't really work for me. I'll wear a lip tint sometimes and mascara, and if I have a breakout, I'll obviously put concealer on. Other than that, I'm super crazy about skincare. I still only wash with Cetaphil ($7; target.com)—it's the best cleanser ever. I recently discovered Allies of Skin—they have an overnight mask ($109; bloomingdales.com) and an all-day mask ($89; bloomingdales.com) and a mist ($55; bloomingdales.com) that's the most moisturizing and incredible thing on the whole planet. I like Kate Somerville's goat's milk eye cream ($38; sephora.com). I also use a lot of sheet masks: Erno Laszlo White Marble ($80/pack of 5; saksfifthavenue.com) is my favorite—it makes me feel really bright and refreshed.
Watch Hill's music video for "Like a Woman" below, and buy Like a Womanfor $1 on the iTunes Store.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.