idk who needs to hear this but nurses who work 16hr shifts aren’t heroes. they’re horrifically exploited workers& they don’t need thanks or applause, they need more colleagues and better labour protection
The past month has been one of redemption, affirmation and celebration for Omaha, Nebraska’s own Dominique Morgan.
February 16th, 11 years ago to the date that Dominique walked out of the Tecumseh State Correctional Institution where they spent 18 dehumanizing months in solitary confinement, Dominique was cutting the ribbon at the opening of the Lydon House. A program of Black and Pink, the largest prison abolitionist organization serving LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV/AIDS who currently and formerly incarcerated, the Lydon House is the first of it’s kind providing housing for LGBTQ+ people who are formerly incarcerated in the United States. Dominique, who serves as Black and Pink’s Director says, “This is about providing people who are system impacted and who are experiencing re-entry with a love, support and affirmation that allows them to move past surviving and into thriving.”
Dominique knows first hand about that journey.
“When I walked out of the Nebraska Department of Corrections, I had nothing but a bag of cassettes of songs that I wrote as survival tactic to save my mind and spirit.” It is this kind of testimony that has made Dominique one of the nation’s most renowned social justice activists. Chyle, Dominique even has their own TedTalk. Legend, I tell you, LEGEND! But now with the recent release of their new single, Domonique is ready to make R&B just a little bit more queer.
Two days before the historic Lydon House ribbon cutting, Dominique released their new single, “Wrong Time.” The acoustic guitar driven soul ballad is a beautiful melodic throwback to the 90s. I chatted with Dominique about their new single and all things music.
Gran Varones: Where did you grow up and what was that like?
Dominique: I’m born and raised in Omaha Nebraska. Small town vibes with a few billionaires. I love my city. I honestly can’t imagine living anywhere else. The shirt commute times definitely offset the white supremacy.
GV: What do you hope people take away from your music?
Dominique: I want folks to know they aren’t alone. You’re not the only person who loved someone who didn’t love you back. You’re not the first person to look a fool for someone. You aren’t the first.
I guess that comes down to solidarity.
GV: As we just welcomed a new decade, where do you see or envision your music going this year?
Dominique: Early on I found myself doing what everyone told me I should do. My songs, packaging and even collaborations. Now I’m funding my own projects, started my own label and I’m taking control.
I want to hold tight to R&B as a craft. Harmonies, lyrics and key changes. I’m blessed to do work that takes me aces so the country and I haven’t maximized that access for my music as of yet so that is a must.
I just want to fall in love with making music again. I’m definitely feeling like I’m on the right path.
GV: When did you realize you were interested in making music?
Dominique: I had a Teddy Ruxpin when I was 7 and I would play my Rhythm National tape in these over and over. I’d start redoing Janet’s words or harmonize. It was a wrap from there!
GV: How has pop culture/some of your fave artists shaped you as an artist?
Dominique: The art of singing audaciously is all Whitney. The hunger for harmonies that make you listen to a song 6 times over to understand what is happening- Brandy. Writing a song that fits you like a glove – Mariah. I literally pull from these women every day. You can hear it in everything I do.
GV: Whew, the taste is iconic as you are! Who are some of your fave artists?
Dominique: Outside of the ladies listed above – I love SWV, Deborah Cox and The Clark Sisters. Fantasia feeds my soul without question. Throw in some Faith Evans and I’m good to go baby!
GV: Were there black queer artists who inspired you?
Dominique: Honestly the most influential Black Queer artist in my life has been DDM. I remember googling “Gay” musicians back in 2011 and finding his magazine covers and being gagged that someone who I connected to on so many levels was killing it like that. I was blessed to meet him and now call him a friend. I still look at his moves and get inspired.
GV: What artists inspired you as a queer person
Dominique: This may be redundant but Whitney was it. She had me in drag before I knew what drag was! I had turned the beads that hung over the door jam (80’s baby reference) to my curtain very I Have Nothing Vibes. People don’t respect the how theatrical Whitney was. Legendary. Period.
GV: What inspired this song? Is this something you experience first hand?
Dominique: If you listen to my music you can know when I was in love and when I wanted to cut my partners tires. I’ve realized since my divorce that my own toxic behaviors positioned me to find/adopt/try to raise men who weren’t ready for me. And I realized that I’m not a bad person – they aren’t a bad person – we just found each other at the wrong time.
