From the moment Deadlee spits “No Fags Allowed” during the opening of the 2006 documentary Pick up the Mic , you know this man is serious about his career. After two successful albums, Deadlee stepped away from the game but he hasn’t left the field. He was bitten by the acting bug recently starring opposite Woody Harrelson and Ice Cube in Rampart. The global sex symbol spoke with David Atlanta about his Hollywood travels, whether or not we’ll ever get that third album and why Frank Ocean’s gotta earn his respect.
You’ve been in the game for over a decade. Can you tell us briefly about your career?
I recorded my first CD Seven Deadlee Sins in 2002 . I performed all over LA and created a buzz with my stage show which included go-go boys, drag queens and a new twist on hip-hop.
I was featured in LA papers and internationally in Blue Magazine from Australia which included a nude photo and story about me being gay and rapping. This got the attention of Oakland’s PeaceOut Festival, a 3 day rap show and cypher with open LGBT rappers and hip-hop artists from around the world. I made great connections here eventually collaborating on songs with a lot of the artists which was all documented in Pick up the Mic.
I also met Matt Wobensmith who under his newly created Acronym Records and released my second CD Assault with a Deadlee Weapon. My first single and video “Good Soldier II” directed by Johnny Skandros was a #1 video on LOGO . Under Camilo Arenivar’s Milo Management we created the first National Touring Rap Showcase with LGBT rappers called Homo Revolution . This tour created an international buzz resulting in my appearance on CNN, Howard Stern, and The Tyra Banks Show to name a few. I’ve also performed at LGBT Prides all over USA, Canada and Mexico City.
It’s been a while since you released an album. What have you been up to?
Like a lot of rappers, I turned to acting. I took acting classes and soon got roles in Vengeance, Dead Men Walking, Getting High in the Barrio and a lead role in a cult favorite Hoochie Mamma Drama.
I eventually got my SAG card and a part opposite Woody Harrelson in Rampart and Lukas Haas in Meth Head. I wrote two plays and produced them. I also had a lead role playing Ming the Merciless in stage version of Flash Gordon and as the Eavesdropper in LA’s longest-running play Eavesdropper.
I’m currently writing a screenplay which I hope to act in and record music for the soundtrack.
All this talk about acting . . . where does music fit in?
I think I would be happier being known as a great actor. I know there is still one more CD in me. If it happens great but I realize that with popularity and fame comes more problems. I think I purposely sabotaged my third CD because my taste of fame scared me off.
I was discouraged by a lot of jealous and envious people who changed as I got more popular. I even had falling outs with managers and producers. Music wasn’t fun anymore and I felt more love on movie sets. If it happens I think I’ll be ready from experiences I’ve had but basically I’m working and living and creating one day at a time.
What’s the most personal track you’ve ever recorded?
There are two. On my first CD I wrote about an ex bf who is HIV-positive in the track “Marathon” . On my second CD the track “Good Soldier” detailed a stormy relationship with my first partner, my coming out story and gay suicide.
What are your favorite tracks you’ve recorded?
A bonus track on my first CD called “Carnival in my Mind” was a story of being harassed by police but dealing with it by making it a sexual fantasy.
I recorded a song for the Hoochie Mamma Drama soundtrack from the perspective of my character who was a gangster and ladies man. It was so much fun to write from a point of view that is not you.
I also recorded a track with another out artist Drew Mason called “Thrill of Victory,” which is an anthem to never give up in life or your dreams.
Who are your influences (past and present)?
Early years as a kid, I lived for the Beach Boys, The Jacksons, Parliament Funkadelic and all of Prince and his groups like The Time. Loved all early rap Grandmaster Flash, Public Enemy and LL Cool J.
Later I got into Eazy E, Paris, Rage Against The Machine, NIN, DMX, Marilyn Manson, GNR and even Janet Jackson
There isn’t a lot of current rap I love but did appreciate Eminem’s last CD and currently into Childish Gambino and Mexica Brown.
