Interview: Deadlee on the stuggle against discrimination in hip hop

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Shunned for being an openly gay artist in hip hop world, too hardcore for the mainstream LGBT community to start, and growing up in a community that doesn’t tolerate being gay, Deadlee, aka Joseph Lee, truly knows the meaning of discrimination and marginalization.

As one of the first hip hop artists to push for equality, he tackles subjects like sexuality, class, race, and police brutality in his albums 7 Deadlee Sins and Assults With a Deadlee Weapon.

Deadlee takes us through his experience in homo hop, targets artists like Jay-Z and 50 Cent, and gives us an update about what’s going on in his career now.

429Magazine: What is homo hop and what does it mean to you?

Deadlee: Homo Hop was just a catchy phrase to bring light to out LGBT rappers who are basically just doing Hip Hop as it was meant to be done. Hip Hop was always about the struggle and the realities of life. The problem is it became mainstream and taken over by big corporate music companies who controlled the content. Sex of the hetero variety, violence, and money became the standard. Message rap, which one of the first raps,…[such as]The Message by Grandmaster Flash… was only put out by Independent artists.  Homo Hop was one of those things we used to highlight homos who were being left out of Hip Hop, but the name became a crutch. There is no real Homo Hop genre, its just HIP HOP.

429Mag: Would you say it’s a major social movement now? Or is it not as prominent as a few years back?

Deadlee: I put out my first CD over 10 years ago, and the First Peace Out Festival of out rappers was in 1993 I believe—we were a very cohesive group all striving for the same thing. Like life, we all went different directions but I think our impact was great. Out rappers might not be as together or cohesive as a unit but there is a greater number. I get hit up weekly by new out rappers who thank me for opening doors. My producer at the time told me I was about 10 years ahead of everyone with my ideas & I see that now. We planted a seed and I see the fruits [of our labor].

429Mag: It’s seemingly challenging 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?

Deadlee: I think one hit song will change the scene. The time is now for an open gay rapper to hit the scene strong. If a Nicki Minaj, or someone of that caliber collaborated with an out rapper, that’s all they’d need. Today is a lot easier too for an independent artist. The big music labels are slowly being phased out. A gay-friendly, independent rapper like Macklemore has the number one song in the country. Music is getting to the consumer in different ways. I just read that Billboard Magazine is revamping how they measure a song’s popularity by including viral and streaming tracks. An artist controls their own destiny these days and with the right hype, an open rapper will be accepted. It’s a completely different world too. We have a president who is gay-friendly, and a majority of the country is too now.

429Mag: Were you always a rapper? How did you get into hip hop? And were you always a “queer” rapper?

Deadlee: I wasn’t a rapper at all. I had a dream to create music but didn’t put a label on it. I made my first CD , Seven Deadlee Sins, [which]was a mix of all of my influences. I was channeling Eazy E, GNR, Rage Against The Machine, LL COOL J, Prince, Marilyn Manson—I guess it was closer to rap than any other genre. A magazine in Australia did the first review of my CD & labeled me a gay rapper and it just stuck.  My second CD I sorta fell into the trap of making a legitimate hip hop album as I was signed to a label to do just that. I didn’t enjoy the process of trying to write to the classic rap formula of two sixteen bar verses, and a hook.  If I do another CD—I will go back to my roots of just creating music from my soul.

429Mag: Any word about a new album coming out? You said in a previous interview that there is one more CD in you.

Deadlee: I have always been inspired by the beat, and my producer of my first CD moved to India, so I have yet to find a producer who vibes with me like that. Like Eminem had Dr Dre, and Timberlake has Timberland—sometimes you just need your music partner. I am currently working on a movie I am going to write and star in. I plan to executive produce the soundtrack and I might have a few tracks on that. As far as a complete CD, when the time is right I want to do one more for my trilogy! 

429Mag: I read you were writing a screenplay several months ago. What is it about?

Deadlee: [It’s] based on my experiences as a Latino actor and how Hollywood sees us. It’s almost like I have started at the bottom again. Just as gays didn’t fit in hip hop, Latino men like me are relegated to minor characters or window dressing in Hollywood productions. I am the gangster, thug, cholo, robber, cartel member, etc. I don’t always have problems playing these characters but at least make them three-dimensional. This movie deals with these challenges but through parody. I was recently befriended by a group of Chicano rappers in El Monte who reached out to me [with]respect for being out in hip hop. I plan to use the talents of these young guys like producer/rapper Mexica Brown to lay the soundtrack for this film.

429Mag: Tell us about your music. What is the goal? Any upcoming shows?

