Apr 25 2017

A Conversation With Rapper, Songwriter & Performance Artist Boyfriend

By: John Alfone

Photos by Jabari Jacobs & Lenore Seal

A self-styled "rapper, songwriter, and performance artist," the artist "Boyfriend" will perform at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on Sunday, April 30, at the Gentilly Stage at 12:45 p.m. Originally a freestyle lyricist with an endearing penchant for Bohemian life, her most recent musical persona embraces a transgressive style most common amongst the Bourbon Street and "hipsters in the swamp" crowd. Promising accompanying musicians during her Jazz Fest set, it will be interesting to see what the latest incarnation of this artist's performance brings.


Where Y'at: You have an EP album release party coming out on April 26. What can you tell us about that?
 
Boyfriend: At the EP Release Party, esteemed members of Rap Cabaret will premiere the new songs to the world. Since what we’re releasing is recorded music, I wanted those very recordings to be what are heard & celebrated at the party. The hours in the studio, tracking live instruments, mixings & mastering… that process is it’s own journey that is different from the preparations for a live show, so that’s what we’re celebrating - the records themselves. If I performed them live it wouldn’t really feel the same to me. So we’ll have a drag queen lip-synching or a burlesque dancer performing to the tracks - true to rap cabaret fashion!  We’ll also have Airsex, Valerie Sassyfras & video installations by the Virtual Krewe of Vaporwave. 
 
I’ll also be hosting my Pop Up Panty Shop in the courtyard where you can buy my vintage items - almost all of them were worn by me on stage or in a photo shoot or on some grand adventure. In the tag of each is a little description of what happened in the garment. And my Panty Line, Undies For A Cause, will be there in the flesh! Each month I release a new design and each design benefits a different non-profit or charity. 
 
Where Y'at: You had a show recently canceled for "violating laws against lewdness" in Jackson, Mississippi. In an era where pornography can be downloaded from a cell phone in minutes, is anything shocking and raunchy anymore? Is your musical act in general indecent or is it simply a mirror reflection of an American cultural region that simultaneously celebrates Bible-thumping and obscenity in popular culture?
 
Boyfriend: While I hear what you’re saying about access and how that has watered down ideas of what’s “forbidden,” I’m actually grateful that there are still boundaries, if only cultural, that make some things “shocking” to others which are every day for some. No - my act is not indecent, nor do I consider it shocking. Nor is it obscene. I certainly come from the South and my work speaks to that specific cultural hypocrisy (simultaneous bible-thumping & redneck-glorifying), but something is only indecent or obscene if you believe it is shameful, and I don’t feel that anything I’m doing is shameful. 
 
Where Y'at: You have had recent success at SXSW starting out as an unofficial act and recently playing on an official showcase right behind self-deprecating hip-hop artist Duckwrth of Los Angeles who currently has a major buzz.  How has that music conference helped you evolve your career and what have you learned by performing there in recent years?
 
Boyfriend: I’ve certainly learned things at SXSW… this year I got to speak on a panel with Cindy Wilson of the B52’s as we premiered our song together “Fun Sh*t.” It’s hard to cut through the noise there; even as an official artist you’re one of a thousand, so in a way, it’s like a micro-cosm of the industry itself. You can go there and leave with either more or less than you started with. 
 
Where Y'at: Is it correct Scope mouthwash was the sponsor of that showcase. If yes, how did they come on board and how did you benefit from that affiliation? How do musicians make a living in 2017?
 
Boyfriend: I don’t know if Scope, the mouthwash, was involved!! But it’d be great if they were because I’m a fan of mouthwash in general. And as for how do, we make a living… maybe ask again in 2019? Ha!
 
Where Y'at: I really liked the guilelessness of your music video "Coins" and think it was a great celebration of being "down and out" in New Orleans in the best possible George Orwell literary sense.  What is the inspiration for that video? Where is it available? If it is currently unavailable, what is your reasoning for removing it from the public view?
 
Boyfriend: So glad you liked “Coins!” It was a fun one to shoot - you should’ve seen the face on the bank teller when I asked for $100 in pennies for filling the bathtub… The inspiration was real life, as it so often is. I don’t turn my nose up at any money - I pick up quarters I ain’t too proud! So it’s sort of my response to those folks who leave their change on the ground or - yes I’ve seen it - throw it away. And yes, the video is unavailable to the public as are most of the videos I made from 2012-13 (20 total during those two years). 
 
Where Y'at: If I am not mistaken, this will be your first time playing JazzFest. How does it feel being invited to perform at the exclusive New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival umbrella? How do you plan on repping New Orleans jazz & heritage? In former New Orleans resident Trent Reznor fashion, would you care to "bite the hand that feeds" and discuss whether JazzFest has lost sight of its mission? 
 
Boyfriend: Yes, this is my first Jazz Fest & I’m thrilled! A little nervous, as it’ll only be my third show with a live band, but I wouldn’t dare play Jazz Fest without instruments! No, I don’t think Jazz Fest has lost sight of its mission… if you want to celebrate New Orleans music & culture you most certainly can there. Do the big name headliners mean you can’t also go to the blues tent? The fact that there are now also larger international acts only make the festival bigger, more profitable and more diverse. (Sadly, also more crowded but that’s another issue.) Seems to me like the folks who take issue with the lineup are the same type who bemoan an artist for “selling out” when they sign to a major label or get a big sponsorship deal because there's no longer that small-town intimacy that makes something feels like it’s theirs. Things getting bigger so often means that the original mystique is lost, but such is the nature of all things - the universe is expanding!
 
Where Y'at: You recently recorded with Cindy Wilson, the B52s co-founder and new wave/alternative pioneer who is essentially more or less from this part of the country. Do artists from what we can call  "Gulf Coast" have a bad rap in terms of being avant-garde? Is there a reason why Britney Spears, Lucinda Williams, and Solange Knowles are labeled Southern, rustic, or derivative while Lana del Rey, Madonna, and Suzanne Vega are considered visionary?
 
Boyfriend: While southerners certainly get a bad rap, I think there’s more of a stigma when you carry with you certain cultural signifiers, like an accent or country aesthetics. If you don’t carry the south with you, I think you can escape that stigma. When I first moved to LA I was certainly treated like the ambassador of the south, asked questions constantly that were offensive on the one hand, but then understandable on the other. It’s nice being from somewhere that has a culture worth asking about!

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