By Sabrina Samone
They say, that time heals all wounds. Sometimes that can take years, but here we are. Though we have come a long way as a trans community in the last ten or so years, we are also aware we have much more progress to make. Fifty-five years ago, within some one’s lifetime, black and white were still segregated, gay and lesbian’s still hid behind fake marriages and congregated in secret locations. Those days during the Motown sound, there were very little mentioning of interracial dating, and there were only occasional mentions of people changing genders, like Christine Jorgensen .
It would be another twenty years before the urban sounds of Motown morphed from disco to the hip hop beats of Afrika Bambaataa, known now as the father of hip hop. The industry became quickly synonymous with aggressive male masculinity, street gangs, prison and day to day hardships of life in urban slums. It would be in this patriarchal system’s climate, that women like MC Lyte, Salt n Pepa and Queen Latifah struggled to emerge. They struggled, yet successfully changed the face of hip hop with out compromising themselves as women, unlike some of the top female artist of today, that use sexuality to gain attention. These women were tough, in your face and was not about to degrade themselves or other women to have their voice be heard. I could go on about how I admire those early female pioneers of hip hop, but this is not a story about them, but about the potential new face of hip hop.
Over the years hip hop has become commercialized and embedded into nearly every aspect of American pop culture. It’s now universal among most cultures, religions, etc., yet remains extremely homophobic and transphobic. Many TBLG hip hop artist have tried making their name in music, just as those like P-diddy and Snoop-dog once did, but denied. This attitude from the hip hop industry may have gone unchecked or addressed until recent supporters like Macklemore demonstrated in the hit song ‘Same Love‘ , a time of change is needed.
Now with artist like Azealia Banks, Cazwell, Fly Young Red & gender queer and trans artist like Mykki Blanco, Katastrophe, & Katey Red, the walls are being broken down, one rhyme at a time.
Artist like Katey Red and Katastrophe may have taken the “shock” out of transgender rappers within the hip hop industry, but it’s newest crop of transgender hip hop artist are demanding it’s respect and claiming it along the way. Nicki Andro, is among a new genderation of hip hop artist, with lyrics and rhyme the founding fathers of hip hip would stand and take notice. I have been extremely impressed by her voice and message and it’s time my TMP readers get to know the new face of hip hop, Nicki Andro.
1. TransMusePlanet: Representation of Trans people in the media has been a long, and hard road. Recently we have established our presence in news, the fashion industry, film, art, television, and in literature. How ready, do you feel, is the need for the Trans voice in hip hop music?
Nicki Andro: I think Hip Hop is ready and is welcoming us with open arms, but we aren’t executing the best methods to approach it. There are many transgender rappers that posses a lyrical arsenal that cannot be denied by true hip hop fans, but who don’t have the connections to be heard, and many of us don’t get support from our own community, that could be crucial in elevating us to a higher spotlight. Many of the trans rappers that do have a spotlight get a bit too graphic on their trans experiences, and although there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, we must understand that hip hop is known to be a transphobic and homophobic culture for the most part. It would take a lot for them to respect us, and the best way to do so is to make them listen to us, not make them turn our songs off because we are sayi8ng things they aren’t used to hearing in a rap song. We should start off with music that appeals to many groups as opposed to only one group. We must earn their respect first, then anything goes.
2. TMP: The hip hop industry has been labeled for years as a misogynistic genre of music. It has been hard for it’s cis-gender women to find acceptance. What are some of the prejudices you’ve experienced?
N.A.: There have been many experiences I can bring up. Many men have been interested in making
music with me, while thinking that I am a cis-gender woman, then completely back out when I tell them I am transgender. I have also lost many rap battles because I am transgender. I haven’t experienced any negativity from anyone within the hip hop culture while they thought I was cis-gender, which has made me believe that the misogyny aura has been reduced. I will say, however, that although I have only experienced such prejudice from the straight women and men of the world, cis-gender people have also been the biggest supporters of my music.
3. TMP: Being Trans can be difficult in any culture, but it can be harder in some more than other, due to religious beliefs among others. What is your experience been like, coming out Trans, in a Haitian Catholic community?
N.A.: My experience has been horrible. Being in a Haitian/Catholic family, I had been taught at a very young age to hate the LGBT community before I even understood I was part of it. So, growing up, I often had thoughts of wanting to be a woman, and felt guilt, disgust, and self-hatred every time those thoughts crossed my mind. That self-hatred also lead me to numerous suicide attempts. For 30 years, I thought I was a weird man with homosexual tendencies, but I had no idea that I’m transgender, mainly because I didn’t feel comfortable allowing my mind to explore that possibility. Many Haitian people see me as the worst thing anyone could ever be. My ex fiancée, a Haitian woman, had told me that if we had a son, she would kill him if he was gay, but would let him live if he was a serial killer. Also, I have been constantly blamed for being the cause of many people’s sorrows, and my truth has caused my mom to get ridiculed often by other Haitian people. But I would say, but I would say that the most difficult part of it all is knowing that my truth would cause me to lose connections with family members. My love for them is too immense.4. TMP: In 2014, you were about to be married and your truth was still unknown to family. You ended the marriage and came out as transgender. What were some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome with family?
