Photo: JLL Photographies
Trans Trenderz Is Making Room For Trans Artists In The Music Industry
Trans artists have made great strides in the music industry over the past two decades, but many BIPOC trans artists are still finding it hard to make inroads into the world of major labels and mainstream exposure. Meet the label changing that
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."
Tyga Talks Inspiration Behind "Go Loko" & Collaborating With L.A. Rappers Like YG
"Growing up in L.A., it's a really big culture here, Mexican culture," the rapper said. "So we really wanted to do something to give back to the culture."
Tyga's latest collab has him paying tribute to Los Angeles' large Mexican community. The rapper is featured on fellow L.A. rapper YG's leading single, "Go Loko" off his latest album 4REAL 4REAL and when asked about his take on the song, he says much of it was inspired by Mexico's cultural impact.
"Growing up in L.A., it's a really big culture here," he said. "Even YG could tell you, he grew up around all Mexicans, so we really wanted to do something to give back to the culture."
The video features visuals and symbolisms inpired by the Mexican community, including mariachi, but also by the Puerto Rican community (you'll easily spot the boricua flag). The song also features Puerto Rican rapper Jon Z. Tyga mentioned the diversity of Latinos on the different coasts and wanted to make a song that also celebrates the different Latin cultures in the country. "We wanted to do something different to kinda try to bring all Latins together," he said.
Watch the video above to hear more about the song and the vibe when he joins forces with other L.A. rapppers.
Photo: Nicole Davis
Quarantine Diaries: ARI Is Cuddling With Her Cat, Making Her Own Tea & Preparing For Her Debut 'IDIOT GRL' EP Release
As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors
As the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic continues to rock the music industry, the Recording Academy reached out to a few musicians to see how they were spending their days indoors. Today, rising singer/songwriter ARI shares her quarantine diary. ARI's debut IDIOT GRL EP is out Aug. 14.
[9:40 a.m.] A late start to the day. I just woke up to my cat Malakai licking my face and snuggling under my chin, desperate for cuddles. I reluctantly gave in before diving into my morning routine, which starts by going through all of the daily news on my Snapchat feed to see what’s going on in the world.
[11 a.m.] Just out of the shower and into the kitchen for the usual: tea and avocado toast. I don’t typically like tea or coffee, but I had this amazing tea from Starbucks once and fell in love with it. I ended up finding the recipe and making it myself, and to be honest, I like my version better. Once I boil the kettle, I start part two of my morning “meditation”: watching one of my favourite shows while I respond to emails. With the IDIOT GRL EP coming out next week, I can tell you there are a TON of emails. I turned on "Gilmore Girls" (my guilty pleasure) and opened up my laptop to go through my calendar.
[1:45 p.m.] Recording session time. Zoom calls have become my everyday life. It’s crazy to think that this time last year, you could actually be in a room with people. Now the most social interaction I get is virtually. On the positive side, I get to set up my little home studio from the comfort of my own bed and I find the sessions to be really productive with no outside distractions.
[3:30 p.m.] Malakai is meowing at my door. As I try to sing over him, eventually I can’t ignore his cute little voice. We take a quick break and I have a little playtime with him. I can hear my song playing in the living room—it still weirds me out hearing myself. My guess is my roommate aka my manager is sending off final approval for the “IDIOT GRL” music video, which comes out the same day as the EP. Super excited for everyone to finally see it!
[6:00 p.m.] Time for dinner. It may just be my favourite part of the day. During my session, my roommate cooked us some delicious pasta. We eat dinner together every night, which is really nice. Usually, after dinner, we wind down and watch TV, but we decided to try doing an arts and crafts project tonight. I watched this TikTok video of a DIY way to make music plaques. You take a screenshot of a song on Spotify and use a marker to trace out the name of the song, artist, play button, etc. Once that’s done, you simply add the album artwork of your choice, frame it, and voila! I thought it would be a cool idea to make a wall of each of the songs off of my EP.
[9:00 p.m.] After an eventful day, I decided to go watch a drive-in Maple Leafs game (wearing a mask, of course). My sister works for the TSN network and started hosting drive-in game nights to promote the network and social distancing events. I’ll admit, I’m not the biggest hockey fan, but I’ll never pass up an opportunity to spend time with my family.
[11:30 p.m.] I finally get home and hop straight into bed. I feel like I haven’t spent much time on Instagram today, so figured I’d open it up before getting some shuteye. I launched the pre-save link for the EP today and told my followers that I would DM anyone who pre-saved it and sent me a screenshot. I always love getting to interact with my fans and I can’t tell you how grateful I am to see how excited people are for my debut EP. It’s a great feeling to end the day with.
EXCLUSIVE PREMIERE: Mexican Institute Of Sound Takes Gaby Moreno Into New Musical Territory With Mystifying "Yemayá"
Listen to the synth-infused track blending pop and Latin sounds that's named after the Afro-Carribean goddess who represents fertility, water and self-love
Anything Mexican Institute Of Sound (MIS), a.k.a Camilo Lara, touches turns into musical gold. The Mexican producer and artist proves that with celebrated GRAMMY-nominated singer/songwriter Gaby Moreno in "Yemayá."
