Juba Kalamka performing at Amoeba Music San Francisco's recent Pride '09 in-store celebration with Pick Up The Mic stars. Also performing were JenRO and Dutchboy (6/25/09).
All photos from the event by Kaitlin Layher
All photos from the event by Kaitlin Layher
Juba Kalamka was recently part of the Amoeba Music San Francisco in-store Pride '09 Celebration, which was also a DVD release party for the seminal "homohop" documentary Pick Up The Mic. Juba, along with fellow Bay Area queer rap artists JenRO and Dutchboy, who also performed that day at the Haight Street store (view all the pictures here), is one of the many talented stars of the must-see, Alex Hinton directed film. Although the film first screened a few years ago, it is only very recently available on DVD.
In early 2000 Juba Kalamka (aka Pointfivefag), along with Tim'm T. West (aka 25percenter) and Phillip Atiba Goff (aka Lightskindid) formed Deep Dickollective (D/DC), which also featured member Ralowe Ampu (G-Minus). The seeds for D/DC were sown a year earlier after Kalamka and West met at Stanford following a 1999 screening of black gay filmmaker and scholar Marlon Riggs' film Tongues Untied. I personally first heard of and met the guys from D/DC about a year into their career, and, most impressed with their hip-hop skills in combination with their refreshing take on a genre traditionally drenched in homophobia, I invited them to be included on one of the Amoeba Music Compilations.
Up until they officially disbanded last year, D/DC made a significant impact on hip-hop and homohop in particular, as demonstrated in the film Pick Up The Mic. Juba Kalamka is now a solo artist and his recently completed new solo album Ooogabooga Under Fascism will be out in the fall. In addition to being a hip-hop artist (emcee/spoken word artist & producer), renaissance man Kalamka is many other things, including: an academic, activist, educator, journalist, sex advice columnist, and all around cool guy. Recently he took time out of his busy schedule to talk with the Amoeblog.
Amoeblog: I just realized that it is now eight years since your former group, Deep Dickollective appeared on that Independent Sounds Amoeba Music Compilation Vol. III. That is a long time ago, but how much have things changed in terms of "homohop" in the time period since then -- specifically in acceptance and growth of this expanding hip-hop sub-genre?
Juba Kalamka: There's been huge growth of the number of visibly out LGBT hip-hop artists because there's more attention on the scene over the last few years because of the documentary. There are tools available that didn't exist in 2001 as well...most notably MySpace, which has been really important for people to have a way to get music out for little or no cost.
As far as "acceptance" I'd say there have been some important cultural inroads made in terms of visibility and validation -- self acceptance -- for young queer people because hip-hop is such a reflective space for many of them, and they weren't seeing many positive [images of] themselves in mainstream media. There's much more opportunity for that to happen now because there are a lot of different ways that people are expressing themselves as "out" hip-hop artists in terms of aesthetics, subject matter, and the like.
As far as overcultural or mainstream "acceptance" of queer hip-hop artists, that hasn't changed any more than it has in mainstream community in general. Racism/white supremacy is still there. Homophobia is still there. Classism is still there. The mainstream music industry is certainly aware of the LGBT hip-hop scene, but they aren't any more accepting in a general sense. It’s become a bit more tense in some instances because the "gay rapper" isn't a mythology anymore ...there's tons of 'em.
Now, if you're asking the $64,000 question of "when will we see an out queer mainstream rap artist from the United States," I'd say that will happen when a) An established, successful straight emcee decides to come out or, b) An established, successful straight emcee is outed by the mainstream press, their own label, etc.
As much as many of those involved with the various incarnations, factions and subsets of the homohop scene are loathe to admit it, it just ain't happening there, if for no other reason than it makes absolutely no economic sense for a major label to try to break an unknown straight hip-hop artist with no street buzz or "credibility" or co-sign from an established straight artist, let alone a queer one.
Major labels are selling to the lowest common denominator-- trying to get the biggest bang for their buck, and anything that's new or different or messing with the formula is going to get shunned, especially given the economic issues the industry has had over the past ten years.