This was initially a solo (also that will be on the full album) and then I thought about Black Queer love and the absence of our truth in music. E Rawq agreed to come in and we played with the record and we competed it in about 5 hours.
This song allows us to take accountability while also giving each other grace in love. It felt very appropriate to have this as the first single and drop it on Valentine’s Day.
twenty years ago, the only conversation around gay rappers centered around rumors who was “DL” and how coming out would destroy a successful career. sadly, this was pretty this was a complete truth. in 2011, things sorta began to shift. in the 2011 article “are you ready for a gay rapper?” in the november issue of vibe magazine, featured quotes by fat joe from a vlad interview. “i’m pretty sure i’ve done songs with gay rappers. i’m pretty sure of that.” he even offered “advice” to rappers who may be closeted, “like, be real. ‘yo’ i’m gay what the fuck! fuck it if people don’t like it.”
in 2018, the visibility of queer rappers has increased in ways that i could have never dreamed. loco ninja, mykki blanco, ab soto, young m.a. and cakes da killa have all changed and continue to change the game. you can add rob. b to that list.
after creating a buzz two years ago with his debut ep, “eleven eleven”, the california native is back with the bouncy “el cucuy (freestyle 666).” the tune is accompanied by a stunning visual.
the direct translation for “el cucuy” is “the monster.” i asked rob what inspired the song.
“the track is a reflection of being made a monster. Its an evolution from my ep “eleven eleven” which was made with a more innocent view of the music industry and my optimism.”
rob. b has been recording for as part of a duo 10 years ago before going solo. after taking a break from music due the death of his mother 6 years ago, rob. b returned to music and began released material that created a buzz. but his new material is harder, more confident and unapologetic.
i had to become a more aggressive hip hop artist in order to navigate the negativity that comes with being a gay artist in genre that’s still very homophobic.
while queer hip-hop artists continue to edge out a space for themselves, they are often met with great resistance. but artists like rob. b are up for the challenge.
you check out rob. b’s dope as visual for “el cucuy (freestyle)”, on youtube @heartthrobrobb.
How Afro-Latinx Queer Non-Binary Artist is taking control of their Musical Destiny
The musical landscape has changed drastically since my days of buying cassette tapes and consuming music via BET’s Video Soul. Lawd, I still miss me some Donnie Simpson and Sherry Carter!
We now exist and thankfully so, during a period when artists can create art on their own terms and share it with their fan base and the world on their own terms. This has been the journey of Kareem. The Lancaster, Pennsylvania based Afro-Latinx Queer Non-Binary singer, songwriter, and producer, Kareem, who uses They/Them pronouns, is taking full advantage of how we consume music in 2018 while pushing the envelope of what is represented in music.
I met up with the magical Kareem a few weeks ago to talk about their journey, their healing and their new album, “Silhouette of a Black Queer.”
Louie: So when did you get the inkling that you could sing?
Kareem: I started singing when I was five and actually it was discovered by my aunt. She was a singer as well and I look up to her so much. She is a gospel singer. I grew up in the church and that is where I got my singing chops. One day in church, I was singing and mimicking her, just making fun of her and how she sang. I didn’t know that she was behind me. So I turned around and she was like, “What are you doing?” I thought I was in trouble but she took me to the youth pastor had me sing for him. That’s when I realized I had a gift.
Louie: Did that experience give you confidence?
Kareem: I was always very uncomfortable with it because I didn’t know what it was given to me for. Because I was very uncomfortable in my own skin, I was bullied a lot. I was told that I was ugly. I was told many things about myself. I had a low self-esteem. I was very depressed. I didn’t look at myself as worth anything or with any talent. It wasn’t until I broke up with my ex-boyfriend, who would say some nasty shit to me like “Kill yourself.”, that I really began to search for what I really wanted for myself and music was a way to cope with a lot of the feelings I was dealing with. I channeled all of it into music.
Louie: So your first EP, “Zesty: The EP” was released just a little over a year ago, 13 months to be exact, what was that like for you?
