by Joshua Klipp
A slinky, sexy, tautly muscled man named Krylon piles bound, braided hair atop his head. Wearing silver Spandex with stiletto heels and standing in the middle of a busy downtown San Francisco crosswalk while high-kicking, head cocked to one side, he’s queen-screaming into a bullhorn, “SAN FRANCISCO, OOHH, WHAT’S UP HEE- EEEYY??!!”
Streaming passersby do not bat an eye. This scene from SF’s queer hip hop duo Double Duchess’ latest music video, “Bucket Betch” defines not only San Francisco in 2012, but the next generation of Bay Area queer hip hop.
It’s nearly a decade now since trailblazing hip-hop Queer-os (queer heroes) like Oakland’s black and queer Deep Dickcollective, San Francisco transman Katastrophe, Los Angeles based transwoman Foxxjazell, and West Coast lesbians JenRo and Julie Potter finger-nailed, scraped and mic-smashed their way into the hyper masculine and strictly heterosexual world of hip hop.
This dauntless coterie spun and spat rhymes while unapologetically queer and now, a new generation of queer hip-hop homos almost luxuriously rap, sing, shimmy or vogue their way through tracks that talk, sing or are about their queerness if they feel like it, or about something else if they don’t. Standing on the shoulders of hard-hitting, insistently out predecessors, this new crop of players often times gets to simply focus on making hot music. And it is a near tsunami of musical, lyrical, and visual heat.
One half d.a.v.O., one half Krylon, and one hundred percent infective campy electro hop, Double Duchess’ new club-ringing anthem “Bucket Betch” repeatedly and correctly asserts that they are “popping up and taking over the place.”
DD’s first EP, “Hey Girl,” released last March to a packed Rickshaw Stop, and is available on iTunes. It’s the production brainchild of d.a.v.O., a Baltimore native who grew up on go-go music, the Beastie Boys, and a score of punk DJs. A percussionist by training, d.a.v.O. broke into the business as a member of Jepetto, a late ’90s early 2k alternative rock/funk/hip hop and punk band that featured on the Warped Tour.
After moving to San Francisco, d.a.v.O. met the inimitable Krylon and, when Krylon showed up to jam sessions and started “lacing tracks, talking shit and getting sassy about something”, Double Duchess was born.
Their “Bucket Betch” music video, made by volunteer friends, performers and filmmakers, caught attention as far as The Huffington Post, which declared it “San Francisco’s newest queer hip-hop anthem.” In the video, Krylon, who names Peaches, Chaka Khan, and De La Soul as influences, testifies to his declaration that, “You can’t perform our stuff half-ass!” and brings half of San Francisco’s most beautiful queers along with him on teetering high-heeled walks through the Mission, sparkler-waving bicycle rides through the Castro, fierce vogueing on BART platforms, and back alley dance parties choreographed by d.a.v.O.’s partner, Antone Martinez.
DD recently blew audience brain matter on the SF MOMA’s Catwalk at an event for the Jean Paul Gaultier exhibit, and the resulting swarm of photo and autograph-seekers took 20 minutes to unravel. This fall they’ll release an album of remixes. In the meanwhile, they will light up venues around the Bay Area not only with their kaleidoscopically high energy live performances, but also their line-out-the-door popular new clubs “Swagger Like Us” (El Rio) and “Church” (Public Works, produced with Peaches Christ). For more info and upcoming dates, check out Double Duchess’ website at www.doubleduchess.com.
It’s a Saturday, almost midnight, and the stacked speakers nearly scrape the ceiling at the Mission’s hottest new venue, Public Works. DJ Rapidfire makes a decibel-splitting introduction, and moments later the crowd twitches to cranking beats like a pulsating beefed-up muscle on Melky Cabrera’s backside as lesbian rapper Micah Tron (pronounced Mee-kah Trawn) instructs the packed room of hipsters to “back it up and use it like a bumper” while her larger-than-life artistic accomplice, Jocquese Whitfield, performs cartilage-defying vogue dips smack flat to the alcohol-sticky stage floor.