The LGBT community that supports homohop artists is the community that's supported queer independent music since labels started popping up years ago-- lesbian/dyke identified, queer and trans folk. The most mainstream gay (read: male) consumers are interested in music that's assimilable-- gay without The Gay if you will...
...which is the Catch-22....you can be the most hypermasculine thug gun boy rapper in the world; once you say "I’m gay" or "I'm bi" out loud, you’ve destroyed the fantasy of assimilation for the gay consumer, never mind homophobic responses you already get from straights. I know it sounds crazy, but that's how it is.
Which sorta makes light of some of the dynamics that exist in the scene currently – at least online -- around gender, sex and notions of representation within what is, for better or worse the “community.”
Recently, the artists who have been getting the most attention from gay and mainstream press, as well as the most bookings at pride festivals and the like are the ones least likely to fit into hip-hop’s hypermasculinist and femiphobic normatives that much of the gay hip-hop scene is heavily invested in mirroring.
Lots of sissy boys and transwomen doing fun, club-friendly party music are getting the bulk of the shine lately. For a variety of reasons, this particular set is resonating with a broad swath of fans across the net and in real time. They also work really hard at self-promotion as opposed to waiting around for straight folks -- or entitled, navel-gazing “straight acting” gay emcees -- to validate or authenticate them.
That’s something that for better and worse I’ve always loved about this particular subculture. Writer Michelle Tea said to me once at a PeaceOUT event that it was what made the genre so interesting. Because it’s “queered,” there’s been a huge opening made for people to express and expand and reexamine “hip-hop” on their own terms, and in the context of their own experiences. I'm glad to see that happening despite the intracommunal resistance to it.
Juba Kalamka from Pick Up The Mic
Amoeblog: What do you think of the film Pick Up The Mic?
Juba Kalamka: Pick Up The Mic (PUTM) is a really amazing, gorgeous, lovingly rendered document of a really, really special time in a subcultural music scene. I'm really lucky to have been a part of it...I got *way* more face time than I could have hoped for [smiles]. It's been a really important activist tool, and has been important for me economically as well...it validated my efforts in the sense that there's this movie that people can look to and say "Oh that's the dude that co-founded Deep Dickollective and ran PeaceOUT in Oakland and the Sugartruck label...let's call him to speak/perform etc."
It's been seven years since they began shooting, and almost four since it premiered the Toronto International Film Festival...and it still has this power, this resonance, this life. I’m still getting called for interviews and booked to perform and speak around the U.S. and abroad. I get stopped on the street and on the bus because people saw it on LOGO Network or The Independent Film Channel (IFC). Kids who were in elementary school when it was shot are in college and discovering it. I’ve gotten some new friends and collaborators along the way. It's all good, amazing really. I'm really grateful that I was able to participate.
Amoeblog: Do you think that the movie will change people's attitudes on a broad level or might it just preach to the converted -- those who already know about and appreciate non-straight hip-hop?
Juba Kalamka: I don't think PUTM will make any difference in the attitudes and perceptions of dyed-in-the-wool homophobes who happen to like hip-hop music, or LGBT folk -- regardless of race -- who say "I don't like hip hop" or "hip-hop is homophobic" when they really mean "I'm afraid of young, urban poor and/or people of color."
At the same time, I don't think that was [director] Alex Hinton's intent. It certainly wasn't my reason for participating. I think people who need PUTM's particular complicated affirmations will be affirmed -- and complicated -- by what they see in the movie. People who are interested in having their worldview expanded -- queer, straight, white, non-white, whatever or wherever the viewer might be coming from -- will have that happen. It's a jump-off and inspiration for a lot of conversations.
I don't think preaching to the choir is a bad thing, either. The choir is doing the work and getting the word out, but still needs support from each other, reminders of why they do what they do and that it's OK to be who they are. All the kinds of otherizing people experience – around race, sex, sexuality, class, age, religion, physical ability -- are *constant* overcultural emotional, psychological, and physical assaults.