Deadlee: I love to tell stories or mini movies with my music. if I am not doing that, it better have a message.  The world is so all over the place that music is still a very intimate art form that can create change. A kid puts his iPod on and gets lost in the beat and message. I sometimes feel artists don’t take their responsibility as a role model too seriously. [People] look to music to motivate and inspire. So many ghetto kids are inspired by rappers who rap about, bitches, fame, money, and guns; rappers like Jay-Z and 50 Cent are false prophets who actually do more damage than good to society. These are things that most people will never ever attain & not really important . We need more Spiritual rappers who fill us up with hope & positivity to create real change.  

429Mag: Do you think artists are taking advantage of their sexuality to gain awareness? Do you think this is ok?

Deadlee: Coming out is still a revolutionary thing in music since it was taboo for so long. My problem is more with LGBT organizations like GLAAD who Crown people like a Ricky Martin or Frank Ocean as ambassadors and give them awards just for coming out. I think if that an artist becomes a gay advocate and leaders that’s one thing, but just coming out no. Of course praise is fine but there are so many gay advocates and out musicians who never get accolades that deserve so.  I also have big issues with record executives like Clive Davis & David Geffen who had real power to sign an open artist back in the day but didn’t maybe just so they could continue to hide their sexuality.

429Mag: Why did fame scare you?

Deadlee: Fame didn’t scare me as much as what fame was doing to people around me. I lost friends who felt I was changing but in fact it was them who changed. I do understand why artist get in relationships with other artists because they get it. I actually love to be in touch with my fans. I have to limit my Twitter use because I am addicted to talking to my followers. I did get a little nervous when I was at the height of my fame. I was on CNN [when]Howard Stern and I began to receive so much Hate mail from homophobes. I think if I had a manager or assistant to keep the negative things from me, then my psyche wouldn’t have been so bothered. I even had someone write me who said they’d kill me because he wasn’t going to let a faggot take over rap.

429Mag: Where would you say is the disconnect in mainstream rap? Is it industry professionals-record labels, or media maintaining an image? Is it a matter of branding and profitability? Or a refusal in rappers to be associated with it? Do you think the stigma will remain in the industry?

Deadlee: The time is ripe for an out artist to bring down the walls of a music industry no longer tied to record labels. YouTube and other streaming devices make it possible for an independent artist to have overnight visibility. The hard part is the artist surrounding themselves with people who look out for their best interests.  An artist also needs to take it back to the days of yesteryear and tour. I think it’s exciting in some ways because there isn’t one ‘right” way of doing things these days. [Also], merchandise is just as important as the music to make money. A gay artist already has a community. If they are willing to help play their music in clubs, and push in LGBT media, [they will build an]audience.

429Mag: You said you are part of a minority that thinks hip hop needs to stay positive and band together. Do you think that’s still the case?

Deadlee: In the past, I thought LGBT community was stronger as a hip hop community, and community in general, if we banded together. I have come to realize gay is not one way of thinking despite how “gay stream media” has characterized us. There are so many different kinds of LGBT that don’t get recognized or noticed. I initially kissed gay media asses to get my product out, and realized I didn’t fit their definition of gay. I got more love from straight allies like Howard Stern, Tyra Banks, and some film companies I dealt with that had no problem casting me as a straight, womanizing character even if I was gay in real life. There isn’t really one way to get noticed or even gain higher visibility. I just say everyone be themselves and the cream always rises to the top – isn’t that what they say? [Laughs].

429Mag: You mentioned claiming the F-word. What do you think of Azealia Banks’s comment?

Deadlee: I had a song on my second CD Assault with a Deadlee Weapon called No Fags Allowed which turned the tables on society and made homophobes and bullies the fags. Taking the sting off these words was basically what I was doing. A word like faggot that has been used to dehumanize and demean a population is really rooted in context. I can say faggot to my gay homies and it means one thing, but a homophobe bullying a gay person  takes on a whole new meaning.

Azealia considers herself LGBT and using faggot to describe Perez Hilton who made a career of bullying is kind of ironic.  I also understand that she has a bigger issue with white elie male gays dictating how or when a word should be used or how LGBT should think and act. The gay stream media messed up calling gay “the new black.” We should never compare or equate our hardships or pains to other peoples.  A lot of these gay white males come from a point of power too, so telling a Black female, bisexual rapper what or how to act is a form of hierarchy.  I can walk out to the street and nobody knows who I go to bed with, but society sees a bald headed brown man first and foremost.

I have been harassed by cops and pulled over and “fit the description” over forty times in my life. These white, gay, privileged guys like Perez Hilton need to realize the world isn’t just rainbows and glitter.  West Hollywood and a lot of white, gay people have been some of the racist groups I have been around. West Hollywood back in the day did anything they could do to keep Blacks & Latinos out. I have stories but it would take too long.

429Mag: Anything you want to share?

Deadlee: Be a dreamer stay positive, love, find your passion, and LIVE!

429Magazine

About The Author

Writer. Photographer. World traveler. Fashion/art/music/food enthusiast. Lover of all things deviant and novel.

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