MANINTOWN talks – exclusively – about civil rights, fashion, creativity and much more with Cazwell, a “queer rap” superstar capable of capturing the Zeitgeist like no other, DJ, producer and clothing brand owner.
As a pioneer of the queer rap scene, how is the American scene evolving, especially in Los Angeles?
Well, I think as far as queer is involved in hip hop, it’s evolving the same way the rest of the world is.
It started to evolve when the Internet came out. I’ve done this and put out music before the Internet, but I just think that the Internet just gave the opportunity for exposure for all different types of artists from all backgrounds, cultures, and subcultures.
About LA I feel there are more people involved with rapping in the queer community. Just the same I see in San Francisco and Boston and New York and and all over the world. Also Atlanta. I think that it’s evolving everywhere kind of at the same time as queer people feel more comfortable expressing themselves.
“I think that even though we have different perspectives and we write about different things, I think that we can connect with our pain”
Turning back to the fact that you’ve been the first doing it, opening the path for so many people, how does it feel? I mean, You have an important voice, and I see that quite often you stand out also for many political statements and humanitarian causes and civil rights. So do you think the point of the question is, do you think the actual generation is more focused on fashion and how they do they look, what they carry in another way, or they’re just more focused on expressing themselves?
I think that everybody’s different, that there have always been some artists, whether they’re queer or not, that lean more politically, and some that lean towards the same as the city girls are just talking about getting money and fashion and popping bottles and things like that. It’s all about the individual. I think that even though we have different perspectives and we write about different things, I think that we can connect with our pain.
But I think it’s an interesting question because I don’t think that queer people are necessarily pressured to write about anything specific as opposed to maybe a straight rapper that is in the industry, signed by a label that is supposed to talk about certain things.
Whether or not it’s like there are certain things expected by you for your songs to be about when you’re in the industry as opposed to when you are not. And obviously, there are more queer people involved in hip hop that are not in the industry that are still putting out music independently. So they probably have more freedom to rap about whatever is on their mind.
“Missy Elliot has been a huge inspiration for me. And I think she’s truly set out a blueprint that a lot of queer people I’ve seen use”
If you could pick a mainstream artist to collaborate with, whom would it be and why?
I mean, I would collaborate with Beyoncé. I love Beyonce, But also if I had to choose someone that made the most sense for me, it would probably be Missy Elliot, just because she’s been a huge inspiration for me. And I think she’s truly set out a blueprint that a lot of queer people I’ve seen use. I’ve used as far as utilizing music to not necessarily be about sex or drugs or violence, but to just be about fun. And that’s where I always came from in the first place. Missy has always inspired me. She’s always been ahead of the time. Oh yeah. And I remember in the late 90s I was starting my career and she had dropped the first album. She was and still is so creative with music and visuals.
Everything was gangster rap. It was the East Coast versus West Coast mentality. Even Salt’n’Pepa would do a gangster rap around that time. And then she came out with a completely different attitude and sound, and she just kind of inspires me to hit them where they don’t see you coming and just don’t be afraid to go the direction that nobody else is going in. So I think Missy Elliot, I think we would do a great song together.
“Daddy department has instilled a sense of brotherhood in me with other gay men my age, which has been very healthy for me”
Could you tell us more about the DNA of your Daddy department label?
Well, in 2020, I wanted to start a new business, and I wanted to do clothing, and I was considering bringing back “Ice cream truck” underwear, which I did in 2014, and was very successful. But making underwear is difficult and my very good friend JC, whom I did a couple of songs with, had an idea for a brand that he wanted to get off the ground called Daddy Department and his whole Instagram was called like that. And he would keep talking to me for advice on how to do it. And then, I don’t know, I turned to him, I’m like, ‘do you want to just do this together?‘
So we started and we took a year to get all our ideas together and flush everything out so we could focus on what we wanted and find out the brand DNA. It took three months to come up with the right font.
The font is original. We wanted something gender neutral and we wanted something like – the slogan for the brand is “unfashionable clothing for unfashionable people”. So we wanted it to be simple.
We focused on it for a year and we dropped it on February 21st. And it’s been successful so far. We’ve done good and we’re continuing to grow. Also what I love about the brand is that I work in music and I work with young artists and I work with young people. It’s an opportunity for me to get close to people my age for my generation because I’m usually not around that I don’t know, I feel like it’s something that also helps me with the idea of getting older.