It's ironic the way people talk about it sometimes, as if being out and having these conversations makes you invulnerable to the abovementioned dynamics cause you're talking about them all the time. It's a lot to keep on your head, so being reminded that you're not alone in the battles you're fighting is hella important.
Trailer for Pick Up The Mic (directed by Alex Hinton)
Deep Dickollective "For Colored Boys" from On Some Other (Sugartruck Recordings, 2007)
Amoeblog: Should there even be a term "homohop" -- should it be ghettoized or shouldn't it simply be a part of hip-hop in general? Thoughts?
Juba Kalamka: I can't say that's something I really sweat...or ever have. I don't know. Should there be a separate term for female emcees like "femcee?" Or ones like "gangsta?" Crunk? Trap music? Snap? Africentrist? Conscious? Whatever. In many cases the terms get created or reappropriated by people
because they need something make them stand out, or to validate their cultural or social space.
"Homohop," like any other subcultural sub-genre designation, gave and still gives a listener or fan something to grab onto. The first person I heard say "homohop" was my former bandmate Tim'm West in the context of an interview in 2001...and even then it was a big joke, totally tongue-in-cheek. If you called it "Fruit Rollup," people would be saying that now.
It might make a difference to me if I was interested in passing or assimilating into a straight or heteronormative music scene, but I'm not. It's never been something that was really a source of tension for me because my notions of "success" didn't hinge on whether or not some hetero rap scene thought I was OK or not. I've always had have a lot of things going on creatively, musical and otherwise. I do what I do where I do it...queerness is a piece of that...a big piece...it's not a big deal for me. It gets foregrounded as necessary, and sometime it just recedes or sits there. It just is. If saying the word or calling what I’ve done "homohop" made someone feel safe for a second, or kept some kid from jumping out of a window because they felt like they weren't alone or isolated anymore, then I'm cool with it.
Amoeblog: Are there regular homohop nights in the Bay Area?
Juba Kalamka: There have been regular nights of queer DJs spinning major label hip hop records, but nothing really consistent in terms of a space(s) where out independent hip hop artists do live shows here...There really aren't many places straight ones do either. That's about bars making more money
by hiring a DJ or drag shows than when they hire live musical entertainment. It's just the economic reality of running a club. At the same time, I don't know of any LGBT hip hop artists who've ever had significant enough distribution or made an imprint on college or indie radio where it would make sense for a club to do that anyway...if I owned a gay bar, I wouldn't hire myself, or any of the artists I know in the scene...that's not about talent. It's just the nature of that particular business model. It’s not designed to “break” artists.
Deep Dickollective did tons of college and Pride and race/gender/LGBT/progressive conferences and shows, and two mini-tours in 2002 (with Lynnee Breedlove of Tribe 8 and Sini Anderson of Sister Spit), and most of those gigs were outside of the SF Bay Area. Most of the artists I've known over the years are more invested in promoting their own careers as opposed to investing in the creation and sustaining of performance or cultural spaces for the sake of themselves or others. I'm not knocking them, but I think that there's a lot of dishonesty in the conversations people are having about it when the subject comes up.
There’s a lot of blathering on different homohop centered websites around “the movement” that’s unfortunately steeped in a lot of typical entitled attitudes about who should be paying attention, opportunity that’s “owed” to them or merited and such. Seldom if ever do you see a queer rapper talk about the scene in terms of the need to create self sustaining institutions for the sake of themselves, so they or other artists can have places to play or develop their act.
I’ve talked about this before in other places, and I’ve alluded to it in the paragraphs above. A lot of people in the scene missed the point of PUTM. I think a lot of people thought the movie (which a lot of people spent a lot of time, sweat and money on, that they didn’t have to complete) was supposed to create this magical roadway into mainstream validation or acceptance for those who appeared in it, and others who were validated by its existence. When that didn’t happen, there was a lot of grousing about what people thought should have happened, or should be happening now. I’ve made a point of not letting stuff like that distract me from all the amazing opportunities that were made for me then and that continue to manifest for me now. DVD is forever, baby [smiles].