N.A.: I face challenges such as having to prove my sanity to my family. My story is unusual, in the sense that I was a very manly man through my entire life. Nobody saw anything in me that would make them think I was not a straight man. I was a good actor, but nobody could see the torment I was fighting inside, the constant feeling of existing but not living. So when I called off the wedding, nobody understood why at first, since my ex-fiancee and I seemed to be in good terms. A month later, I announced that I was transgender, and from then I have been labeled as crazy by many family members, even to this day. I think my revelation wouldn’t have been as bad if I had been known as a gay or feminine guy and then came out as trans. This belief that I have lost my mind created an environment of family members praying and hoping, and also trying to insult or shame me, thinki8ng that such actions will make me “snap” out of it. It’s painful to witness. It’s almost as if I had died when I came out, and am forced to constantly see my family mourn my death, wasting too much time desperately trying to resuscitate the old me, not being able to accept that he is gone. The old me is gone for good.
5. TMP: One of your recent songs, ‘Distant Hearts’, deals with the death of transgender people. You state, that the death of Leelah Alcorn and the countless murders of trans women of color were your inspiration. Why is this an important message for a hip hop audience, in your opinion?
N.A.: I felt that this message was important not just for a hip hop music audience, but for everyone that doesn’t know much about us. All that people see is the “end result” but not the journey. Many people assumed that Leelah Alcorn was oversensitive because they only saw the outside, but every transgender person can relate with what she was dealing with on the inside. When Leelah left, I was very touched by her story, how she had un-accepting, religious parents like me. How her parents would still not refer to her as a female even after her departure. I was emotional when I got on my laptop, and all of the words to that song just started coming to me non-stop. Many parents believe that we trans women, can take their mental abuse because we have other “people like us”, as my mom often telss me, that uplift us. But they don’t know the common lack of support in the trans community. On the song, I spoke about ,my experiences of how my own black and transgender communities seem to harm me more than those outside, and how we working together, can make all of us become stronger. I feel that bigots support each other with hate more than we support each other with love. I wanted to contribute to a positive change, just as Leelah wanted. She said her “death needs to mean something,” and I am glad to see that many of us have shown her that she means a lot to us.
6. TMP: How important do you feel it is for the other persecuted minority groups, such as African American’s, Latino’s and Women, to stand in solidarity with the Trans Community?
N.A.: I feel that this is extremely important. Latinos, African Americans, and Women, all face discrimination, and if they took the time to get to know our transgender community, as they ask of themselves, they would also see that we are likely to face the same discrimination. Women have fought for years for equality, and that in itself should make them want to support us, to help us thrive in our own fight for equality. The African Americans and Latinos are a minority group in this country. They are singling out people within their own community because of gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, gang affiliation, or other things. I believe this make those communities, or any community, weaker. Unity is strength.
7. TMP: Do you feel that the growing number of transgender rappers can change that perception through music?
N.A.: Yes, I believe so. Music is very influential. It can persuade someone to do good or bad thing, or to have positive or negative feelings toward any person or thing. Once transgender people are common in mainstream hip hop, our influence will be extreme. All it takes is for some of us to be cosigned by someone who is well respected in hip hop, and that will suddenly ,ake people want to hear what we have to say, they will pay attention, because a respected member of hip hop noticed us. When those days come, we will have a very powerful platform to raise awareness.
8. TMP: What are some of the other issues you address in your lyrics?
N.A.: I address the corruption of real hip hop, how the poetry side of rap is no longer appreciated the way it used to be. Also, I address how what we as trans people go through can make someone change for the worse, and how we must try our best to not let that happen. I often address transgender stereotypes in either serious or joking manners. I address the petty competition found within the trans community. All in all, my songs are created from real feelings, and there are many more issues I plan to rap about once I create the right beats for those subjects.
N.A.: Nicki Andro is someone who is very loving, caring, and giving, because bringing a smile to someone’s face brings her joy. She has no issue taking shine away from herself to share if with someone. She isn’t selfish, and when she makes it, she will continue supporting everyone, especially her trans sisters and brothers.
These days, Trans culture has penetrated every genre of our society; govt., pop music, movies, fashion, literature, television, and now, along with a new crop of transgender rappers like Amirra Daye Smith, who Nicki often collaborate, they are among a new wave that will change the face of hip hop. It’s time…that the hip hop industry’s long standing reputation of transphobia and homophobia be abolished. Until then, it will be continually fueling the anger of a new genderation of hip hop artist, not like the ones that longed to be ‘Straight Out of Compton’, a place of poverty, but by the anger of those forced, ridiculed, labeled and disenfranchised like no culture in the human race has had to endure. A voice of anger to be accepted by the hip hop industry is screaming, ‘Straight Out Of Stonewall.’, and it will no be silent.