I'm here in Chinatown outside of Human Resources, excited to interview this rising black, mostly queer, female punk group, Fuck You Pay Us. There's just one problem: There's a key stuck in the lock. Over the next hour the 20-something women in the group — Uhuru Moor (vocals/guitar), Jasmine Nyende (vocals), Ayotunde Osareme (bass) and Tianna Nicole (drums) — try a variety of methods to force their way in. It's all very punk rock. But time is waning, and they ultimately give up and make a new plan. We round the corner to Phoenix Bakery to have a seat and talk in the air conditioning.
Fuck You Pay Us — usually billed as F U Pay Us, or FUPU if you're into the whole brevity thing — is what Moor calls "a resistance band," which came together about a year ago in South L.A.. Moor, an outspoken vocalist who tells me she's "eternal" when I ask her age, is involved in a black women’s artist collective called Snatchpower, within which is a rap group called Snatches With Power. "So I was doing rap music," she explains, "but I’ve always wanted to do punk music." Then one day she had the epiphany: “'I wanna start this black women’s punk band,’ but there were no pieces on the table yet."
She knew she wanted the group to be all women of color and preferably all-queer, which made the job of assembling a full band much more difficult for the simple reason that women of color aren't even close to being equally represented in the local rock/punk music scene.
Moor already knew Nyende from the Leimert Park scene. She had seen Nyende's performance art before but had no idea if Nyende could sing. "Our friend from a fashion brand called No Sesso was having a pop-up shop. And after that I hosted an afterparty with karaoke. And Nyende did karaoke, and I asked her if she would be interested in starting up a black women’s punk band." (The song Nyende sang was Hole's "Violet.") Nyende and Moor together forged a very raw but commanding core to FUPU.
Next, they needed a bassist. Fresh from Miami, Osareme came rolling into town looking to pursue acting, music and art. Moor found out about her through a beatmaker named AMRA Island, who mentioned that Osareme played the n’goni, a kind of West African harp. Moor thought, “That could add some interesting shit."
One night, while sleeping in her place in Village Green, Osareme had a prophetic vision. "I had this dream that I was at this like Afropunk industrial goth event," she beams. "I felt so happy [seeing] black people who look like me in this space and enjoying this type of music, because I normally don’t see people that look like me at these events. Then I wake up and check my Facebook messages, and I get a message from [Moor] asking if I want to be in an Afropunk goth band. And my mind was blown, and I was just like, 'Hell yeah!'"
Now all they needed was a drummer. They turned to Tianna Nicole. "She’s been known in the community for a while," Moor explains. "She was gonna move in the same building as one of my friends. When I found out, I was like, 'What? We need to hit her up.'” And Nicole agreed, even though Moor and Nyende only had a couple of YouTube videos online at the time.
Since they've formed, they haven't released a single record yet through a label. Instead, they've been focusing on songwriting and live performances. They filmed a very early practice of theirs and posted it to Facebook. Moor had just picked up the guitar and started learning earlier that week. They didn't expect it to blow up within the online, mostly white punk scene.
"Down the middle, people either loved FUPU or hated FUPU and just were arguing between themselves," Moor explains. "The thread is so long. People are like, 'These girls are stealing our music!' Then some other white people are coming in, checking them like, 'Nope, black people started punk, you know?' It’s this big back-and-forth of 'they’re saving punk' or 'they’re the downfall of punk.' It’s one way or the other with white punks," she says, smiling.
They are certainly getting people's attention, just by the sheer nature of who they are versus what mainstream culture's stereotype of a punk band is. "With what we’re doing," Nyende explains, "I think it’s kind of impossible for people to be indifferent. With what we’re saying and the kind of imagery putting forth. It’s black women coming out and screaming at you...." Moor finishes the thought: "...about some real shit. You have no choice but to fuck with that or be mad."
FUPU are making something new and different and trying to take it outside the contextual cliches of what we imagine when we think of punk. And most of that boils down to songwriting. "When I’m writing lyrics," Nyende says, "I start with a concept. Or we’ll come together and say, 'I want to do a song about, stop touchin’ my hair,' or some micro-aggressions. It seems like sometimes people can’t really hear it when we say it. Sometimes it just has to be screamed, you know? From there, we work on how to express that in a unique way. Like, what is it about touching my hair? I feel like a piece of property. We start with one concept, all come together, and then we put a beat to it."
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Much of this inspiration usually comes from everyday experiences these women share when they get together. "When we practice, we need that like, 'I just needed to play with y’all. I needed to get this expressed, get this off me, all this negative energy,'" Moor says, describing their writing and rehearsal sessions almost as a form of therapy. "For example, our song ‘Suck My Nappy Black Pussy,' I wrote that song from an experience of white men aggressin’ me on the bus. There was this white guy in a suit. I had an interview in Santa Monica. This guy invades your space on the bus. They just like do it on the masculine tip and on the white tip. White people feel that they are entitled to more space and tend to be unconscious of people of color’s space and boundaries, as well as feel like they own the bus.'"
Or take the song "Dark Magic," which they wrote around the time Trump was elected president. "I literally do not give any respect to a system that’s unjust," Moor says. "To me [the election of Donald Trump] is not really a big deal. It’s nothing new that’s happening; it is the same ol' white male patriarchy. But I watch the people in the community who have fear and they know things are going to get more oppressive now because he’s clearly a white supremacist and clearly classist. They know the government is going to be more oppressive. So we wrote that song empowering people of color to not have fear about these political, material tactics, because we’re spirits and we have magic, you know?"
They don't think they're being provocative, at least not in the sense that they are exaggerating anything for dramatic effect. "It’s all true," Nicole insists. "The big thing is having people confront the injustices within our community as black females. Discomfort may be natural, but people need to sit with that. It’s important to be bold with what we say in our truth. It’s important because we’re telling our story. Not someone else's. It’s making people be confronted with the black experience. And the woman experience. And poor experience. And the queer experience."
F U Pay Us perform with Inga Copeland (formerly of Hype Williams, Lolina) and Odwalla88 at the Globe Basement on Tuesday, April 11. More info.