“That is definitely a trademark. Everybody notices my shoes,” Elijah Wycoff-Perkins says with a confident, yet childish laugh.

In every music video the 22-year-old rapper has released, Wycoff-Perkins, who goes by Hym (stylized as HYM), can be spotted wearing mismatched shoes. The first shots of “Who Dat” — an unreasonably catchy three and a half minutes of bumping bass, sophistication and power — show HYM alongside his roommate and fellow rapper Kalypxo strutting up the escalator at the Hollywood and Highland Metro station in a pair of knee-high, lace-up boots, one black, one white.

“I remember when I was younger, I would always do different laces,” he says. “I don’t do it for attention. It’s just how I feel inside. You know, there’s a light side and a dark side.”

At every point in his life, HYM has never been able to hide who he is, even when he’s felt like he should. “It felt like my entire life I would hear my family talk about homosexuality, and they would talk about it in such a wrong way that my mindset was like, ‘I don’t want to be like this,’” he says of growing up in a strict, “by the Bible,” Christian home in Moreno Valley. “They didn’t even know they were talking about me … I was always scared.”

Despite his fear of judgment at home, HYM continued to find methods of self-expression elsewhere. In middle school, he was known as a dancer. “I literally would break out and dance all the time. People thought I had problems,” he says with that same infectious chuckle. “I was so passionate about it I did it everywhere I went.”

In high school, Wycoff-Perkins performed in pep rallies and campus productions, as well as took over a dance team made up of his peers. So when the time came for graduation, most people assumed he would continue on as a dancer. But as HYM, he had other plans.

“I never wanted people to tell me, ‘Oh, you should just stick to dancing.’ That was a huge fear of mine,” he says, explaining his decision to jump into writing songs and rapping. “So I finally broke out of that my junior year. That’s when I came out, too. I remember I looked into a mirror — less into the mirror and more at myself — and it was just time. And my walk and demeanor changed from that moment on.”

When choosing a moniker for his musical identity, Wycoff-Perkins landed on the name HYM, in part, because he identifies with the fascinatingly androgynous Powerpuff Girls villain, HIM. “He was one of the most feared, feared, feared villains,” he says. “I wouldn't say I want to be feared, but definitely respected, and he was. He did it right. And I wanna do it right.”

As HYM grew more into himself as a musician, he unearthed even more sides to himself — or, shall we say, heads. “Think about it like Mount Rushmore,” he explains. “There’s Janet Jackson, Toni Braxton, Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliott … and Nicki Minaj, she can be an honorary head.” Janet Jackson gives him his sense of fearlessness. Busta Rhymes is where he says he gets his rapid-fire cadence. Missy Elliott is where he gets his “fun” and his ability to think outside the box. But Toni Braxton, he says, is his biggest inspiration — “and that’s because of her pain.”

He was introduced to Braxton by his mother, a single mom, whom he calls his “queen.” “She taught me a lot — being independent, you know, fighting for yourself, always standing up for what you believe in,” he says, praising his mom. But most importantly — for us listeners, anyway — she introduced him to Toni Braxton.

“I don’t really get inspired by many male artists,” he says. “I was raised by women, so I feel like female artists speak more to me, to my perspective.” Maybe that’s why listening to “Keep On,” HYM and Kalypxo’s latest release, feels so much like listening to Lil' Kim or Foxy Brown — the song evokes the groove of ‘90s hip-hop queens. In fact, the track samples the intro to MC Lyte’s 1996 smash hit “Keep On, Keepin’ On” before HYM glides into an original verse in the same seductive tone as his predecessor. Then Kalypxo, a rapper/poet originally from San Diego, steals the spotlight from the duo's incredibly magnetic chemistry to deliver an empowered verse, built through commanding cadence and smooth charisma as she declares she “came to wreck.”

“This song is about meeting someone and getting to know someone, but also being like, ‘I want to get to know you on a nasty level,'” he says. “But it’s not nasty, it’s very playful … I like for you to get the picture, like, ‘Oh, that’s what he’s talking about.’”

When the duo played the track at this year’s Long Beach Pride, the song took on a whole other meaning. In the middle of their performance, technical difficulties caused the sound to cut out. “But we kept going,” says HYM. “The audience was singing along with us and it was crazy!”

As someone who has met with disapproval for his sexual identity his entire life, HYM was touched to discover that the audience derived a message of strength and resilience from the duo's set and interpreted “Keep On” as a call to stay true to one's self. “People were coming up to me saying, ‘Your song inspired me to keep on going.’  I never would have thought of that,” he says. “But it's awesome that it's a little bit of inspiration.”

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