“Have you ever been called a bitch?!” a surprisingly sweet looking girl roars ferociously at the crowd. Clad in a hooded denim vest with asymmetrical cropped hair, she mercilessly entices spectators spitting catchy rhymes with her undeniably upfront, indisputably honest approach. And just when it seems as if the swarm couldn’t be any more electrified, a honeyed voice rings out, belting with the force of a church choir, bringing the throng to an almost uncontrollable elation.
The duo intones with determination and vigor. They stand as a powerful female, feminist, lesbian voice that chimes loud and clear. God Des and She, hip hop artists in the game for 10 years, and out lesbian performers from the start, just finished a national tour promoting their 4th album, United States of God Des and She.
The pair sit down for a chat with 429Magazine to discuss the album, sexuality, politics, and life lessons.
429Magazine: What is it like being women and lesbians in the rap game?
God Des: It’s fuckin’ hard man. When so much of hip hop and female hip hoppers completely sell themselves for men’s sexuality, it’s challenging when you’re not doing that [for the]mainstream world. But I think as far as building a long-term career, it’s been beneficial to be honest and genuine and stay true to what we believe.
429Mag: Let’s talk sexuality. Do you think artists take advantage of their sexuality? In the LGBT scene and mainstream?
God Des: [It’s] about being honest and telling a story from a place of marginalization and invisibility. It’s bringing awareness to a story that’s yours and true. Mainstream artists are forced to sell themselves sexually to be successful. But I think that when people are doing authentic hip hop or music that’s about something meaningful, even though they may be talking about being gay, it’s not necessarily to sell themselves, it’s just to tell their story.
We [exploit our sexuality]no matter what culture or what it is. [For instance], our most sexual song, [Lick It] is being taught in women’s studies classes. There are so many dudes that talk about their sexual pleasure and we feel like women need an empowerment song. That’s the only song that’s been sexually motivated, but to me it’s still a feminist thing and a political statement.
429Mag: At the ButchLYFE fashion show, there were loads of women oogling other women, but it was overwhelmingly accepted. What is the difference between a man sexualizing a woman and a woman sexualizing a woman? Why is it disrespectful when a man does it?
God Des: I personally don’t like it when women refer to other women as bitches in a derogatory way or whores or things like that, but it’s a different playing field. We’re all oppressed as women, so I don’t think we can sexually objectify women the same way that men can…it’s the context in which you think about it or use it. There’s misogynism in a sense in the gay community, but I don’t think it has the same bearing or power that it does in the straight community.
She: It’s different for butches, they don’t get to fit in like femmes do in the queer world. Embracing their sexuality, embracing that they are beautiful and don’t have to be hard, they don’t have to be the man. Because as a woman, even as a butch woman, you want to feel beautiful and you want to feel validated.
429Mag: Do you feel misunderstood? For instance, you mentioned straight men coming up to you at shows and apologizing for not being able to connect with your music, despite them liking it…
God Des: I don’t feel like I’m this other entity or other power separated from the world. I think [queers]are misunderstood and we often feel unheard and unseen and misunderstood. Some people are defensive. I think a lot of straight guys at our shows have this sense of feeling alone maybe for the first time because they’re not in the majority, and its threatening in some weird way.
I would never want to make anybody not feel included because our music is truly about equality and inclusion; so sometimes I’m flabbergasted that some guys feel the need to explain themselves to me. But I understand it. They’re probably just not used to being in that kind of situation or environment.
429Mag: How can you be strong and vulnerable at the same time?
God Des: I think that being strong is just staying true to your word and convictions and who you are; and I think being vulnerable is telling the truth. Sometimes for women it’s really hard to find that balance. It’s like you’re either really hard or you’re considered super soft, but I don’t think about life like that and I don’t think about music like that.
I just want to tell my story and I want to help people. I want to encourage people. I want to hug people. I want to be everything I can to give people a sense of strength, and hope [they can relate]to what we’re saying.
429Mag: In terms of relating to your audience and being vulnerable, do you think it’s easier in that sense for women because they can express themselves more freely, whereas with men there’s this stigma to maintain an image?
God Des: I think it’s harder for women trying to come from a place of power. Obama is a perfect example. He’s so endearing, he’s super vulnerable, and he’s really honest and compassionate; but he’s still this strong figure.
But then [there’s] Hilary Clinton who’s very hardened. It’s hard for her to smile and figure out how to navigate being a woman in power. There’s a lot of pressure for men to be stoic; but I also think a lot of men in power, in entertainment, in politics can show this more sensitive side and they’re not considered pussies and getting their period; and they’re not going to be able to run the country based on their emotions.
