the homies blog presents // 25 QUESTIONS BEFORE WE CHANGE THE WORLD with~ Kevin and Hell!

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I’ve performed with Kevin and Hell numerous times, and they were very memorable times. Once, his mullet was shaved onstage. Another, it was his birthday! Both times he laid down a funky, quirky, lo-fi jazz that is warm, enigmatic and sweetly brilliant. One of his stickers is in my bedroom and another is on my co-friend Jerrod’s water bottle. I am honored he asked me to perform for a series of shows he’s been putting together this fall.

THE INTERVIEW

What’s your favorite color?   Clear
Who is your favorite athlete? The one that is just trying to enjoy themself
What is your favorite poem and why? The one I haven’t heard yet, because it’ll be something I haven’t thought already.
What is the name of your fictional autobiography? Stairway to Kevin
How tall are you? 6 feet and 2 inches
What is the title of the earliest work of yours you can remember? I can remember how it sounds but not the title.
What is the title of your most recent piece of work? Moons of Mars
Tell me about it? It is a song where I float around in space and listen to the stars. A music video is almost ready.
How did the show September 29 come about? I wanted to bring some of my favorite local acts to Fat City in a quieter setting
Where is home? Wherever I’m comfortable
What is home? A state of mind
Who is home? You are home
Whose home are you? I am my own
What is your favorite plant? The truffula tree
Who is your daddy and what does he do? My dad is Mark and lives in Montana
Who are you? I am Kevin and/or Hell
What do you do? I transcribe music from the vast realm of possibility
Who would you like to collaborate with? The Myth Science Arkestra
Where are you going? I can’t say for sure
Where did you just come from? Not 100% sure about that either
Where are you right now? Next to some flowers on a painted bench
Who is Vashti Bunyan? I don’t know, yet
TELL me some impressions of the other performers? A lot of very different people working to bring people together.
Why are you still performing? I’ve temporarily retired to research the fruiting bodies of fungi.
What does a free world look like to you? One where people don’t need to impose their own agendas on others.

OLD ESSAY// Noname Gypsy, Real Human Being

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This piece originally appeared in Side By Side Magazine, October 2014.

Noname Gypsy sits across from me in a Hyde Park Native Foods. “I wonder why everybody’s world when it comes to rap is the same. My world, I feel like, is different from Saba’s world, and Saba’s world is different from Chance’s world, but when we’re talking about people who are on the radio all of their worlds are damn near the same.” She throws out the names of current hot boys Migos and Travis $cott, but for Noname, born Fatimah Warner, it’s not a dismissal, pedantic or otherwise (Travi$ Scott’s Days Before Rodeo is her favorite shit out right now).  Instead, it’s a thoughtful, well-meaning observation about potential friends.  If hoes can bring everyone in the rap game from Nicki Minaj to Kid Cudi to Too $hort together, Noname Gypsy inevitably ends up in the corner with the Cherrypie Blues. “I don’t pull hella niggas so I can’t rap about that. I don’t pull…,” she laughs,“hella bitches so I can’t rap about that.”  It’s not that Warner is female that makes her stand out, it’s that the desires and observations that Noname Gypsy blends into her sweet, poetic molasses are so innocent that they seem truly obscene (“offensive or disgusting by accepted standards of morality and decency)” in the obscenity-obsessed world of modern rap. “I’ve been rapping a lot about having a husband and kids recently. I really want to be married with kids, I don’t know if that’s a rap thing to want,” she jokes.

One thing Noname has in common with a few of her most special peers is a missing album. Not delayed,missing. As in the fans think it should be here now and their almighty creator hasn’t delivered (See: Jay Electronica, Chance the Rapper). Noname says at least three people ask her about her highly anticipated Telefone project a day. On Mick Jenkins’s recent jam “Comfortable” Noname actually raps ‘Telefone never coming out.’ When I ask her if she would consider the project “Zero percent complete,” she laughs and says “Yeah.”