A San Francisco native in a city of transients, Tron grew up on the music of Snoop Dogg, The Gap Band, Missy Elliott and MC Lyte. Bouncing between neighborhoods and homes (sometimes no home at all), Tron eventually landed a scholarship and a mentor who introduced her to the world of artistic options. In ninth grade she inherited a karaoke machine with a microphone, and started filling in her own lyrics over popular hip hop beats – she recalls the first being Lil’ John’s “Get Low.”
In 2008 she was pulled onstage at a Santigold concert where she met Whitfield. The two became inseparable and now perform exclusively as a duo. Tron describes her sound as “raw, in your face.” But one of her most memorable tracks conjures Lil’ Kim as Tron all but purrs her smooth, sexy rhymes to “GirlsOnGirls.” Speaking of the Queen Bee, Tron recently opened for her idol, Lil’ Kim, at Mezzanine. To hear and download Micah Tron, check out www.soundcloud.com/MicahTron.
If ever it could be said that a woman has changed the face of hip-hop, that woman would be Foxxjazell. The Alabama native moved to California at the age of 17 with $20 in her purse and dreams of becoming an actress. Instead, she landed a role as a member of the short-lived rap quartet, one20five, where she sharpened her rapping skills and learned first hand the jagged and usually hazardous friction between her identity and her art.
“Hip-hop is built on masculinity,” she says. “They let a couple female artists come through once in a while and get their shine, usually through a male co-signer. But the worst thing you can be (in hip-hop) to this day is a fag.” Foxx came out as transgender and started her solo career only after the group disbanded because she “didn’t want to jeopardize the credibility of the other members.”
Since then, every closed door has motivated Foxx even more. She’s started her own record label, played major Pride festivals around the country, opened for Robin S., RuPaul and Cazwell, was featured in XXL and CLIK magazines, and has dominated airtime with her music videos on MTV LOGO, VH1, CMC and more.
Despite her successes, she still struggles for recognition within what she calls the ‘urban’ community. “(It’s a) very ‘crabs in the barrel’ type of approach. When one of us is getting out of the barrel, all the others are like ‘Get your ass back down here.’”
Having been a part of queer hip-hop for several years, Foxx sees some progress breaking down the genre’s homophobia and misogyny, but points out that the expectations for female rappers still focus on their look and not their talent.
“(For female rappers), everything has to be up to par – her weight, her hair, her make up. (For male rappers) he can be in a tank top and jeans and he’s good to go. Notorious B.I.G. can excel solely on his skills. But Nikki Minaj? She can’t be out there out of shape and looking all raggedly. She’s so dragged up she’s like a drag queen, a visual artist.”
Foxx herself brings equal parts skill and glamor to the stage, and recently performed at NYC’s Latex Ball, Youth Pride Festival, and Black Pride at Splash. Magnificently, she is as much about sustaining her own career as she is those of other transgender rappers, and just released the “T-Girl” remix of her single “NYC Love” which features a historical first – four transwomen rappers on a single track. For more info on Foxxjazell visit: www.foxxjazellmusic.com/
It’s a Rap
Each of these artists plays a distinct role in the present and future of queer hip-hop. And though the Bay Area takes for granted silver Spandex queens bullhorn-screaming in busy crosswalks, such exploits still feed queer-starved souls around the world. While Frank Ocean receives kudos for coming out, such bravado was not birthed in a vacuum, but rather on foundations laid by brave hip hop homos, many of whom incubated right here in the Bay Area.
Go see these artists while you still can. As you bask in the decibel shattering, psychedelic splaying glow of these creative and courageous creatures, understand you are watching hip hop history being made in a time the likes of which you may never see again.
Double Duchess dreams of playing Outside Lands. Micah Tron swoons for Noise Pop. Foxxjazell strives to be a household name. The door is cracked, and possibilities await. When asked what they would tell their grandbabies about these days, Double Duchess’ Krylon responded, “I love that you think we’re going to have grandbabies!” And after that he said, “We’ll say that we made queer music at an exciting time for queer culture. We came, we saw, we conquered, and as a direct result of this they can live their dreams, too.”