With the release of her album Melpomene Block Party ten years ago on DJ Jubilee’s Take Fo’ imprint, Katey Red staked her claim as the first ever homosexual, transgendered bounce rap artist. To celebrate this milestone, Katey and her popular “punk rapper” peers, Big Freedia and Sissy Nobby, will perform at One Eyed Jacks on Valentine’s Day. We rolled up to Katey’s house in her neighborhood north of Tulane Medical Center, where the flood looks to have occurred just last month. We were told she wasn’t there yet, and warned to wait in the car. Soon, Katey rolled up, smiling, chauffeuring two friends in her back seat. Bounce music blared. Almost seven feet of genuinely pretty Katey stepped out of her car in a mini-skirt suit decorated in the pattern of some jungle cat. She looked ready to perform. “If we takin’ pictures y’all,” she said, “then I gotta go in and get dressed.” For nearly an hour we waited outside, talking to Katey’s girls over their super- loud bounce mixtape. Of course, bounce music can be heard at every turn in New Orleans, but after a hit off the girls’ blunt, I listened deeper than ever before to almost an hour of that continuous sampled “Triggerman” beat, all the newest songs chopped up with hundreds of New Orleans references and slang words and southern accents skipping and hiccupping and creating their own complex, loud-ass little world. Layers and layers of samples reflected all eras of black music from Genuine to Marvin Gay, plus a hundred local neighborhoods like Katey’s that I’ve rarely visited. This new super-choppy, grainy bounce (grainy from that beat being sampled so many times) somehow felt simultaneously laid back and intense, like an amazing party in a dangerous Third World country. Much of its intensity derives from the crazy stuttering of the vocals, which I notice many MCs doing via sampler, whereas Katey Red is aided only by her quick tongue.
Soon, three little kids curious about the music pop out of what look like flooded homes and dance over to Katey’s rattling car. “This man work for a magazine,” Katey’s friend tells the kids, “show him your moves!” The kids then proceed to kill the music; moves so amazing my eyes welled up—until Katey finally came back out. Dressed in another black and white mini-skirt suit, she looks fresher but just as good as before, to me. Which I guess is further proof that men just don’t understand women. Or wait…
Anyway, Katey led us all to the daiquiri shop at the river bend (peach and Hypnotiq is her flavor, FYI) to discuss with ANTIGRAVITY the 10th anniversary of Melpomene Block Party, her upcoming show at One Eyed Jacks, the difference between white and black audiences, plus The Whos, The Whoas, and Dem Hoes.
So my first question for all musicians is, how do you go about making your music? Do you have equipment at your home to make beats?
No, but Sissy Nobby do. Nobby do that. Various DJs make the tracks for me. Or sometimes we get together and make it from scratch, starting with the little tempo. I guide it, I direct it, I hear the sound—I know the sound—I hear the sound I know the sound. But now since the new millennium hit, a lot of people just steal a piece up out another person’s song. Also, it’s too many gay rappers, too many gay rappers, too many gay rappers, and they all tryin’ to do what everybody else doin’. I recorded a new song Monday, and I was there wrackin’ my nerves and brain trying to figure out something to say on the mic, when most bounce music nowadays might have only one verse, and you can just take that one verse and chop it all up and let the beat just run, and you’ll make money off it. But I like the writers. I’m not a hardcore rapper, but they takin’ the rap outta bounce rap!
You don’t really write though, right? You improvise?
Mostly yeah, you just, whatever come out yo head, you just get it goin’: biggity-bigity-biggity-biggity-bounce-b-bounce-b-bounce-bounce! And as long as it got a good beat they gonna just dance to it. Real rap is where you have to write the lyrics, memorize, memorize, memorize, and then you gotta run it. That’s real rhyming. On my next album I was gonna rap different. Not like hip-hop hip-hop like, “grab the nine with your gun” and all that, but more like a Jamaican way, like “putcha lytahs up,” that style. But I just couldn’t get on it, and then Lil Kim came out with hers…
So Melpomene Block Party is 10 years old now. It seems to be out of print, though you can still get it on the internet. How many copies do you think were sold in the last 10 years?
Well, the last time I checked it was like 164,000 copies. And that was in like ’01 or ’02.
Oh, wow. What was your last release?
The last thing I put out was in ’06 or ’07, Time to Be Original. It was an underground release, just to get my stuff around the neighborhood or whatever. My last album on Take Fo’ was Y2 Katey, and that album was the shit. It had “Local New Orleans,” “Tiddy Bop,” “Wham Alabama.” I had a lot of hot songs on that CD, and I didn’t even know at the time! I was just in the studio and they was like, “Don’t stop writin’! Don’t stop writin’!” Take Fo’ had another album of mine after that, The Real America Idol, and they never put it out. But I have a new song, “Bugaboo”: “You’re ugly and you’re buggin’ me.” I know you prolly heard it, but I sample Destiny’s Child. It’s like so so different. I’m waiting to see if somebody gonna try and steal that style. They’ll probably slow it up and give it a different taste. I try to give people a different taste, and that’s why people respect my mind. They say “Katey is the greatest, Nobby is the latest, Freedia is the best, motherfuck the rest.” This person named MC Calliope Preist put that in a song. And it’s true: when the three of us on stage together, the club is automatically on fire.