She’s been writing with Saba- the two send each other a new piece a day to keep the creative juices flowing. Well, Saba’s been sending her verses. True to form, Noname has been writing but second-guesses everything too much to show it off. If you start to type “Noname Gypsy” into a Youtube search, her song “Paradise” will be the first entry. Except Noname took the music video for “Paradise” down; it’s her biggest solo song and she hates it. “It’s not like I haven’t been making music and don’t have raps, they’re just not at the level I would like them to be. I’m not at the place where I feel comfortable releasing music.”

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For Noname, having that level of discretion is essential. “Taking shit down when I want to and being able to control my image is kinda what keeps me sane.” It brings her back to her oft-spoken appreciation of Jay Electronica, a role model for her patience and desire to remain down-to-earth and experimental. “Dizzy,” the piece Noname dropped this week is a hot bomb. Her style is fresh as ever and only becoming sharper, the song recalls the new FlyLo/Kendrick joint if they decided to just chill out. Noname Gypsy spins around the track describing sunsets, blurring timelines and never allowing her grin to become inaudible. As always she imbues intimate vulnerability with a grand serenity throughout, spitting ‘Lotion on my skin got me feeling super smooth, like I could save a life…’. The juxtapositions in the song are telling of the contradictory impulses Noname experiences – she wants to be a legend. On her own time; without videos, interviews, or television. Just music. “And I think there’s a way I can do it,” she says. A smile isn’t far off.

Telefone never coming out. Follow Noname Gypsy on Twitter

the homies blog//INTERVIEW: sam and lam make magic

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*~“There is no good or evil, only power.”
      – Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone (1997)~*

My interviews usually only last 20 minutes. It’s the perfect length! We are recording in filmmaker Samantha Wakefield’s apartment; rapper Lamon Manuel has work in a half hour. At the 21 minute mark, however, an awkward silence intrudes at the prospect of our talk ending. The three of us have covered the ins-and-outs of Lamon and Samantha’s working relationship, and it’s certainly been a very fun time, but something is amiss. I finally ask if there’s something else either of them wants to say.

SW: No, I’m just so appreciative to be able to find someone to work with on this level.
I don’t know if that’s why we’ve worked so well together, [because] you needed someone like that in your life but I feel like I probably did.

LM:  I definitely did. Working with Sam is the first time I’ve given real creative control over something I do to another person… That’s never happened for me. And I’ve worked with people in different forms, whether through a rap group, or, you know, trying to work on videos with other people, but like really giving it over to someone and following through like “Alright, cool, I trust you…” I don’t have that relationship with anybody else. I’m super thankful for having that with Sam.

“Skies,” featuring fellow Tomorrow Kings member SKECH185, is the first in an ongoing series of companion pieces to Lamon’s upcoming debut solo album Music To Feel Like Shit To. Manuel worked on production of the video prior to meeting Wakefield, but didn’t feel happy with its direction. “It was too much guided by an ownership relationship. One of the original treatments for the ‘Skies’ video was for SKECH and I to be present and for there to be women fighting each other representing us in some ways. Or we would just be watching…  I just felt like that was real fucking weird.”

Samantha became involved after Lamon saw her at one of his shows and later asked if she would like to play the central character in a string of music videos he was planning. Yes, she said, but she’d be willing to direct as well. “I feel like from the time we started working on that video, till the time it came out our friendship grew a ton,” Wakefield recalls. “It paved the way.”

The work that has come since is uniformly dark and challenging, with Sam and Lam’s connection the light at the end of the tunnel. The pair’s initial collaboration, and my favorite to-date, is a video in Wakefield’s The Window Series. It’s just Samantha watching Lamon (through her lens) and Lamon speaking as honestly as he can about things that hurt him. The simple presentation allows for its principle’s presence to overpower the listener like a quiet fart.

Our interview takes place October 25, 2015, only days after the 1 year anniversary of Wakefield choking Lamon for the first time during one of his shows. “Each time I try to choke a little harder. Before I would use one hand, and lately I try to make sure I use two,” Sam explains. “I’m just trying to do my part, for you,” she says, looking over at Lamon. “But it’s always intense. It always feels intense.”