429Mag: Is it not different in the hip hop community where you have to maintain this harder image? For men especially?
God Des: I don’t think there’s a lot of women [or men]in mainstream hip hop sharing messages, but there are successful men like Talib Kweli or Kaynon or Lupe Fiasco—folks that have gotten quite a bit of recognition that are pretty vulnerable in what they’re saying and staying true to some sort of message or conviction.
Macklemore is a straight dude talking about gay struggle and there’s been all these gay rappers for all these years that have never broken through. There’s more room for men to do it.
I think women feel like they either have to sexualize themselves, or be very hardened and can’t really tell a story. As far as mainstream hip hop in the last 10 years, 15 years, I remember Eve did a song about domestic abuse that was brilliant, but I mean other than that mainstream female rappers, I mean what message are they talking about?
429Mag: So how did you achieve that balance?
God Des: Because I didn’t become a rapper to be famous. I became a rapper to tell a story. I always thought I want to be able to break down barriers and be a famous dyke rapper, but that’s not why I rap and that’s not why I started rapping. I started rapping because I felt like our community was totally invisible; and we needed music and hip hop to bring visibility and make people feel ok with who they were. That’s why I rap. I’m an activist that uses hip hop as my channel.
429Mag: Don’t a lot of artists start like that? Music, like any other art, is a channel to express and share.
God Des: I don’t think every musician has a strong social agenda. Artists have vulnerabilities as far as love or bringing something good or positive or fun to the world. The fact that gay folks in 2013 still can’t get married in the US…I mean there’s 7 states…this is true inequality and hatred. There’s not many folks willing to stand up and fight that fight.
That’s just who we are and what we’ve done. There’s a lot of other artists that are gay that never came out in their music and never talked about that topic. Because they knew how ostracizing it was. So I think artists at some point sometimes feel like they need to compromise to be mainstream but I don’t feel like a lot of people are willing to take on the fight and the battle like we have.
429Mag: So what do you think should be done to change that?
God Des: Its just society. We hope that at the very least we can inspire some queer kids to be ok with themselves; and in the interim some straight people will be [inspired]. I think it has to be gay folks being ok with who they are, really standing up for our rights, our true equality, and not taking inequality or feeling shame.
If we don’t respect ourselves we can’t expect anybody else to. If we’re unwilling to stand up for our own rights; if we’re unwilling to be visible, we’re not going to move forward. It’s also gotta be straight folks and straight allies stepping up.
429Mag: What is your dream? What do you ultimately hope to accomplish so you can die happy?
God Des: I want to prove that you can be whatever it is. If you’re queer, if you’re a woman, if you don’t look like Britney Spears, I want to show that if you make good music and you make authentic music then you can be successful. I want to be a presence for other people like I don’t have to be that way. I can be worthy and who I am and I still have a shot at reaching my dreams.
429Mag: What advice can you give artists trying to make it?
She: You gotta really believe. You gotta really work on it everyday and you can’t get discouraged. You have to constantly be thinking of new and better ways to move forward. Unless you’re famous you don’t have the right formula. So you’re always revamping and figuring it out. Be kind to your fans. They are what make you. Treat them well with love and respect and it’s going to get you really far.
429Mag: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
She: The biggest lesson was from artists that I admired that I went up to, and they were cold to me and it hurt my feelings. As a fan, you don’t understand what the life is. I had no idea so I took it personal and it hurt my little heart. That was my lesson: do not do that to others because they will remember that moment. You are important to them; you do matter to them; your mood matters to them; how you’re presenting yourself ; if you’re really upset or sad or angry or whatever.
429Mag: It must be difficult to be in a relationship if you’re constantly touring, with the time apart and the chaos of the actual tour…
God Des: It’s challenging to be in a relationship and be in this business. It’s not just the attention from the people, but just being gone. She has to hold down the household and have her own life when I’m gone, and then try to just completely focus on us when I’m home. [It’s a matter of finding] someone super supportive that you have a trusting relationship with.
429Mag: Tell us about your new album.
God Des: There’s a lot of political satire and we just wanted to make a really strong statement about the irony and hypocrisy of what the U.S. stands for. This is supposed to be a democracy [with]equality, but there’s all of these laws and things that are set up to oppress certain groups of people. We wanted to break that down and expose it, and write songs that people could laugh and dance their asses off, and get riled up about, but also expose the truth and be really vulnerable in what we say and feel.