In a genre that has been blasted as anti-gay, what’s it like being an out hip-hop artist?
I’ve never had hate thrown in my face, only on message boards. Early on all out artists supported each other but the young guns came out attacking and dissing . I really felt out hip-hop had to stay positive and not battle one another because we had bigger enemies. I felt activism was just as important as the music but I am part of the minority who thinks like that.
Basically a pioneer in the movement, did you encounter many obstacles being an out hip-hop artist?
I felt like our own LGBT media and a lot of Pride Directors were a harder sell than even straight media and venues. Old school LGBT was scared of all hip-hop and I was rejected performing in my own backyard. LA Pride and Long Beach Pride felt my music was “too hardcore” for their festivals. Early on my biggest fans were straight white punk and rock guys and lesbians. It took my own Black and Latino brothers awhile to warm up to me but they have now.
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?
All straight, respected allies in hip-hop can only be a plus. Jay seems sincere but when others like 50 Cent, who in 2004 said he didn’t like gay people, just fall in line because it’s “in” to be pro-gay. . . Fuck that!
As far as Frank Ocean I really gotta laugh at all the gay guys who jumped on his cock after his announcement! I think it’s cool to come out but he seems to be straddling the line. He’s never said he was gay and I’d have more respect for him saying it. He’s actually gotten respect because he ‘didn’t come out but he let us in’. What the Fuck is that?
If I knew I’d be more respected for sharing my first man crush than saying I was gay, I woulda done that. He is no role model of mine. Like I said being out gay you must be an activist to me. So until he is volunteering or reppin’ at an LGBT Youth center or on a PSA for young black men to play safe and not get HIV, I won’t respect him.
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?
We are obviously more than our sexuality but in these times when LGBT are second class citizens I believe it’s important to be out. LGBT youth are still searching for role models and being out and a rapper, you automatically become an activist.
You actually open that documentary with a track called “No Fags Allowed.” I wasn’t sure you were gay at first. Do you think it is okay that members of the LGBTQ community use that word? In your opinion does it detract from the power and connotation if we use it or in a way reinforce those who use it as a homophobic slur/derogatory term?
I really felt if we claimed the F-word like rappers did the N-word, it would take the sting out of the word. If you hear the song the word was used on people or institutions notoriously homophobic. It was a way for them to get a taste of their own medicine. I have no problem using the word and those in our community seem to be overly sensitive if you ask me.
LGBT elite and the media self perpetuate the effeminate screaming pansy but want to get mad when Hollywood still portrays gay that way. I was in gay publications but never on the cover. Gay media pushes the flawless white queeny twink and the only time person of color gets a cover is Black History Month.
The deal is the LGBT community is very diverse and think and have different ideas about how to move our community forward. There is no one way or right way to do things as long as we have same goal of achieving equality!
You seemed pretty integral in the documentary to the burgeoning LGBTQ Hip-Hop community. Do you still stay in touch with artists from the film and has the LGBTQ Hip-Hop community changed since that film. If so, how?
I really appreciate all the Pick Up The Mic artists. No matter our differences, we were about the greater cause. We knew what we were doing was bigger than the individual . The out rappers who came after seemed like they were in it for the fame. I created a show for the newer rappers called Street Cred, but most of those guys fell off. I am cool with everyone from the film and miss our festivals.
What should people expect from a Deadlee show?
My show is nothing like my albums. I pride myself on being a great live artist. My words are alive on stage. My acting has helped me perform on stage like each song is a mini movie. Most people who were not into my CD gave me props after a live show. I’ve always had a hard time translating my passion in the studio. I may do a live album one day to capture it.
Anything else you would like to share?
I am still on my Hollywood grind. Working on TV shows and like I said working on my screenplay. I dabbled in stand-up comedy before and think it’s time to do more! I think gay men of color comics might just be the next big thang. New music may still be an option but most likely tied in with a movie project.
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