It should be no secret to faithful followers of my blog that I celebrate hip-hop artist/poet/writer/social activist/Black LGBTQ advocate Tim’m West as the paradigm of a gay/queer rapper — with skills and discography of substance. Like other faithful West supporters, I have equated his artistry to the likes of celebrated established mainstream male artists whose voice and representation as a queer emcee provides a refreshing balance to the overhyped gay rappers with gimmicky platforms of hypersexuality and queer campiness.
West’s music receives minimal negative criticism from gay hip-hop heads and purists, including me – as well as hardcore fans from all backgrounds, primarily because his sexual orientation is not the centerpiece of his art. Tim’m West’s discography makes a fan listen intently to the soundtrack of his life and the storytelling of the world he has seen throughout his life. The backdrops to Tim’m’s verses and choruses makes a fan bob his head while feeling the music nostalgia that influenced the rapper’s sound since his solo debut album Songs From Red Dirt.
With the recent release of his fifth solo LP, Iconography, satisfying fans and critics who cemented his name as the legendary positive figure among queer hip-hop artists, I had to ask the Washington DC-based rapper how does he feel about his legacy as an emcee, especially as an openly gay rapper. West’s response was humbling to my surprise initially, but his usual analytical way of speaking about the reception of his place in hip-hop currently was logical in a breathtaking way as he assured that he does not rest his laurels.
“I think that after today’s generation of hip-hop fans have been fed a lot of music that have become gimmicky or over commercialized, they are looking for music with messages and meaning to the lyrics. I think that is where I come in even though I have been putting out music for a long time. I see that this generation are gravitating to me more because I take my music seriously. I guess that is why I have received critical acclaim with most of my projects.
Even with Iconography, I had to make sure that the production was high quality.
I understand and embrace the comparisons to Common, Mos Def and KRS-One. They are my peers because we’ve come up in hip-hop around the same time, and our music style are very similar. It is the same comparison to The Roots when I was with DDC (Deep Dick Collective).
For me, it is important to be relevant and important as an artist. I’ve been doing music for almost 20 years, and it works to my advantage that I am tied to the industry, especially with the help of Soundcloud, Spotify and social media. I have the same level of playing as mainstream artists to get my music heard.”
As we furthered the conversation about maintaining relevancy, West expressed how technology played a part in his evolution as a musician.
“I am actually glad how technology has impacted music production in recent years. Instead of being unable to afford to record in multi-million dollar studios by paying thousands of dollars for a high-quality and a high hourly rate to record in those booths, we have the channels forwarding
Most of the production from Iconography came from Rob Rhythm, a house music deejay I met many years ago when I lived in the west coast. We never really connected since our initial meeting until we discovered each other on Facebook. He reached out to me and told me that he appreciated my work and would like to be featured on an upcoming album. He ended up producing five tracks for Iconography. We weren’t in the studio together. And, I have yet to give him a physical hug and thank him in personal for his contributions to the album.
That is an example how great music production has come along thanks to technology. Collaboration does not have to be in a physical space for the artist and the producers and engineers.”
Tim’m also recalled how working with heterosexual musicians on his projects was more harmonious than one might assume despite his sexual orientation.
“I had the opportunity to work on this project with heterosexual producers like Rob Rhythm from California and also Motrakx from Atlanta. In fact, I have worked with straight producers since my first album. But, on Iconography, two of the tracks were produced by straight guys who I taught a hip-hop class out in California.
It is just a great feeling to work with people who look beyond my sexuality and want to work with because they think that I am a dope artist. There no tokenizing. I appreciate the authentic working relationship I have with the producers throughout the years. I appreciate the affirming of my artistry from people outside of the LGBT community.”
As he reminisced about his journey as an openly gay emcee, I was most curious about the gay community support, in particular Black LGBTQ support. Before asking the question, my feelings have always been that great Black gay rappers like West, Will Sheridan, Kaoz, LastO, DuQuaye, BryN’t and Bone Intell should be booked at (Black) LGBTQ events around the country but are largely ignored, especially by (Black) gay party promoters who favor washed-up female R&B/rap stars who never performed for LGBTQ crowds at the heights of their fame. West’s response partially confirmed my sentiments.
I say that because I learned really early that if I depended solely on the LGBT community to support my music or collaborating on music, I would not have a fan base. I would not have created as much music as I had. My music really picked up when my message was broader than talking about being a gay man. I don’t focus much on sexuality with my music. I discovered how progressive straight folks and those who look for hip-hop music with message liking my music when I expanded my lyrical content. I am glad that I don’t have to hide my sexuality, but I don’t have to be explicit with it. Even when I say “gay things” like “I’m so glad that you are my man,” lyrics like that just affirms who Tim’m West is and not in a stereotypical way that sexuality is expressed among gay rappers. My orientation is not a spectacle. It is just a part of my life.
“In Between” is an example of affirming my sexuality when I am expressing my kinship to fellow gay men with the line “before I realized that I was a king, I realized that I was a queen.” It was my way of shattering the labels we have in the community. I’m comfortable in my skin where I can stand with and relate to both masculine and effeminate men in the community. Some people were surprised by that lyric because they don’t label me as a queen or effeminate.
If you have yet to purchase Tim’m West’s latest album Iconography, go to his Bandcamp page and purchase it. You will be in for a great treat.