Kareem: I did the whole project on my iPhone 6. I didn’t have the resources so I was just like I am gonna utilize what I have and make something and it turned out to be better than what I expected. With this project, I talked about what it’s like to be an Afro-Boricua, non-binary. I talk about sexual assault. I talk about sexual liberation. I talk about stuff that is very important to me. A lot of the times when I was growing up, I was locked in this fuckin’ box and I had to conform t everybody else’s standard of what they wanted me to be. And I dealt with that in very unhealthy ways. But looking back, I see my growth. I appreciate who I am as a person. It has made me fall in love with my community more and more and has made we want to be more active and be somebody that can reach out and pull somebody out of that space.
Louie: Falling in love with ourselves can help to save our lives sometimes.
Kareem: I look in the mirror and I am very comfortable in my skin now. I will throw on a full lace front and pump out in public! I would have never imagined at 16 that I would be out here with full bundles! It feels great to out and actually be myself. I get looks and I don’t give a fuck. If you have a problem, I am right here! Come say something to me!
Louie: What has been the toughest part of your musical journey?
Kareem: I was in talks with Atlantic Records, that fell through because they tried to have too much control over me as an artist and they were trying to make me do things that were out of my morality and wanted me to stop doing the type of music that I wanted to do. We could not reach a middle a ground so they just x’ed it out and I was devastated because I thought that we could make something work.
Louie: Fun fact, I have a similar experience. Almost got signed to one of the largest Dance Music labels and walked away when they wanted me to be something I wasn’t. I’ll do a twitter thread about it one day. But that was in 1997 and back then, the thought of creating music on a phone seemed like science fiction. That’s why I love artists like yourself. You are manifesting your own destiny and that is fuckin’ inspiring.
Kareem: That makes me feel very good because I never saw myself being like this at all or doing anything like this. Having people rooting for me, I don’t take that for granted at all. It makes me feel good because I wanted to make music that was authentic, that expressed what I have experienced, what Black queer and trans people go through. I know what it’s like growing up and not seeing myself.
Louie: Is that what inspired the title of the album?
Kareem: It’s called “Silhouette of a Black Queer.” Knowing that there’s not enough representation but I also know that my experience may not be exactly like everyone else’s. We may have similarities. Two of the big things we have are, Blackness and we also have our queerness. So that why I call it Silhouette of a Black Queer. I came up with while I was at the club. I took a picture and I was like “what do I wanna caption this?” and it just came to me.
One of my favorite tracks on the album is a song called “Nasty Queer.” It is everything! I love it because I have never been free to able to talk like that. I did wonder, “What are my parents gonna think when they hear this shit?” But I gotta not worry about what people are gonna think and I gotta have fun.
Louie: If I was a recording artist my sound and visual would so be like Janet Jackson. That is because as a kid, she was the epitome of the perfect Popstar. Who was your “Janet” growing up?
Kareem: Beyoncé! But I get a lot of influences from Black women because they are the ones that I listened to when I was going through all my bullshit in high school and they grace me all my courage and they have been the ones to always root for me and I appreciate that so much. Black women have always been at the forefront of my success. My sister and my cousins have helped me to get to this point and I am always going to elevate and support them. Black women!
Louie: Is Beyoncé to you what Mariah is to me?
Kareem: Yes but I also gravitate toward different artists. There’s Phylis Hyman, Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight, Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Toni Braxton, There are so many artists that I listened to, that I grew up on. Their music has stood the test o time and now I’m trying to pull from their sound – give me some of this, give me some of that and make it my own. And you hear those influences throughout the album.
Louie: I am so excited for you and excited to listen to the album.
Kareem: I am really happy about this project because it has taken many months and setbacks. I wrote every single song. I produced 80% of the album myself. The backing track of “Sprung” is produced by my 13-year-old Puerto Rican cousin who lives in New York. I remember going to visit him and he was like “let me play you some of my stuff” and I was like, “Oh shit! What the fuck!” I was like in a trance, I was like I need this, hand it over! I love seeing young people doing artistic stuff. Because for me, I suppressed a lot of that stuff because of my issues. If I knew that this could be an outlet earlier on in the game, I know I would have been further along. But I am good and getting to where I need to be. This is a good body of work. it covers a lot of things I advocate for and things that I am going through.
I feel like people are seeing a growth of me from the beginning of my career until now. I am actually very relaxed about releasing this album. I don’t have anything to critique about this. It’s perfect as it is.
“Silhouette of a Black Queer” is available on all music streaming sites.
Interviewed and Photographed by: Louie A. Ortiz-Fonseca