Rocco Katastrophe has been through many changes. The transgender artist was known as Katastrophe in the 2006 documentary Pick up the Mic but changed his moniker to Rocco Katastrophe when the name no longer fit. The candid interviews with his parents in Mic shed light on an artist who wasn’t sure he’d ever be accepted. Rocco recently dropped his latest album Second Hand Emotion and went on the record with David Atlanta about the heartbreak-inspired album, the adversity he faces as a transgender artist and his definition of mainstream success.
Why the name Katastrophe?
I started rapping under that moniker in 2002, put out my first album in 2004 and have been making music since then. I just released my fourth full length under the name Rocco Katastrophe. Since I choose that name 10 years ago, I felt like I no longer relate to it. I was a ‘katastrophe’ back then, and I don’t feel like one anymore
You’ve just released a new album, Second Hand Emotion. What can you tell us about it?
I wrote the entire album last summer, when I first moved from SF to Brooklyn. I had a rough landing and found out my girlfriend had been lying and cheating. I was devastated. I didn’t know what else to do, beside channel all of my feelings into an album.
I actually made two albums about it, but this is the one I released. I borrowed Second Hand Emotion from the line in the Tina Turner song “What’s Love Got to Do With It”. I felt like that was the best title, because the entire album deals with love, love-lost, betrayal, lust, infatuation and all of that.
Although I realized as much as it was inspired by my most recent difficult relationship, it could be about any relationship. Love is a used and second hand emotion. We all do the same things, and repeat the same patterns with other people. Falling in love is more about ourselves and projecting shit onto another person. That is what this album is about.
I haven’t heard the entire new album, but both videos you’ve dropped from the album “Wake Me If I’m Dreaming” and “Let Me Go”, seem a little softer than previous efforts. Are these your favorite tracks from the album?
It is hard to say what my favorite tracks are. Perhaps “Let Me Go” is my favorite track that I have ever made. This is entire album is the most emotionally honest, open and vulnerable I have ever been in any music I have made. I think that is why I slowed my rapping down and focused more on crafting a song that struck an emotional chord with the listener, than I have in the past.
This is also the only time I wrote an album in the span of a couple months, which is part of the reason all the songs fit together more than previous albums.
Who has influenced Katastrophe (past and present)?
So many different art forms and artists. I was initially really influenced by early 90s spoken word from NY and the Last Poets. I loved all the stuff that came out of the Newyorican Poets Cafe. I was also very influenced by the Native Tongues, Projected Blowed and all the stuff that Def Jux put out (Aesop Rock, Cage, El-P, Cannibal Ox). Lately I have been listening and enjoying more mainstream stuff, like Drake and A.S.A.P Rocky and Kanye West, but also The Weekend and Little Dragon.
Is mainstream success a goal with Katastrophe?
Hmmm, tough to say. That means something so different than it used to. I would love to be a huge success and for many people to listen to and relate to my songs.
In a genre that has been blasted as anti-gay, anti-woman and by extension anti-trans, what’s it like to be a trans hip-hop performer?
I think it is hard to be a transperson in general. I look at it as an asset and an obstacle. People want to focus on that, which I feel has both helped and hindered me. It’s so complicated and I have watched the media change over the past ten years around trans identity.
Do artists like Jay-Z who has come out in support of marriage equality and the recent coming out of Frank Ocean make things better?
I am sure it can only help things. It will be interesting to watch the response to Frank Ocean. He is such a talented and brilliant song writer, even the letter he wrote that talked about his romance with a man was a beautiful poem. The music industry is not the same. He doesn’t need a huge label to have his career, his career was huge then a label got interested. Labels know they need an artist that is self propelled and fearless and singular to be able to sell music now. I can’t wait to see what happens around this and his new release.
After watching the 2006 documentary Pick up the Mic there is a distinction between those who want to be known for more than their sexuality, do you think the two are inextricably linked?
Yes. I don’t think that gender or sexuality have to be a focal point always. But if you live a life that is not reflected in the mainstream, inevitably that is going to influence who you are, what you write about, how media writes about you and how your are received by your audience.
Have you ever performed in Atlanta/Any plans to perform in Atlanta?
I have, many times, but not for a few years. I plan on making it out there this year for sure!
What should people expect from a Katastrophe show?
I have a lot of energy and I try to connect with each person there. I love performing because I am incredibly social and I love talking and it gives me the opportunity to feel like I am talking to everyone in the room at once.
Stay up-to-date with Rocco Katastrophe by checking out his website, Twitter and Facebook.