If you’re an aspiring rapper with no background in hip hop other than writing and spitting rhymes alone in your living room, how do you break into the rap world?
If you’re MC Jazz, you simply phone up a promoter and offer to perform.
In 2010, the 26-year-old technician for Buddies in Bad Times Theatre noticed that promoters Paula Burrows (aka DJ Cozmic Cat) and Denise Benson were organizing a hip-hop showcase for their Cherry Bomb party at Revival. Despite having no prior track record in hip hop to speak of, she procured Burrows’ number, called her up and asked to join the bill.
“I was like, ‘Um, can I perform?’ She was like, ‘Do you have music?’ and I was like, ‘No,’” Jazz says with laugh. “She said, ‘Sweetie, listen, that’s cute, but these are established artists.’”
The call didn’t end there. Rather than turn her down, Burrows suggested Jazz stop by the next Cherry Bomb at Andy Poolhall and flex her freestyling skills for the crowd. Jazz showed up, the DJ handed her a mic, and she threw down an instrumental for rap group Salt-N-Pepa’s 1988 single “Push It.”
“I just started fucking doing a raunchy rhyme, and people were jumping up and down and dancing,” she says. “She looks at me and gives me this nod, and then from there we started talking.”
Two years later, MC Jazz is poised to release her Cozmic Cat–produced debut LP, Revolutions, and she has created her own platform to host the launch: a bimonthly hip-hop party at Buddies called Work It!
Unlike queer hip-hop events Yes Yes Y’all and Big Primpin’, the DJ playlists at Work It! steer clear of top-40 hits in favour of classic old-school cuts and contemporary tracks by indie queer MCs from around the world. Each event includes a set by party cofounder (and Jazz’s wife) DJ Nix and a rap battle.
In addition to a headlining set by Jazz, the Aug 17 party will feature performances by “faggotronic” strip-hop MC Man Chyna and MC Catherine Hernandez.
Conceived as a showcase for what Jazz dubs “the queer hip-hop movement,” the night is intended to have the flavour of an old-school jam. The DJs consciously avoid playing music with homophobic or sexist lyrics, though not everything played could necessarily be called “conscious hip-hop.”
“I thought, How do we promote queer rap and play other queer artists from all over the world in a safe space?” Jazz says. “There are so many straight rappers out there, so why can’t there be as many queer rappers out there? To go to a hip-hop party and be fully listening to queer rap — that’s my utopian goal.”
To help realize that goal, she’s created a Facebook page called Queer Hip-Hop Movement, which has upward of 330 likes, to network with and collect music from queer artists around the world.
While queer MCs have to overcome ingrained homophobia to succeed in the mainstream music industry, many young out rappers don’t want to be pigeonholed because of their sexuality. As New York MC Le1f told The Fader recently, “I am gay, and I’m proud to be called a gay rapper, but it’s not gay rap. That’s not a genre. My goal is always to make songs that a gay dude or a straight dude can listen to and just think, ‘This dude has swag.’”
Jazz says she considered sentiments like that in organizing Work It! but felt that a platform for queer rappers would ultimately be helpful for the city’s queer MCs — and would remind Church St revellers that the hip-hop world is deeper than Nicki Minaj’s discography.
“My politics are way bigger than queer politics,” she explains. “I’m Egyptian and I’m very proud of that, and that’s as much present in my work and art as my queerness is. My own version of queer hip hop is what I’m presenting to you.
“Queer rappers don’t have a lot of accessibility to mainstream,” she says. “That’s why I created this party: to counter that idea that we need the mainstream to be recognized. Why can’t we be recognized by each other? Instead of us looking at them, it’s them looking at us going, ‘Cool, they’re doing their thing.’” — Kevin Ritchie
Work It! MC Jazz CD Release Party Fri, Aug 17, 10:30pm Buddies 12 Alexander St, $7