Juba Kalamka shatters all barriers and stereotypes as bisexual activist and artist with an MFA in Poetics. Founding member of the Deep Dickollective (D/DC), and creator of Sugartruck Recordings, he took hip hop from a place of marginalization to the forefront of social commentary and music.
In an interview with 429Magazine, Kalamka discussed the evolution of homo hop
429Magazine: What is homo hop and what does it mean to you?
Juba Kalamka: When I reference what popularly became known as “homo hop,” I’m talking about what to this day is a loose, primarily online scene (as opposed to “community”) of LGBTQ independent rap artists, DJs producers , promoters and the like.
429Mag: Would you say it’s a major social movement now? Or is it not as prominent as a few years back?
Kalamka: I think describing it as significant and influential to a number of artists (both subcultural and mainstream) who came along during the peak attention period of the scene would be accurate. To describe it as a “social movement”—which often implies a larger social justice imperative of some kind—would be inaccurate.
The overwhelming majority of artists I encountered in that scene weren’t concerned with anything beyond advancing their careers—the same as straight artists. I’m not indicting them for that, but there was and is a lot of tiresome dishonesty of intent around this notion at best, and a simple lack of clarity of purpose at worst.
429Mag: You’ve said that people in the hip hop scene are nervous and agitated about queer hip hop. Would you say that’s still the case? Is it more accepting now?
Kalamka: No, I wouldn’t say that was still the same, but that’s not about some abatement of homophobia in hip hop social scenes or anywhere else. We live in a world culture laden with intersectional oppressions—white supremacy homophobia, misogyny, classism, ableism, ageism and the like—that are aped by people in hip hop cultural contexts but do not generate from them as that particular power is overcultural and institutional.
I think there was generally less tittering about queers—meaning non-white queer bodies in particular—when more straight fans and artists (or anyone making a public comment on the idea/issue) learned that homo hop artists weren’t any more interested in interrogating their relative positionalities and privileges than anyone else.
429Mag: It’s seemingly a challenge, being gay in the hip hop community. Why do you think that is? Would you say you feel that way? What advice can you offer to others trying to make it in the same situation?
Kalamka: I think the particular narrow and cartoonish performances of black and brown masculinity that define much of mainstream hip hop cultural product make being sexually different or genderqueer difficult in said spaces, but the idea that such is more difficult (as opposed to different) in non-white communities than anywhere else is again, a product of the racist/white supremacist imaginary.
The “advice,” or better yet, cautionary advisements, I’d give to a queer kid who was interested in a career in the mainstream music industry isn’t much different than I’d give to a straight kid. Sameness is rewarded. Difference – that which has not been commodified – is undesirable.
It’s all about the bottom line- what is the cheapest product that you can sell to the largest number of people? A product that is uncomplicated, easily digestible, eschews critical thinking and absolutely discourages any interrogation and deconstruction of or challenge to consumerist culture. It’s a conversation that for better or worse, the average person invested in being grist for that particular mill is not interested in having. That said, I avoid giving advice to this as a general rule. If I was them, I wouldn’t want to hear what I had to say either.
429Mag: Were you always a rapper? How did you get into hip hop? You’ve said that you approach this as social work. Is that the reason you got into rap?
Kalamka: I began performing in children’s theater in 1979 and began emceeing and dabbling in production in 1988 (I didn’t come out until 1995). My mom is a theater person and my dad is a retired school teacher. Both are community activists. Older sister was a record nut for all kinds of music. The combinations of those things inform who I am now as an artist.
429Mag: Tell us about your music. What is the goal of your music?
Kalamka: The goal of my music is to create things that I like and need to hear, to have fun and to challenge myself. My aesthetics are informed by everything from the Spinners single I bought on my sixth birthday to the Chicago public TV I watched tons of as a kid, particularly British television dramas and science fiction, the experimental video show Image Union, comic books, blaxploitation era film, spaghetti westerns … lots of things. Ultimately, regardless of the ideas or political intent that I’m playing with, I can’t be bothered if I’m not having fun, getting some joy, some jollies. Even when it’s something hard to talk about, I’m digging the process and it’s potential challenges.
429Mag: What do you think of the drama in the news with Frank Ocean and Azealia Banks?
Kalamka: I’ve only heard one Frank Ocean track and haven’t heard any of Banks’ work. As far as the media drama…it’s all a part of the game. If there’s some kid- queer, questioning or otherwise who is affirmed by something either of them say or do, I’m all good. At the same time, there’s very little that happens with the machinations of the mainstream music industry that I’m prone to taking seriously.
I’m glad for Ocean on a personal level, but there’s a way that the ensuing public conversations about him were in my mind, clearly orchestrated and manipulated for maximum effect by his label’s publicity machine. All press is good press. I doubt his queerness was a secret to anyone who knew him closely, and he’s a young talented dude who’s managed to get some shine from the machine and didn’t want to screw that up.
My admittedly peripheral knowledge of Banks suggests an unreasonable and unrealistic set of public expectations around her relative intent and behavior … which is to say I don’t expect anyone – queer or straight – who’s participating in entertainment commerce at those levels to be thoughtful, deconstructionist, a critical thinker or otherwise any more than anyone else. Given what’s at stake- power, money, social privilege, etc … they are often less so.
429Mag: Tell us about Sugartruck records and anything new going on.
Kalamka: I started Sugartruck to give a brick-and-mortar (read: a tall shelf in my bedroom) backbone to my creative endeavors in a scene that was mostly online. Rainbow Flava (RBF) founder Judge “Dutchboy” Muscat (who I performed with prior to Deep Dickollective [D/DC] ) referred to the first RBF album as a “shut up” record because the first thing people would ask him in 1998-2000 was always “do you have a record” and he would hand them one.
I noticed that people always flipped those thin slimline CD cases over to see what was on the back, so I knew that “who co-signed” it was a big deal for people….it didn’t matter who, as long as you could show that it wasn’t homemade . The Sugartruck logo, label address, and website you could order from made it “real” for people…it also made the operation seem way bigger than it was at the time, which was further helped by Alex Hinton’s documentary Pick Up The Mic (2005).
It was also a way for me to organize distribution of D/DC and my own projects as well as to cross promote the work of other artists inexpensively. Though at one point I carried about 15 artists’ work, the only work I released directly was D/DC, my own, and Katastrophe’s first record.
All the D/DC stuff is available at iTunes and other places.
My most recent work – Ooogabooga Under Fascism, as well as an instrumental production CD and a D/DC “greatest hits” CD are all available at http://jubakalamka.bandcamp.com, which is my main site. I’m doing preliminary production work for a new record tentatively titled Jig School Confidential. I have an EP in the works with Dutchboy and a variety of one-off projects with other artist, most notably a record with former Tribe 8 lead singer Lynnee Breedlove and a 7″ single with Colin Chace Clay of Juha.
I’ve done a lot of local, national and international performance work, digital music production for short docs and queer horror films, as well as music for other artists. I’ve been appearing in queer porn since 2003, most recently for Slanted Tendency and Heavenly Spire, and with Queer Porn TV this summer. I work as a linkage specialist for HIV+ patients and teach urogenital exams to second year med students through a consultancy, so in addition to general family stuff and my home life, I stay pretty busy. Recording and performing pays a significant portion of my bills, and I’m really fortunate and appreciative of that.