Where do you record?
It’s on Tchoupitoulas, beside 8 Ball. Actually it’s part of 8 Ball. Go to door C.
[Laughs] OK. When you perform, do you still have three different groups of backing girls (The Whos, ages 13 to 15, and The Whoas, ages 15 to 18, both of which played at family block parties and such. Then there are the adult dancers, called Dem Hoes, who perform in the clubs)?
I still use Dem Hoes. But now the little ones grown, so I call them all the TMGs, the True Melph Girls, cause they don’t like being called Hoes. When we’re in the club and I only have like two or three of the Hoes there—the original Hoes—but the Whoas and Whos is there, I’m not gonna say, “Where my Hoes at?” I’ma say “Where my Melph girls at?” and they all gonna buck for that, throw they hands in the air. They buck them up for me, hit the mic for me, they represent me, I love my girls. And they love they fag.
When you performed with the littler kids did you do different, non-explicit material or?
I did the radio versions.
I’ll bet the little ones still knew the dirty versions though. Kids…
[Smiles] Yeah, they knew ’em, they knew ’em. But I had a different kind of respect with them being so little. I had to go to they parents and stuff, and ask if it’s OK if they go with me. I’m bringing them with me so they’re my responsibility, and who knows what might happen to one of them? The parents knew me already, but I still had to go and ask permission and tell their parents where they were going for all these hours.
Were any of the parents like, “Oh, hell no”?
Sometimes. But only because maybe the child was actin’ up in school or something like that. All them love me. I bring that joy into they life. Like, “Hey, you got the spotlight on you now!” And they like, “I’m up here with Katey!” And they get popular so fast, when they be at school Monday the other kids be like, “I saw her on stage dancing with Katey Red! Katey Red was saying her name!”
When I’ve read articles about you, I get the distinct impression that many of the writers don’t know the difference between a transvestite, a transexual, a homosexual. Can you clarify your own particular position?
Well, a drag queen is a man by day, woman by night. That’s a transvestite. A transexual is a man who lives his life as a woman every day, where she is never seen without the hair and the… That’s me.
See, I had thought you weren’t a transexual until you’d had “the procedure.”
I had thought that too. And that makes more sense to me: “I’m transexual because I transed [sic] my sex.” But as I’ve been going through it, I noticed New Orleans’ gay world just calls everything transexual. Now they shorten it to just “transy,” [sic]. I’m a “transit” [sic]. And they have another word they use, “transgendered.
That New York Times profile on you from 2001 said that you had just started taking the hormones at that time. How far along are you now?
Well, I had stopped after Katrina. I dressed like a boy and everything else. But I just started back (on the hormones).
I read another article where you said you would never have “the procedure,” because you didn’t know how you might feel in the future.
For real? I said that? I wonder where that at? Cause I know some people put in articles that I was only out here rappin’ to get me some breasts. And I did not say that. I think that was in XXL magazine.
I’ve also read a lot since the flood about how Katrina made bounce rap way more popular, and that doesn’t seem true either. Except for a couple little songs, bounce has always seemed to stay on the same local level, like New Orleans’ neighborhood music. But you have been playing a lot of different kind of shows in the last few years, right? To a broader crowd? When you say “broad,” what you mean by “broad?”
White people. I mean, unlike a lot of other bounce artists, you play all over the city for different kinds of people, not just in black clubs. Describe what’s the difference between playing black clubs and playing at like, this upcoming One Eyed Jacks show, or for all the white kids at Spellcaster Lodge?
Well, no offense, but black people got me started. And I’m black, and that’s black music. And they already know what’s goin’ on, they know the vibe, they know my music and they know how to react to it. When I play a black club I know everyone, I make the rounds and everybody be like, “Hi Katey!” and they pass the little weed to you, and we all talk and crack jokes. That’s what I’m used to. I played [Spellcaster] twice: first when I first came out with Melpomene Block Party, then again in Mardi Gras 2007. Don’t get me wrong, but when I went the first time, I was like “Do they even know about me? Do they even know about my music?” I am a fun loving person, so if I feel the vibe isn’t right, I have to peep it out first. And at first, I mean, everyone knew Katey Red was supposed to be there, but I walk in and I don’t see no Katey Red posters, just a bunch of drunk motherfuckers. And I’m like, “Why ain’t nobody make any noise when I walked in? Why nobody like, “Hey! Hey!” This was my first time on that scene, and I walk in and people got face paint on, and white sheets, and she have on a ballerina outfit, and I was like, “Uh uh, no way. They gone kill me.” You ever seen like a scary movie, where there’s this wild wild party, and everybody’s fucked up and drunk and crazy looking…
And then it turns out they’re all vampires? Yeah, I see what you mean. My friends who saw that show did say you seemed nervous at first. They said you held onto your purse the whole time performance. Do you always keep it with you on stage?
