Photo by Marla Rutherford
The blaxican gay rapper Deadlee is standing in the lobby of the DGA, having just attended a Los Angeles Film Festival screening of the lackluster hip-hop–inflected Afro-boho/slacker film Men Without Jobs. “Butterfly is still fine as fuck,” says Deadlee of the former Digable Planets member who stars in the film, “but his ass can’t act.” An actress working the crowd approaches him, thrusting a calendar of herself into his hands. “I had some of these made up to promote myself,” she tells him, “and I still got a few lying around. Thought I’d give one to a brother who looks like he could appreciate it.” He smiles and graciously accepts the gift. It’s a laughable sign of the times, I tell him after she leaves, that his looking like he just escaped from County is construed as heterosexuality. He laughs and nods.
Deadlee, whose sophomore CD, Assault With a Deadlee Weapon, was recently released, gives off enough mixed vibes and crossed references that it’s easy to get snagged on his surface: cholo gear; ruffneck gait; tats curling around his neck, over his arms and across his back; an impenetrable glare till he gets to know you, then it’s all warm smiles. Effortlessly sexy (with a propensity toward sleaze), he’s also surprisingly sensitive, almost shy in person. The new CD builds on its predecessor’s electronica/rock/sample-heavy grooves, stirring in a more West Coast, G-funk sound. Deadlee gives his age as 29; he makes no secret of wanting to go beyond cult status.
L.A. WEEKLY: What are the differences between the first album and this one?
DEADLEE: I put out my first album, 7 Deadlee Sins, by myself, completely indie. On this one, I had the support of a label, ACRONYM. Matt Wobensmith, who ran [the gay punk label] Outpunk in the ’90s, is trying to do the same today but with gay rappers. I was the first artist signed, and he encouraged me to take it to the next level. I’d say my first album was a lot more abstract, which I like, but it was time to bring all the issues to the surface. If you listen to the first album, I give signs of my sexuality, but I was very Prince-like — I left you guessing. On Assault, I don’t hold back. There’s no question as to what I’m saying and who I am. I hit you right off with “Suck Muh Gun.” My gun is my voice, my cock. Or you can take it literally as a weapon. I’m taking the whole gangster image and flipping it. I’m a strong gay man, and I’m challenging all these motherfucks to try and challenge my manhood. They can’t! I use my sexuality as a plus, treat straight fucks like they’ve treated and disrespected women and gays all these years. I’m one faggot you can’t fuck with. I break out of the stereotype.
What’s your take on “downlow” culture?
I struggle with this. I understand why a lot of men keep it on the DL, but, at the same time, it’s a cop-out. I address it in my song “No Fags Allowed,” that a DL brotha is a punk who runs away from the truth. It takes more balls to be open ’bout your shit. A lot of it comes from communities not accepting their gay family. With Latino and black communities, it’s the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. That leaves a lot of young Latinos and blacks to adhere to the DL way — that and the fact that a lot of them don’t connect with the white Queer Eye, Will & Grace faggot. Mainstream media has ghettoized “gay” as a joke, a feminine queeny thing. When I see these images, even I want to be DL. [Laughs.] I just keep pushing my agenda to show other Latinos and blacks that you can be open with your shit and still be strong. To be open doesn’t demasculinize — is that a word? — you. Since telling my family I was gay, I have no fear. It really got me to the next level in
You’ve scaled down your posse. Why? Where are the drag queens?
The gay community is very rich. There are so many different people and backgrounds — trannies, drag queens, homothugz, lipstick lesbians, butch dykes, FTM and MTF . . . Goddayum! When I first started performing, I really wanted to showcase all of that. I wanted the hip-hop audience to see that there’s [an unacknowledged] world out there that digs hip-hop. But I felt my message was getting lost with all the go-go boyz and queens I had onstage. I scaled it down so the content of my raps gets heard. Plus, drag queens aren’t a shock anymore. It’s more shocking to see a masculine man onstage rap about sucking dick.
Why do you think the West Coast has been the most fertile terrain for gay/queer hip-hop?
West Coast is the best coast, just like Pac used to say! I guess it’s because, in general, L.A. and San Francisco are gay-friendly, and it may be easier to be yourself. Also Juba Kalamka from the rap group DDC [Deep Dick Collective] has been instrumental in bringing gay hip-hop to light with the yearly festival Peaceout in Oakland.
Rate yourself as a rapper in comparison to others, gay and straight, out there now.
I wouldn’t consider myself the best rapper as far as my flow. I’d never challenge anyone to a freestyle battle, but that’s not why I’m in the game. I have my own story to tell that hasn’t been touched by any other rappers, but there’s an audience who can relate. I get letters from a lot of young men who are gay and have someone they can look up to. I can’t forget all my lesbian girls, who actually have been some of my best supporters, along with the Silver Lake punks. I’m up for taking risks, too — adding different elements to hip-hop, mixing it with techno/rock, mixing Spanish/English lyrics, incorporating ranchero into hip-hop beats. I’ll also throw down live — I get that influence more from punk artists.
I’ll keep making albums and hope the big labels take a bite. If not, I got my fans and peeps who get what I’m doing. I’m doing movie work, about to star in a new film by Bruce LaBruce. I’m also starting a monthly spot at the Parlour Club on Santa Monica Boulevard called “The DL.” Now, DL can mean whatever you want it to, as one of my best friends has told me. But it’s also gonna be a place for the peeps that keep it DL like we was talking about earlier — a place for the homiez, vatos, eses, DL niggaz who can’t relate to the West Hollywood gay scene. It’ll feature homo-hop artists getting played alongside popular hip-hop. It’ll have live rap acts — homo-hop, straight rappers, whoever. It’s the first Sunday of every month.
Assault With a Deadlee Weapon is available at Amoeba Records and at www.deadlee.com.