Originally from Evanston, IL, this cub grew into a pioneering bear of queer rap in the New York nightlife scene, putting out several widely-consumed funny / sexy singles and videos over the years. Now on the West Coast, Big Dipper continues to perform and podcast, while embracing the role of Digital Bear-lebrity extraordinaire. [Cover photo by Gabriel Gastelum]
Thotyssey: Hello Big Dipper, thanks for finding the time to chat with us! How has your Crazy Quarantine Summer been treating you thus far?
Big Dipper: It definitely has been an adjustment, but I do know that I am one of the lucky ones when it comes to being an entertainer and being able to sustain that from home. I had a big summer planned: Pride events, bear events… my schedule was filling up right when everything went into lockdown. So it was a switch in mindset. But there are so many huge problems in the world; I’m lucky to have a roof over my head, and that I can still work.
You’re actually in kind of a better position than a lot of people in these strange times, given that you already have this girth of multimedia material.
Totally. I went to theater school, so I love to collaborate; what I loved about making music was getting in the studio and bouncing ideas off of the other songwriter. And I loved performing my music at a live venue. My favorite thing about making music videos is getting all the people together and making a really fun production happen. And all of those things have gone away. But yes, the final product is always what’s downloadable on YouTube.
These past couple of years, I’ve been really doing a lot of podcast work. I co-host a podcast with my friend Meatball, and I’ve been able to produce a couple of shows. So I’ve been able to continue to work, which is amazing.
How did you come to know Meatball, aka Dragula’s first winner?
I met her backstage at bar called Precinct in LA. I remember I thought she was older than me, and had a really calming energy for the nightclub environment. I’ve been sober for a while and I’m in my mid-30s, and a lot of the club scene is young people getting fucked up (which is kind of the point). But [Meatball and I] had this very sort of grounded conversation in the dressing room, and I was like “Oh, I like this person!” Then I emailed her [to tell her that] we should start a podcast. But I came to find out that Meatball was much younger than me, loves to get fucked up on tequila and stay high. My initial impression was completely different… but I love hosting the podcast with her!
Both [podcasts] are still available everywhere, so people can still listen to many, many episodes of our shows.
Would you consider yourself to be a comedian who makes music, or a musician who is comedic?
I would consider myself a musician who does comedy, but honestly the thing I identify with most is being a producer. I really just like making projects happen, and for a long time after I first started making music… I was the only option to make the project. So I love performing, but for me the most exciting thing is the full package.
One of the songwriters I worked with, who produced the The Ham & Cheese EP with me… he said that if he could stay home all day and just write songs for a living without having to promote them or produce them or perform him, that would be his ideal. But for me, I want the whole process: I wanna write it, I wanna make the video for it, I wanna figure out what we wear, I wanna make the live the stage show, I wanna share it with everyone.
So I dunno, the comedy thing? I think I’m a casually funny person; I have a hard time sitting down and writing jokes. So I’d definitely say I’m a musician first.
You were one of a very small group of people making queer hip hop in New York while you lived here. There was Cazwell of course, who is now also in LA, and Will Sheridan who’s still in New York, and a few other pioneers like Shorty Roc. But these days, openly queer hip hop and rap artists seem much more prevalent.
Rap / hip hop music is obviously a global institution at this point. You can go to any country in the world and they will know famous rappers and have local rappers, no matter what kind of country you’re in; it’s a global music genre. But so much of all popular music in it’s beginning has roots in homophobia and misogyny.
But since there has been rap music, there has been gay rappers. It’s just about visibility and acceptance. So for me, yes, I see more and more indie queer artists and mainstream artists collaborating with queer talent. So that’s a very cool thing, but I think it just reflects the general cultural shift of embracing more queer identities across the board.
I read an older interview with you where you discuss how people have labelled your lyrics as “raunchy,” when you likely wouldn’t here that term being directed towards a straight rapper’s lyrics.
It sounds dirtier when you’re not used to hearing about anal sex, or swallowing cum. But the straight rapper talks about giving head, and about how wet somebody else’s pussy is. But it’s when you say, “I’m talking about gay sex and I am objectifying myself and not some nameless / faceless other person,” people don’t really know what to do with it.
Female rappers get similar pushback, in that respect.
Yeah. They get so much of “Why do you have to be in a swimsuit onstage rapping? Why do you have to dress so provocatively and be so raunchy?” We live in a misogynist society, so a woman can use her sexuality for power. As a gay person, I’m trying to do the same thing. I’m trying to embrace my sexuality onstage.
Here in New York, one of our esteemed drag queens Marti Gould Cummings is running for City Counsel. They got our vote! But even if they one day gets the highest office in the land, we will always remember their iconic musical collaboration with you: “Show Me Your Dick!”
She needs to do a remix: “Show Me Your Vote!” I love Marti, and it’s been really inspiring to see them switch into a more publicly-minded person while fully maintaining their entertainer identity. I think so many people have this notion that politicians need to be “serious” all the time; to sacrifice their personal life and be singly-minded towards political aspirations. Marti is showing us that as a queer person we can be who we are and care about the world that we live in, and still represent the people in our community with passion. That’s really inspiring!