I didn’t know who to give it to; I didn’t know who was who! A lady in the audience reached for it, “Let me hold your purse!” I’m like “No.” I had all my money in there! I mean, the people were all nice. But they was offerin’ me drinks and I was like, “Uh, no, I’m okay.” I mean, I ain’t ask for no drink, why she buyin’ me a drink? I ain’t gonna lie, I was scared. Then Quintron asked me, “You nervous?” So he put me upstairs and he was like, “Just sit here.” I started smokin’ my little weed, and I finally calmed down, then Quintron came back and he was like, “I know your fuckin’ ass like to drink, cause baby I heard your songs.” So he gave me a big old bottle of Alizay or somethin’, and he was like “This is for you.” Then they called me to the stage, and the reaction I got, I was like, “Oh all right! Time for me to start sweatin’ now!” And by the time it was my time to stop I was like, “I ain’t ready to go! I want something more to drank!” But with white crowds it’s always not until after I get off stage that everyone’s like, (effects over-annunciated white voice) “Katey Red, wow yeah you’re awesome! Can I take a picture with you?” And I always be like, “Now why didn’t you do this before I went on stage? I woulda felt more comfortable with myself!” But the more I go back to a place, the more I know the people and the more comfortable I feel. Like, Galactic told me to show up at Tipitina’s and if I felt like rappin’ they’d give me a little treat. So I performed offa they music. It was like funk mixed with jazz, so it sounded weird a little. I was getting’ ahold of it, but it was throwin’ me off a little, makin’ me forget what I wanted to say. But after that now I love the Tipitina’s people, Wendy and them, and they all love me.
Have you played outside of Louisiana yet?
[Mildly insulted] Oh, yes indeed.
Sorry, I just read an article from 2008 that said you hadn’t. Where have you performed?
I went to Texas. And Atlanta. I also was very happy and honored to be the first and only homosexual rapper to ever play JazzFest!
In every single article I’ve read about you, it always says something about you coming up in the “especially homophobic world of hip-hop,” or they claim that black culture is less cool with homosexuality, when really, most white country fans aren’t any less homophobic. In your experience, do you think black people really are harder on black homosexuals, or is that an exaggeration?
No, I don’t think it’s exaggerated. It’s been hard for me. But I’m kinda glad for it though; because of me now there’s like thirty or forty punk rappers in New Orleans, for real. All the big labels are now gonna to try and get homosexual rappers. Jay Z gonna try it, Puff Daddy gonna try it, they all gonna.
There are supposedly already two groups, one called VIP, made up of three gay white guys, and another three lesbian black girls called Yo Majesty.
For real? Well, I’m already down in history. I’m glad New York heard of Katey Red first. But any beef people have with me is usually because they jealous. I was at one show where these boys got up there and did their thing and the crowd was like, alright, alright. Then they was chanting, “We want Katey! We want Katey!” and the boys get mad. I done got in a buncha fights, but it’s always with other fag rappers. Not boys. Cause they know not to play with me. They know I’m dangerous.
Have any of the big New Orleans rappers heard your music?
Me and Mia X are down. BG and them, I know all them.
What do they say about your music?
They say it over! They repeat it. Lil Wayne repeated it. He copied some of the stuff I wrote: “Rollin down the river, rollin’ with my
nigga.” He copied some stuff Big Freedia wrote. They know about us. They not gonna tell you they fans. In XXL magazine, though, Cash Money did said, “Katey Red doin’ her thing, and we wish the best for her.”
Well, that’s Cash Money for you: you’ve seen that photo of Lil Wayne kissing Birdman? At the time I assumed that the hip-hop community was homophobic enough that Weezy’s career might be over. But obviously the opposite happened.
Women kiss women all the time! Lil Wayne a man, so he not unsure of hisself. To me when boys act [homophobic], they unsure of theyself. If you know who you are and what you stand for, you shouldn’t have a problem with homosexuals and what they doin’. Plus Baby been around Lil Wayne for how many years? That’s his mentor. He made sure Lil Wayne ain’t curse on his songs when he was lil. But boy, Lil Wayne could not wait to get grown though, so he could start cursin’ in his songs! Now all he can do is “fuck this” and “bitch that.” I love it though.
Lastly, I know you play a lot of not-very-highly publicized show every week. Tell us your gig schedule.
We do Wednesday at Blue Ribbon, then Patinum 3000 on Thursday, and um, Fabulous on a Monday. Big Freedia got a seven-day schedule for her.
You performing this evening? It’s Friday.
No, I’m just goin’ out to be a ho.