AB Soto queerifies hiphop
by Jim Provenzano
Calling from London, AB Soto took time along his current tour (London, Spain, Chicago New York, and back to a few of those cities) to share his thoughts on art, music and gay culture.
With his colorful eclectic outfits that range from glam-trash to cuddly pajamas with inflatable toy store headdresses, Los Angeles-born Soto has not only struck musical chords, but style ones as well. Soto will bring his hiphop “Banjee” music act to the Folsom street Fair’s main stage (10th St. at Folsom) Sunday September 23 at 12:30pm.
Whether dancing, singing or posing a la classic vogue style, the diminutive Soto (he’s 5′ 7″) brings jumbo-size energy and poise to his stage acts.
“I’m just trying to keep up,” said Soto with a giggle. “Every time I release something, it’s been really busy. I’m trying to be all these places at the same time. But I’m not complaining. It’s good!”
The self-producing performer, who lives in LA, blends his former dance and fashion experience into his new work, focusing on creating songs and performances, which he’s been doing for the past three years.
“I was tapping into all these passions of mine and music came to me,” said Soto. “It seemed like the next step. It felt like I had been collecting all these different skills along the way.
Despite his unique fashion look, Soto doesn’t think of it as an act.
“I really wouldn’t call it a persona,” said. “Some people see me as this comic book person, but it’s just like what me and my friends wear. The kids here in London, the gay men dress differently than in Los Angeles. It was hiphop in the beginning and now there’s more of a pop art. But it’s me. I’m not pretending to be someone else.”
“I could describe it for days, but you just need to experience it. I don’t even know what genre I’m in. I’m just doing what I love. Visually, I see something and say ‘I think it would be good on top of my head.’ Most times, it does.
The eclectic stylings, from pink painted eyebrows to nearly nude poses, to multi-layered sports, PJs, cartoon bed sheets and stuffed animals, reflect Soto’s perspective on Hollywood fame culture, all with a sense of humor.
With his own style, Soto is also pushing the compositional definition of hiphop by keeping alive his ‘Banjee’ and ‘Butch Queen’ attitude.
“I think, as a gay man, everybody has a bit of banjee in them. Young gay kids speak that way, but don’t even know where it comes from. And they’re all different races. It’s a vibe and an attitude; a little urban, street, independent, and everything else is pretty vague. You could be rich and still be super-banjee.”
“Anyone can be banjee. It’s like, it’s okay to be strong and assertive if you feel like you need to stand up for yourself in an assertive way.”
With new song collections called Fagout, Vol. 1, Soto is definitely asserting his spirit, and a new attitude about the entire process of making and sharing music.
“This whole journey is not about the money,” he said. “I make the music accessible to everyone so everyone can have it. Being so strict to the way music has been released in the past is so boring. If I make a song and want to release it the next day, I’ll do it.”
Another upcoming project is a 15-minute scripted film that includes a few of Soto’s songs, which will be released online later this month, and at a few upcoming film festivals.
Are performers like Soto changing hiphop? “I think that’s there’s a huge homophobic underlying tone in the industry,” he said. “Executives want to sell records. But gay people are everywhere. People are coming out again. These days are like the new coming out. It’s almost like we want more, and we have to continue to keep coming out. A lot of people are doing it in the music industry.”
Soto sees his contemporaries like Cazwell as part of a small yet hopefully growing genre. “It’s a small community of us coming together, changing the way people see us.”
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