It’s something for me to put my creativity in that my face doesn’t have to be in. So, for instance, I don’t have to do sit-ups for a music video for this. I don’t have to make sure I go to the gym, lay off my carbs, or drop something on the Daddy department. It has instilled a sense of brotherhood in me with other gay men my age, which has been very healthy for me. So that’s really what it’s about for me. And we just dropped tank tops, and we have Daddy Beach shirts coming soon. Daddydepartment.com, it will change your life.
“I’m putting out a compilation album this summer with a kind of like the Cazwell Greatest Hits”
What are you currently working on?
Well, the Daddy department takes up a lot of my time, but I’m putting out a compilation album this summer with a kind of like the Cazwell Greatest Hits, like “I saw Beyoncé at Burger King’s”, “All Over your Face”, with my original record label, Peace Bizquit Records. Yeah, so we’re going to put out, like, a casual compilation, like greatest hits, remastered versions of the song.
And I’m going to have, like, one or two new songs on the album, so I’ll be pushing that. I also have a couple of singles coming out besides that this summer, and I have an EP coming out in October with a different vibe, so I have a lot to do. Then I’m DJing like, six nights a week, so and there’s a new club here, a new bar that I’m at like twice a week.
“I cannot rest until I feel like my trans brothers and sisters feel safe, you know?”
Are you supporting right now any causes that you particularly feel close to your heart?
Yeah, there’s one that I try to use any Influence that I possibly have or any attention that I can bring to trans rights and for everything that trans people are going through right now.
My song is called “Damn, I look Good”, I gave the proceeds to The Sylvia Rivera project. Sylvia Rivera Law Project, the SRLP. And what it does is it helps trans people with things they have to do with the government and with the law. So it helps them with changing their name and helps them with their court. Called Trans Defense Fund La, and what they are they send out free defence packages to trans women. So you get, like, a defence pack that will come with, like, a taser and mace and a sound thing and anything that you need to protect yourself. And there’s a link for that at the end of my video for “Taser in my Telfar bag”.
And so I feel very compelled to bring attention to trans issues, especially as a gay white man, because I feel like a lot of gay white men, don’t feel like it’s their job anymore.
Of course, that’s not all of them, but there are a lot of people in the LGBTQAI+ that don’t necessarily feel a reason to defend trans people or they feel or they don’t feel like it’s all connected. It’s all connected to homophobia, which is all connected to misogyny. And I cannot rest until I feel like my trans brothers and sisters feel safe, you know? Especially right now, more than ever before, trans women are the target of so much evil. So I feel like this is our fight, and we have to fight like it’s us, because it is us.
“The number one video for me is ‘Get my money back'”
Let’s end up in the happiest way possible. Name your top three videos that you like the most.
Okay. Coming in at number three would be my video for “Bad, Bad Boys” that I dropped in October in which me and my homeboys were a band of werewolves. I love it and am proud of it, with that special effects makeup.
Coming in at number two, I would say the “Loose Wrists” video with the lace outfits. That was a labour of love. And my good friend whom I love so much, designer Hoza Rodriguez, has been a great support for me. He’s always had my back. I wanted him to make the lace outfits, which at first were to be simply pastel-colored dresses, a callback to a Versace commercial from the ’90s with different supermodels, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, all wearing sporty terrycloth pieces, so I said to myself, “I want to do that.”
In the end though we couldn’t use colors, just white, not sexy at all, until I came up with the idea of lace: I had a memory of a guy wearing a dress in this material for the New York Pride. Hoza did it all and posted a photo of the looks, noticed immediately by The Shade Room, Time, and other magazines.
The number one video, though, is “Get My Money Back”, another labor of love, a kind of “Ice Cream Truck” on steroids, with fifty guys instead of seven, inspired by the movie “Fight Club”, the idea of a group of men living in a common space where they fought, lived and did everything together. Also, I had seen a National Geographic documentary on bonobo chimpanzees, in which it explained how the females are in control of their tribes, the males relax and masturbate; I thought we should all do like the bonobos, so I included monkeys in flannel shirts, hats, and shorts in the clip-one of the best videos ever!