Control, and loss of it, is a heavy theme in Manuel’s work. It’s safe to assume that the protagonist of “Skies” goes where she goes to in an attempt to re-assert it and that the leads in “Shit…” (played by Lamon and Samantha) have lost it. At the same time, the real Samantha and Lamon continue to push forward, surrendering to each other as artists and homies. “It feels like we’re not afraid to venture somewhere if we come up with an idea.”

the homies blog//INTERVIEW: talking with transqueer author H. Melt about their new book “The Plural, The Blurring”

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Photo by Kiam Marcelo Junio

H. Melt is my friend. It feels really good to say that! H. Melt is also an inspiration and role model to me as an activist and queer person and human being. Their new book The Plural, The Blurring – out November 20, via The Neutral Zone & Red Beard – exemplifies a lot of the things that make me love H. so much. There is the craft of their words, the memories, sometimes shared, that are weaved throughout the book, and the progressive, startlingly impactful documentation of their work writing to institutions for better treatment. Theirs is an intimate kind of activism, one they identify with the Chicago school of poetry writing, and one I have taken to heart as a queer revolutionary. Reading and being with H. Melt makes me feel excited, it makes me feel sad, it makes me feel the spectrum of emotions but knowing that H. Melt is out there, anywhere, just makes me feel safe.


THE INTERVIEW

The Plural, The Blurring largely focuses describing a very specific place and time. What’s the significance of having that setting at the center of the book?

The book is about Chicago’s queer arts scene between roughly 2012-2014 and how the art and activism going on in the city during that time coincided with my development as a trans writer. The book is largely about place and community, the ways in which they can influence an individual’s sense of self. For me, that period of time is when I am meeting and forming relationships with other queer and trans artists for the first time. I’m starting to take myself more seriously as a writer, as a trans person, and end up writing and publishing about the people, performances, and spaces that are most influencing and inspiring me. I’m also starting to grapple with queer loss and trans death, the ways in which loss can impact a community.

How have you been changed by the loss you’ve experienced and the gains you’ve seen achieved? Do you feel weaker and stronger at the same time?

I think that loss is inevitable. Sometimes it’s necessary. Sometimes it’s painful and unexpected. The queer community is not stable, I don’t think that any community is. There will always be people leaving and spaces closing down.  This can open up room for growth, for new spaces and new relationships to form but at what cost? What’s being lost? I think the people mirror the changes going on in the city and vice versa.

In your review of the trans & genderqueer poetry anthology Troubling the Line (included in The Plural, The Blurring), you write about your roots in the Chicago tradition of poetry and how that has affected your own work and what you tend to relate to as a reader. Have you found other queer poets who similarly embody that tradition?

I have never read a book of trans poetry by someone from Chicago. That’s part of the reason that I wrote the book. Many of the queer and trans writers that I’ve connected to most are not based in Chicago. While Chicago is a very literary and even poetry focused place, I don’t feel like there’s a queer poetry scene here. A queer arts scene definitely exists, and that’s very present in the book. But something about the literary scene hasn’t always facilitated a place for queer writers. My writing community and queer community are more separate than I would like.    

Where does the inspiration for the essays and letters to institutions you include come from? Are you still writing those?

Yes, I’m still writing essays. A lot of them came out of feeling powerless, especially the ones directed at specific institutions. I actually sent or performed most of the pieces in the book about specific places directly to people who work or spend time there. That’s part of my practice. In some cases, those writings actually sparked real change, new relationships, and projects. For example, there is now going to be a trans poetry category at the Lambda Literary Awards and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago has improved their trans healthcare and now has a student-led group called the League of Extraordinary Genders. In other words, the essays and poems are part of a larger movement to create more access to resources for trans people. To help keep us alive.

“Part of your practice,” can you talk more about that?

The letters and essays felt more urgent–they were tools as part of my larger vision and hope to make more space for queer and trans writers and artists–by critiquing institutions that could be more welcoming to us, and reviewing exhibits, books, and plays that had some relationship to myself and the larger community. That’s really what I see my real work as–supporting other queer and trans writers and artists.   

The Plural, The Blurring is now available for pre-order.