Photo: JLL Photographies
Trans Trenderz Is Making Room For Trans Artists In The Music Industry
Around 2017, Jupiter Gray was on the cusp of something big. The rapper/singer from Columbus, Ohio had already been releasing singles and mixtapes independently when, on the strength of her loose-limbed flow and lyrical attitude, she caught the attention of a major label imprint, who helped her build a repertoire and some buzz. As the relationship continued, label reps sounded more and more excited about signing her.
Then, the phone calls and emails came to an abrupt stop. The reason? According to Gray, it was because she was becoming more public about her wanting to transition.
"The communication stopped completely,” Gray remembers. “Me and my management couldn’t get a hold of anyone. It was a really low point in my career. Being transgender and wanting to make a name for yourself in hip-hop, which is historically, predominantly, male-dominated, it was exciting to get that opportunity. And then it was just nothing once I mentioned that I wanted to pursue my transition."
Trans artists have made great strides in the music industry over the past two decades with the likes of Against Me!'s Laura Jane Grace and pop sensation Kim Petras making serious waves culturally and commercially. But many BIPOC trans musicians and performers like Gray are still finding it hard to make inroads into the world of major labels and mainstream exposure. That struggle is, in part, what is fueling the work of Trans Trenderz, an organization created to support and amplify the work of Black trans artists.
Started by the Montreal-based producer and performer Blxck Cxsper in 2016, Trans Trenderz is nominally a record label, helping release music from up-and-coming acts like Gray, electro-pop vocalist Heather Hills, and psych-soul singer/songwriter Apollo Flowerchild. Alongside that, the company also began The Ghostly Beats Project, an initiative to help connect trans artists with producers and graphic designers, as well as offering advice on marking and branding.
"I want to help the community as a whole,” Cxsper says. “So let me figure out how I can help people and make the connections needed for them to stay motivated with their music and go further in their careers."
That work has involved some highly visible projects like the release of a mixtape in 2016 featuring nothing but Black trans artists and hosting the Trans Trenderz Music Awards, an event awarding a variety of trans artists like Chicago pop-punkers Size of Sadness and Anjimile, a rising folk artist from Boston, last year. But it's what’s happening behind the scenes that is the true measure of what Trans Trenderz is accomplishing.
This past June, Cxsper announced through their Instagram that they would be willing to hand over a license-free beat to any Black trans artist that needed one. To keep up with the demand, they’ve also opened up a space on the Trans Trenderz website for other producers to offer their services. The label is also making sure their artists have the capacity to make their music sound as good as it can, partnering with Studio G Brooklyn, a recording house co-owned by Joel Hamilton, Chris Cubeta, and former Pere Ubu bassist Tony Maimone, to record new work by some of the artists Trans Trenderz have signed so far.
"We all came from scenes that were marginalized in our own tiny way," says Hamilton, a veteran of the Midwest punk community. "We started this studio on that founding principle of being out on the edges of music. Now we’re in more comfortable positions in life and the music business and we see that there are people in society that are on the edge and being marginalized. It just fit right into what we believe as humans and what we want to be associated with as a recording studio."
All of these various strands of Trans Trenderz’ work were neatly tied together recently with the Ghostly Beats Conference, an online event that served both to help raise funds for the Ghostly Beats Project and to let the folks behind the label and their industry allies share information and resources with up-and-coming trans artists.
Underpinning all of the amazing work Trans Trenderz is doing is the simple truth that by pushing their artists closer to mainstream success and acceptance could go a long way toward pulling up the Black transgender community as a whole.
"The most important thing that we want people to understand is that we’ve always been here," Cxsper says. "There’s always been Black trans artists and there’s always going to be Black trans artists. It’s not a lack of talent—it’s a lack of knowing the industry that’s kept us from trying to get to these places. It’s a lack of resources. It’s doors being closed in our faces as we are progressing. We need platforms to have that visibility."