You’ve actually collaborated with many drag queens over the years, and today they are still the primary draw as far as nightlife entertainment goes. But back in the day, there were many more queer musicians and non-drag performers headlining the bars and clubs. Might we be in the middle of a swing back to those days?
When I started in this business in Chicago—we’re nearing on a decade here—Drag Race had only been on for four seasons. Only a handful of queens from the show at that point were like “I’m on a national television show, maybe I should tour around the country!” So when I first started, there were slots for local queens and occasional slots for Drag Race girls, but there were slots for other talent as well. I would walk into a club and be like “here’s my music video, will you book me?” But now Drag Race has become this phenomenon, with over a hundred drag queens from the show. It’s hard now to find gigs that aren’t drag in a nightclub. I will say that a lot of the Drag Race girls are also musicians, so that [can serve as a bridge] to indie music artists in nightlife.
But also, queer identities are now being celebrated and seen across the board in all creative aspects. So besides the clubs, there are more opportunities to perform on Pride stages, at festivals, in smaller venues. I’ve played many gigs where I’m up on the stage people are drinking and talking to their friends, and I’m yelling into the mic which isn’t loud enough… that’s what you get a lot of times at the gay club. Unless people are coming specifically for you (like they’re all coming specifically for the Drag Race girls), it becomes harder for a new artist to figure that out. There’s definitely room for more queer, independent artists to find an audience now, but [there is still] kind of a monopoly there with all the drag queens.
Something similar can be said regarding music that DJs play in the gay bars and clubs. You will almost definitely hear Top 40 pop, and likely not be exposed at all to local queer artists’ tracks. That’s a big difference from 20 years ago.
The mainstreaming of queer identity and queer performers is a double-edged sword. It seems like the biggest way to maximize your visibility is on a global stage, like a TV show. And that’s amazing! But for someone like me who’s been at it for awhile, there is a bit of retooling involved. “Oh, it’s not just about putting out another music video. Maybe I need to get on a reality TV show! Maybe I need to write a TV show!”
You’re known certainly a “bear-lebrity” of the bear community. Are you surprised to see how powerful that community has become over the years… both as an institution and lucratively in pop culture?
It’s tricky. The bear identity started (to my knowledge) in San Francisco, based on the fact that people felt excluded… particularly in that cruisy culture. There was a negative connotation for people who were fat, who were hairy, who didn’t have that stereotypical jock look. What I find interesting is that the community was founded on the idea that we were excluded elsewhere, so we created a community for ourselves. That’s amazing! That’s why so many people are now flocking to the bear community and their events.
But as more and more people flock, it also becomes a capitalist venture with a built-in economy. Look at me! I know that if I market myself as a bear-centric entertainer, certain people will pay attention. So it’s great when we get that visibility and attention, but we also need to be really careful about creating our own exclusionary culture. It’s like Mean Girls! The moment the unpopular girl gets embraced and becomes the popular girl in that new frame of mind, all they want to do is hold on to that new crown and exclude other people. We love to segment ourselves in the gay community.
I think labels can be very empowering and exciting, and I totally participate in that when it’s uplifting. But I think it’s good and wise to keep an eye on the exclusionary aspects of what could happen in the bear community.
How do you like digital performing, in general?
It’s interesting… I love to make music videos, like I said, because I love collaborating and putting a production together. But these digital shows are just me filming myself in my bedroom and trying to keep the energy up. The most recent filming I did for the [upcoming] Bear World Magazine Digital House Party, I was able to recruit someone and we filmed responsibly and social distanced. So that felt much more exciting. But I really feed off of the live audience.
That performance and the Bear World party are gonna go live on Twitch this Saturday!
It’s really exciting because [it will feature] a ton of new talent—from all over, not just the States—and it really is a showcase for all these amazing artists. And I’m hosting!
Yes! That show is a solo endeavor, and I’m gonna be there doing music and talking to the camera. I’m excited for that because I get to just do what I do for 30 or 45 minutes straight.
Doing the actual live stream shows is so much better for me, because you get that same sort of adrenaline rush [as when performing on a live stage; you know when] it’s starting, and then it’s gonna stop. You don’t get to start over. And you can see all the comments rolling in, and you can see people actively watching and engaging. When you’re doing a pre-tape alone in your bedroom, you’re just hoping that you don’t fuck it up.
What else should we be looking out for from you?
I have music video [for my song] called “Like This” [featuring Boy Radio] which is out right now, from The Ham and Cheese EP as of May 27th. But obviously that period of the end of May into early June was the beginning of a lot of important protests that shifted the narrative, so I stopped doing a personal promotion. But in August I’m gonna re-promote that, and then release a new music video after that.
Lots to look forward to! Okay, my final question is regarding the one and only Kanye West. Is this whole public campaign and subsequent meltdown all legit, or is it his very calculated way to promote something?
If this is a calculated way to promote music, it’s wildly disappointing. Kanye was someone I looked up to musically for a really long time. This is just such a crazy misstep… if he truly thinks what he’s doing is productive and helpful, then it’s clear that he’s having a mental breakdown, and he needs to get some help!
He may be more like Trump than any of us realized.
Thank you, Big Dipper!