Openly gay, potty-mouthed glam-rapper Cazwell grew up in Worcester, Mass., an industrial city with few outlets for an artistically inspired adolescent. His life of rhyme began when he hooked up with a “butch dyke” who went by the handle Crasta Yo. “We would write about the silliest things when we started, [like] cheeseburgers and our Converse sneakers,” Cazwell recalls.
‘When I came to New York I decided to focus on my own thing, come up with my own sound and hope the audience followed.’
The duo cut their teeth in basement parties full of skaters and punk rockers, and their tapes began to circulate. They first called themselves Wordsworth, then Morplay. In 1999 they made the move to New York and hustled enough to release an album, “Thesaurus Metamorphosis,” with the help of renowned DJ and Electroclash impresario Larry Tee. But it wasn’t meant to be. After an amicable split, Cazwell went solo.
With the Nov. 14 release of his debut solo album, “Get Into It” (which offers seven original tracks, eight remixes and three DVD format music videos), it’s clear that Cazwell is one of the more colorful acts to break out of the NYC club scene since the ’90s heyday of Deee-Lite and RuPaul or the more recent emergence of Scissor Sisters.
Over bumping, club-friendly beats, Cazwell brazenly fires off a raunchy litany of rhymes
on “Get Into It” (West End Records) that humorously chronicle his downtown life. Whether he’s rapping about having to fend off a cute coke dealer while en route to buy socks on 14th Street, his frustrations over a wily ex-boyfriend, or spying a Times Square hustler who’s obviously just come from a bukkake scene, Cazwell’s tunes brim with spunky, funky fun.
“All Over Your Face,” the album’s first single (and much-watched video on YouTube.com), is the perfect introduction for Cazwell neophytes. Reinventing a Disco classic, Cazwell delivers a blunt reply to Loose Joints’ unforgettable 1980 club smash, “Is It All Over My Face,” that poses an even more blunt query of its own: “Tell me, how does it taste?”
“I was trying to paint a picture of New York in the ’70s,” Cazwell explains, “like I’m getting it on with a hooker in a hotel room, and make it all sound like one big, dirty cum shot.”
Cazwell will unload on the Queen City on Sunday, Nov. 19, when he brings his ribald raps to uptown Charlotte hotspot The Forum. In advance of this “gritty evening of streetwise glamour” (as it’s being billed), Q-Notes caught up with Cazwell via phone for a surprisingly thoughtful Q&A session.
‘I wanted this song to sound like one big, dirty cum shot.’
Given the general cultural climate of hip hop, isn’t being a gay rapper kind of like being a gay Republican?
Cazwell: Well, I’m not embraced by hip hop, but I’m not trying to be. I think that’s the thing that frees me to do what I do. I mean, there are a lot of unspoken rules about hip hop, well some of them are spoken, and one of them is that you can’t be a fag.
It was actually a whole lot harder when I was getting started. I was into the hip hop magazines and the whole scene, but I came to the realization that no matter how good I was, I wasn’t going to be accepted. When I came to New York I decided to focus on my own thing, come up with my own sound and hope the audience followed.
Who are your chief musical influences?
It changes all the time. Like, right now, I’m in love with this group, The Gossip. As a kid I liked The Beastie Boys and I liked Biggie Smalls, but I also liked Madonna [laughs]. I like M.I.A. and Missy [Elliott] and the new Lady Sovereign album.
But I also like the oldies. I listen to The Ronettes and Motown, The Supremes, The Jackson 5, old Michael Jackson. I like some Rockabilly stuff, Ray Charles and Little Richard. I realize a lot of this stuff isn’t reflected in my sound [laughs].
Has the mainstream music industry picked up on the idea of gay rappers?
I think it’s a little too early because it’s not a huge financial success yet. I think that’s when they’ll come. I don’t believe the record industry is homophobic. I think their only phobia is not making money. If people think they can make money off it, they’ll be in contact.
West End, the label that I’m on, they weren’t really interested in me because I’m gay. They were interested in me because I already had a few videos out and they liked my songs. They thought it was very new to them and I expressed something that people would connect with and want to be a part of.
Has the gay musical establishment supported you? What about gay audiences?
Oh, yeah, totally — I get a lot of respect from gay artists and artists in general. I think when it comes to rap, they appreciate a new point of view. Also, there aren’t a lot of gay rappers rapping about their lives. I have that for gay audiences to connect to. But I also think straight people are into my music because it has a sense of freedom and vulgarity [laughs] that makes me different.