Moreno, whose soothing voice we have heard magically adapt to a range of genres including Americana, Latin folk and R&B, continues exploring her creative range this time with GRAMMY-nominated Lara in the synth-infused, mystifying track blending pop and Latin sounds. The catchy song about the overpowering feeling of love is named after the Afro-Carribean goddess who represents fertility, water and self-love.
Moreno told the Recording Academy she and Lara wanted to capture the deity's essence in their collaboration:
"She's a powerful woman of color taking all forms. It's a universal theme and we wanted to incorporate this mysterious and mystic figure into the song, since it's part of the folklore of many different cultures."
The song, which Lara brought to Moreno and was written in one day in 2019 at Red Bull Studios, takes Moreno into new territory.
"I’ve been a big admirer of [Lara's] work and esthetic and the way he blends Latin folk music with electronic and hip hop. I come from a fairly different musical background, having very rarely experimented with synths and those kinds of sounds, so this was a really fun and different collaboration for me," she said. "I got to step out of my comfort zone and bring forth something a bit unusual but very much enjoyable, nonetheless."
The Guatemalan singer/songwriter will also soon be releasing "Fire Inside," a song she wrote with Andrew Bissell. The song has already been featured on ABC’s "Station 19", TLC’s promo "I Am Jazz," UK’s "Free Rein," NBC’s "American Ninja Warrior" and recently on YouTube’s "Dear Class of 2020."
Moreno is also working on an upcoming album she will produce herself and is also producing other artists.
Listen to "Yemayá" in full above.
Lil Nas X
Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images for BuzzFeed
Lil Nas X's No. 1 Run Began With TikTok, Now The Music Industry Is Taking Notice
"We get 10 to 15 inquiries a day from artists and labels wanting to pay us to use their song," Devain Doolaramani, who manages over 20 TikTok users, recently told Rolling Stone
Whether or not you've ever downloaded the app, it's likely you've been hearing about TikTok more and more this year. Though it may be most popular among teens and pre-teens, the short-form video app is not one to brush off as a mindless youth trend. Its users upload 15-second videos set to music (denoted in text at the bottom of the clip) onto the platform, offering the chance for both the uploader and the artist of the song to gain viral fame. And while striving for your moment—however brief—in the spotlight is nothing new, teens' obsession with the year-old app is already making waves in the music industry.
Last month, 20-year-old Lil Nas X broke records as his viral Billy Ray Cyrus-assisted "Old Town Road" took the longest run ever at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100, holding its reign on the all-genre chart for 17 weeks in a row. Back in February, the then-unknown rapper, two months after self-releasing the original version of the country-trap song, uploaded it to TikTok along with a "challenge": to change into Western garb before the drop. The song went viral on the app as users like Michael Pelchat, a.k.a. NiceMichael, added their own versions. A month later, Lil Nas X signed to Colombia Records and in April they released the record-breaking remix.
Lil Nas X is not the only notable artist to effectively harness the power of TikTok. Lizzo joined the platform in June and offered the #DNATest challenge, featuring her 2017 bop "Truth Hurts"—she opens the song with "I just took a DNA test, turns out I'm 100% that bitch." This month, the two-year-old song became her first top 10 track on the Hot 100, hitting No. 4 on Aug. 10. "Juice," from her latest LP Cuz I Love You, is her only other song to date to make the all-genre chart, reaching No. 9. The newfound viral moment of "Truth Hurts," similar to that of Lil Nas X, led Lizzo to release a new remix, featuring DaBaby.
A recent Rolling Stone feature examining the app's rapid growth and impact on the music industry highlights the move for labels and artists to push their music on the platform. "We get 10 to 15 inquiries a day from artists and labels wanting to pay us to use their song," Devain Doolaramani, who manages over 20 TikTok users, recently told the outlet. The article explains that the Chinese company Bytedance purchased the lip sync video app Musical.ly in late 2017, and, in August 2018, shut it down and migrated its user base to the new TikTok, giving it a starting point of 500 million monthly global users.
Speaking to both active uploaders and people who support its uploaders, like Doolaramani, Rolling Stone found that the algorithm better supports the chance for 15 seconds of fame, as it "is constantly searching for new clips, rather than just pushing out the latest videos from already popular users." The algorithm also seems to push videos and challenges—and their featured songs—that are already doing well to the next level. Doolaramani noticed that songs featured in around 3,000–5,000 videos seem to get more a bigger boost once they reach that point.
The platform even offers "creator partner managers" for popular users invited into their Creators Program. Pelchat, whose profile says he has over 922,400 fans, is part of the program. As he told Rolling Stone, his manager can help push his videos with lower views to the next level.
"Within the hour, [the video] had 80,000 more likes than what it had before. They have some magical button that they can press and just promote [a video] to the world," Pelchat said, when describing what happens after he reaches out about a video. He added that managers "have a very key part in pushing what [TikTok] wants to do."
Yet, while record labels are currently paying popular TikTok-ers to promote their songs, they could require the platform to pay for the rights to use their music in the future. The article points to a recent Bloomberg report that Universal, Sony and Warner are all renegotiating their existing deals, which expire soon, with the platform.
While it's not clear exactly what the future of TikTok will look like, it is clear that the way young people consume music is ever-changing, and the short-form video app is a major part of that.