Amoeblog: What about upcoming projects for you that people should know about? And best websites to keep up with you and your happenings, and any other things to mention?
Juba Kalamka: I'm still doing the do, y'know...emceeing, recording and producing. I did a couple tracks for Johnny Dangerous' most recent CD White Hot. I finished an MFA in Poetics with a minor in Queer and Activist Performance in 2006, so I'm doing lot of academic writing and developing some more
theater/performance art oriented projects including an archival project with all of the music and ephemera i've collected over the past ten years.
I do rapid HIV testing,counseling,community outreach and client
advocacy at a large not-for-profit, and lots of work with gay and bisexual men of color in the Bay Area; the homohop coversations around the overlaps of race, class,sexuality, and gender issues are a part of my 9-to-5 work as well. I like to think of them as parallel tracks as opposed to my day gig being "the job I work until I get really famous, or something big comes along" or something like that. I decided a long time ago that I never wanted my livelihood to be completely dependent on the music industry for a variety of reasons.
I have two children - a four year old daughter who's way into music,dance and storytelling and a 14 year old son who's dabbling in rapping and production work. It's really cool to be able to have conversations about homohop and hip hop culture in general, and he's at that age where he's got his favorite emcees and records and we can talk about why we like what we like and take things apart. I'm continually amazed at what I learn from the both of them
My second solo CD Ooogabooga Under Fascism will finally [smiles] be done and out this fall. You can hear some of it at my MySpace; The main page, which is being re-formatted, is Jubakalamka.com. I've been writing the "Race Records" column as well as interviews and book reviews for Colorlines Magazine since late 2004. You can read it at www.colorlines.com. I've also started writing sex advice as a part of the Perv Panel at Carnal Nation SF. I'll be creating other content for the site as well, mostly music reviews, interviews and some essays...and big up to you, Billy, for your support!
[Note: that Juba's first CD Pre/tensions, which was released by the Content Conduit label in 1999, run by guitarist/bassist Dick Deluxe (Club Foot Orchestra, Bruce McLeod Trio, The Sundogs), has been out of print for a while but will be available again next year. His new solo CD Ooogabooga Under Fascism drops this fall. Look for it at Amoeba Music at that time.]
If you are interested in hearing/seeing more music in this hip-hop subgenre I recommend you check out Larry Bob's YouTube playlist of homo-hop videos. To read more on the topic check out the impressively comprehensive Gay Hip-Hop links compiled by Larry Bob Roberts of the invaluable resource that is The Queer Things To Do In The San Francisco Bay Area list.
Juba Kalamka's Fave Five Albums:
Critical Beatdown - Ultramagnetic MC’s (Next Plateau,1986)
1980 - Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson (Arista,1980)
The Lonliest Gal In Town - Lil’ Miss Cornshucks (Chess,1961)
'Weird’ Al Yankovic in 3-D - ‘Weird’ Al Yankovic (Rock N’Roll/CBS, 1983)
Round 2 - The Stylistics (Atco, 1972)
Juba Kalamka's Fave Five Songs:
“Home Is Where The Hatred Is” Esther Phillips (1975)
“Ain’t Sayin’ Nothin’" Divine Styler (1989)
“The Chain” Fleetwood Mac (1977)
“I Just Don’t Want To Be Lonely” The Main Ingredient (1974)
“Smokestack Lightning” Howlin' Wolf (1956)
Juba Kalamka's Fave Five Movies:
Putney Swope (1969, Robert Downey Sr. dir.)
Cooley High (1975, Michael Schultz, dir.)
Tongues Untied (1989, Marlon Riggs, dir.)
Dawn Of the Dead (1978, George Romero, dir.)
Daughters Of The Dust (1991, Julie Dash, dir.)
Juba Kalamka on Built From Skratch (2009)
Juba Kalamka's special feature commentary promo for 2008 home DVD Release of
Marlon Riggs' Tongues Untied (1989)