Talk about your new album, “Get Into It.”
All in all, it kind of represents the New York experience — club life here, sex life here. I think it’s more one side of my personality, the fun part, the partying part, the braggadocio part. I want my next record to be more autobiographical. But this one’s definitely a party record.
“All Over Your Face,” the first single from the project, is a fabulous slice of sleazy musical abandon. How did the song come about?
I wrote it around the same time I saw the movie “Gay Sex In The ’70s” — which was also part of the reason why I chose a sorta revealing picture for the cover. If you saw the movie, they didn’t have much footage from that time, it was all pictures that they talked over. And all the pictures were gay erotic shit that you would find in ’70s porn. I was inspired by it.
I didn’t know what the song “Is It All Over My Face” was. When I got signed to West End, my manager said I should do a remake of it and I said, “What is it, play it.” And he played it and I had heard it a hundred times, but I didn’t know what she was saying. Like, I’d always thought she was saying “is it all over nothin’,” like some kind of anti-war song of something. When I found out she was saying “all over my face” [laughs] I don’t know, don’t most people think about jizz on someone’s face. So I said, okay, that’s the direction I’ll go with it.
I actually wrote “All Over Your Face” in 20 minutes. I went to McDonald’s — which I never eat fast food — and ate there so I could feel really greasy and dirty and just get into it. It’s kinda like a character I play in the song. I don’t really have hookers in my hotel room — I have hookers in my apartment [laughs].
What’s it like to perform such an explicit song for a room full of strangers. What’s been the typical response from audiences?
Typically, I’m performing for people who want to party or want to dance, so I think they gravitate toward the beat or the sound more than what it’s about. And I think, whether they’re gay or straight, everyone can relate to sex. And straight people and gay people both cum on each other’s faces once in a while, right? [laughs] If I can get loose enough to rap about it they can get loose enough to dance and have fun to it.
Your videos are populated with icons from NYC’s queer cultural underground — people like Amanda LePore, Johnny McGovern and Candis Cayne — do you consider yourself a product of that scene?
I’m definitely a product of what people consider the underground scene. But I don’t know how underground it really is when I’m bringing it above ground in my videos. [laughs] I’m really inspired by the artists in New York City. There are levels of stardom. There are people in the club scene who are known by people in the club scene and, in their own right, are superstars. That’s who I try to use in my videos. I can’t get Hollywood actresses so I use people who have star quality. Even though they might live in a studio apartment for the rest of their lives, they’re doing exactly what they want and they’re fabulous.
The reason I used trannies in the “Do You Wanna Break Up” video is because I was talking to people in the industry and people who play videos and everyone was pretty much telling me “don’t make it a gay video, don’t pigeonhole yourself that way, make it a video for everybody.” Since the song is, of course, about a guy that I’m breaking up with, I thought, “I’ll put girls in the video, but I’ll make ’em trannies and sorta meet myself halfway.”
What’s funny is, my mom — who’s always hit-or-miss with whether I impress her — was like, “I think that you’re objectifying women.” And I’ve had some complaints about the video from lesbians saying the same thing. One asked me, “Don’t you think that you’re objectifying women?” and I said, “No, I’m not objectifying women, I’m objectifying trannies. And all the trannies I know want to be objectified.” [laughs]
As an artist, how do you define success for yourself?
Impressing my parents. It’s not that they’re unimpressed, it’s just that I think they’ve come to the conclusion that I was crazy from an early age. It just flies over, you know what I mean? I’ve always gone the different road. [laughs] Isn’t that what everyone tries to do, impress their parents? Or at least impress themselves.
Actually, I think that’s the main goal. When I really impress myself, that’s when I know it’s good. Like, I really impressed myself with the “All Over Your Face” video. If I didn’t know me and I saw that video, I’d want to buy my record.
You’ve performed in Charlotte once before. Is there anything you’d like to say in advance of your upcoming show?
I’d just like to mention that the people in Charlotte were so nice to me. And they have really great style. I tell people that Charlotte and New York City are the two places where the kids have the most style in the country. I’m really excited to come back.
Cazwell in concert
The Forum . 300 N College St.
Sunday, Nov. 19
18+ $10 . 21+ $7