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Cazwell talks gay hip hop, sexually explicit lyrics and reaching straight fans




Ginuwine wants you to to ride his pony. 50 Cent will let you lick his lollipop. Biggie sees some ladies tonight who should be having his baby ... baby.

But when Cazwell sings All Over Your Face — which is about exactly what you think it’s about — it takes sexually suggestive hip-hop lyrics to a whole new level.

This, you see, is because Cazwell is gay.

“Straight guys obviously have an entitled feeling to talk about the sex they have with chicks, and it’s just the way it is, since the days of the cavemen,” the rapper and DJ said this week from his home in the East Village of New York. “It’s the same thing (for gays) as straight guys — we have the right to talk about it if we want. It’s no different.”

Over the past five years, Cazwell (a.k.a. Luke Caswell) has garnered a substantial fan base in the GLBT community not only for his NSFW subject matter, but for his colorful viral videos for dance-inspired rap songs like Ice Cream Truck, I Seen Beyonce... and Get Into It.

On Saturday, he’ll headline Pride on 7th, a pride event in Ybor City. But first, he took a few minutes to chat about gay hip hop, closeted celebrities and explicit lyrics. Here are excerpts.

Were you out before you started rapping, or rapping before you came out?

I’ve been out since the day after high school.

Who were your favorite rappers coming up?

Coming up, I really liked the Beastie Boys and some Public Enemy, and Biggie and Jay-Z. But I wouldn’t say that I ever really tried to be immersed in the hip-hop lifestyle, or was ever looking for street cred. I came to the realization that no matter how good I am onstage, how good I am with my beats or rapping or videos, in hip-hop, straight people really don’t hang out with gay people. I was never going to walk into the Source Awards and get automatically accepted: “Hey guys, I’m here!”

To me, being gay was never really a big deal. It seems to be a hot topic. I understand the “gay rapper” thing, but I don’t even see myself as a rapper. I don’t even see what I do as hip-hop, to tell you the truth. I used to, but that started to screw me up in the head, because if I considered myself hip-hop, then to a certain extent, I had to follow the rules of hip-hop, and one of the rules of hip-hop is, you can’t be a f--. And if you are, you can’t be out. Obviously. Hip-hop’s been around for 25, 30 years, and no one’s out.

Why is there that stigma? Why aren’t there many other gay rappers?

Whether or not it’s more or less accepted by the culture, I don’t know. But ultimately, the bottom line is money. I think people are afraid of losing their careers. Personally, I think John Travolta’s gay. So I think he’s afraid of not getting the price he wants for a movie. If Queen Latifah came out of the closet, would she still be working for Cover Girl? I think so. But it’s that type of thing.

If somebody like that came out, do you think they’d be totally accepted by the GLBT community, because they were in the closet for so long? As opposed to someone like yourself, who’s been out the whole time?

If someone’s gonna come out, and they’re actually honest, then I think that they would be accepted. Gay people definitely appreciate other gay people being honest about who they are. No one has seemed to hold it against Ricky Martin for being in the closet once he came out. It does offend me when gay people that are in the closet decide to stay in the closet and completely deny who they are for a job. I think it affects gay rights in a negative way, and really pushes us back. But I do understand it to a certain extent. Coming out is hard — the expectations that people have on you, all the enemies you might make for coming out, what it might do for your family or friends. But you can’t escape it. You are what you are.

How mainstream do you want to be, and what do you have to do to get there?

I don’t even know what “mainstream” is anymore, especially with YouTube and the Internet. I suppose ultimately mainstream means you’re getting backed up by a bunch of money, right? For instance, Ice Cream Truck was pretty gay. People know that I’m gay. But I’ve made good money from that song and video. I got a great amount of shows. I live in New York. My rent is paid, my electricity’s not shut off, my phone’s on. I don’t necessarily think I have to change to cross over, to become mainstream. I just think you have to create something that people want to hear, and what people want to see. I think I got a taste of that with Ice Cream Truck.

Please tell me the origin story of I Saw Beyonce ... (at Burger King).

Jonny Makeup, who sings the hook, was in a gay rap trio called the V.I.P. Party Boys, and they were performing at Boysroom, and I DJ’d there. We were talking, and he was going on this 20-minute monologue about how he met Beyonce at American Apparel, and she came up to him and she said this, and he said that. I didn’t know if it was true, but I didn’t really care. I just thought it was amazing that Beyonce went into American Apparel. Shouldn’t someone do this for her? Because Beyonce is the personification of perfection and beauty in our society. She’s gorgeous, she’s so talented, she’s a hard worker. Every time she gets an award, she thanks Jesus. You can’t knock Beyonce. And I just thought, forget American Apparel — what if you saw her in, like, Burger King? The idea of Beyonce in Burger King was so funny to me, just because it’s her. If I’d said “Oh, i saw Britney Spears in Burger King,” no one would care. They’d be, “Yeah, I saw her in Taco Bell.” But Beyonce?

You don’t seem to have any problem working NSFW. Do you ever debate how explicit you want to be when you’re writing songs?

You mean like if I talk about sex?

Yeah. There is a double standard when it comes to straight rappers’ songs, versus gay rappers.

Yeah. Well, you’ve heard the song All Over Your Face? To me, that song is probably the straightest song that I have. That’s because it deals with male entitlement. I don’t talk about anal sex — or I don’t think I do. I don’t think the song sounds particularly gay. I feel like my whole attitude in the song is that gay or straight people like to c-- in people’s faces. Every single straight porn ends with a guy busting a nut on the girl’s face. What makes it such a straight song is that the entitlement that straight men feel is still there — it’s just with me. So the whole vibe behind a Fiddy song, in which he’s talking about some chick that he banged or whoever, is still there in this song. That’s what makes it masculine, is because I’m cocky enough to do it and say it.

Do you relate to straight hip-hop in that way?

Honestly, I don’t even listen to hip-hop anymore. Good hip-hop is so few and far between to me now. I listen to beats all the time, and I DJ, so I listen to a lot more dance music. The whole sound of hip-hop has completely changed now, because it used to be about 100 beats a minute, and now it’s around 128, because everybody wants to get on the dancefloor. Now everyone wants to sound like Pitbull and the Black Eyed Peas.

Ultimately, when people rap, they’re rapping about how cool they are. In that aspect, I can relate to it. But I listen to a lot of rock, too. I play rock at parties and electro at parties. I try to pay attention to what’s more creative and what’s new-sounding, too. A lot of times, I don’t even pay attention what the hell they’re rapping about.

Without turning your back on your core audience, do you want to perform in front of more straight people?

I want to go where the money is! I want that straight money, believe me! And I’m not going to dumb (it down for) straight people. I feel like it would be an insult to straight people if I had to rearrange my songs to make myself seem straight for straight people to like me. That’s not true. Straight people have their own lives. Straight people don’t care so much. They have better things to do than knock gay people down. They just want to hear a good song from someone they feel is relatable and cool.

I definitely have my straight fans, but I think that gay people, particularly gay men, are always looking for somebody that they can relate to — searching a little bit more than your average straight male or female. I think the examples of gay men are sometimes unrelatable — it’s the voguing queen, or what’s on RuPaul’s Drag Race. I just consider myself a normal gay guy. Gay guys are searching for someone they can connect with and relate to. I feel like, with the response I’ve gotten, I’ve been able to deliver that.

-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*

[Last modified: Tuesday, April 26, 2011 1:06pm]


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