Seattle has no shortage of singular weirdos. It’s perhaps not that surprising that a city inundated with rain, social isolation and legal weed tends to attract folks prone to out-there behavior. The underground music scene is no exception–weird begets weird. Seattle is chock full of experimental electronic and noise artists, bubblegum punks, space-age R&B superstars and Macklemore. It’s freaky-deaky stuff.
Making yourself heard above the din of a writhing sonic underground isn’t an easy feat. Making a name for yourself as a performer after only being in town for three months is even more impressive. But one artist, queer, pop-rap queen Michete, has done just that, all in a crop-top and a sleek fourteen inches of hair.
Michete, who recently relocated from Spokane in search of, well, everything that’s not in Spokane, crafts snarling trash-rap confections capable of both wit and evisceration. Their latest EP, Cool Tricks 2, showcases a gleefully stomping parade of lo-fi, homemade beats and a flow that veers between goofy and monstrous. The strength of the album, and a cosign by critically-acclaimed dance artist Shamir, has prompted outlets like Pitchfork and Spin to cover Michete, including an in-depth piece on the political implications of their music.
I recently sat down with Michete at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant where we discussed their beginnings, their hatred of Sam Smith, and their future plans. Check out the highlights below.
So you moved here recently from Spokane. I have to wonder what your experience was like growing up queer there.
Yeah, I just think it was lame. It sucked. I’m not a big fan of Spokane. I mean I don’t feel like I had a horrible childhood or upbringing but I just was never around the types of people I needed to be around. I’ve always wanted to do music. I’ve always wanted to do everything. I did talent shows and shit in middle school and I was a theatre kid in high school, I was the captain of my school’s improv team and I did stand up and shit but I never really took any of it too seriously. I went to college for a year for a music and theatre degree and I fucking hated it. So I dropped out. I was just kind of working and trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life and I wasn’t doing anything creative, but I realized that I needed to or I was going to kill myself. So I decided to start taking music more seriously.
What was it that flipped that switch?
It was actually Kreyshawn, when the song “Gucci Gucci” went viral [laughs]. My whole thing before was, you know, I’m a white, queer person from Spokane–I can’t be a rapper. No one is going to take that seriously, I can’t take myself seriously doing that, there’s no way that’s going to happen. But I realized that in this decade, hip-hop just got super fucking weird and it doesn’t seem like there are rules anymore. When “Gucci Gucci” went viral I realized ok, I need to stop fucking around. If there’s ever a time that I’m going to be able to do this, it’s now. What’s stopping me? It’s really fucking funny that that is what inspired me.
I kind of love that song though.
Oh yeah, it’s great! Anyway, I started working on stuff a little bit, here and there. I just had to take some time to figure out exactly what I wanted to do. Initially I wanted to make a mixtape where I was just going to do freestyles over other songs, but I decided that I want my shit to be mine. And I wanted to be able to officially release it and have it be commercially available everywhere without having to worry about who’s going to sue me or who I have to give credit to. So I just decided to use my own beats and start writing full songs. I’d been messing around with Fruity Loops for a while, and was kind of competent [laughs].
A couple years later I recorded “Rap Game Kimmy Gibbler” for the first time I put it out a couple months later, on Facebook and Soundcloud, and it got a really good response, so I figured I was on to something. After that I’d just go to the studio now and then and work on little concepts, get thing together. But it wasn’t until over a year later that Cool Tricks was actually finished. Also it really helped that when I first started talking to [musician] Shamir, I showed him “Rap Game Kimmy Gibbler,” and he was super into it.
I actually saw that he referred to you as “a gift from the ratchet gods” to NME. That’s high praise.
So if Cool Tricks came together pretty organically, was your second release, Cool Tricks 2, an effort to make something more focused or intentional?
Well I mean the idea with Cool Tricks, and the name kind of plays into it, was that I was just trying to show off my tricks. I was just trying to demonstrate my talents. I wasn’t worrying about pop appeal or whether something was a real “song,” I was just interested in making a collection of tracks to throw into the world and say, “these are things I can do.” But it was clear to me afterward that the songs that really resonated with people were the ones that were catchy and had real hooks. “Me and My Bitches” was the one everyone grabbed onto and “Red Rover” was my personal favorite.
When it came to Cool Tricks 2, I wanted to go into it with a more conventional idea of structure. Initially I wasn’t confident in my ability to write hooks, and that was limiting when I was working on the first album. I kind of threw structure out and figured I’d just do whatever. The second time around, I felt more confident in my ability to craft real songs with structure and I realized that those were what resonated with people the most and they’re what I end up liking the most in the long run. I also wanted to make sure that I wasn’t compromising the bars at all. I wanted the verses to be really strong on their own. Plus I got a lot better at production between the two.
I’m curious about the way that your identity and the way you present as a performer intersect. You obviously could have toned down your presentation in some way to be more marketable. Some people might have, but you didn’t.
That’s a great question actually. When I first recorded “Rap Game Kimmy Gibbler,” and in the first video that we recorded for it and on the single cover, I, like, was a dude. I had short hair and a beard and I hadn’t really begun to interrogate that aspect of myself yet. So I think my artistry ended up being a way for me to explore gender identity and presentation in a way that way felt freeing, and limitless and detached from the real world. At first I could put on the wigs and the makeup and dress however and it was just part of the art. I didn’t have to think too hard about what it meant for me in real life.
I definitely think my music has allowed me to explore my gender identity in a way that I never would have otherwise, and it’s allowed me to feel good about it because my music is like, good, and I’m fucking cool. My music is all about empowering queerness and femininity.
I know you’ve expressed some frustration with the fact that you’re sometimes pigeonholed as a “transfeminine rapper” though.
It is annoying being constantly referred to as my gender identity, as though that comes before the fact that I’m a rapper. But I think, with time, once people know who Michete is and I don’t have to be explained, that’ll fade.
When I was listening through both of your EPs in preparation, I noticed that you seem unafraid to embrace pop conventions, which often isn’t the case in underground music scenes. Why is that?
I think the idea of “pop” being a dirty word has kind of faded. And I’ve never felt that way, I’ve always loved pop music. I want to be a pop star. I want my music to have pop appeal. I want to like, go on fucking Ellen and perform at the Grammys and win a VMA and shit. That’s what I want to do. I don’t feel that I have to compromise my integrity or my artistry to do that either.
What about your musical influences?
As far as influences, Lady Gaga is super influential to me. I have a tattoo of her on my arm, I had like twenty-two posters of her in my room, and I’ve seen her three times. Kanye West is a big influence of mine. Nicki Minaj is my favorite rapper and I’m not afraid to say that. She was super, super influential to my style. Missy Elliot and a lot of pop-centric rappers like 2Chainz, and Fergie and Kesha. That’s the lane I want to occupy, where I’m a pop rapper but I still have bars and serve something that real hip hop fans recognize as good. The other big one is Peaches. I was a big fan of hers growing up, and I think when I was younger I just liked her music because it was funny and catchy, and because it had sex jokes and the beats were nice and stuff. But what I realized when I was older is that it’s hella feminist and transgressive and it’s something that carried political and personal weight.
Switching gears a bit, your music is very…confrontational
It’s often aggressive and transgressing against social mores, particularly as they relate to being queer. Does that just naturally arise from who you are or is that calculated?
I think it’s just natural. I’m a very honest person and I’m not really able to bite my tongue about things. If something seems unfair or fucked up to me I can’t not say something about it. I feel like, when it comes to being a rapper, because I’m a queer person or a femme person there’s this automatic assumption that I’m a pushover or that I’m not the real deal or something. So I think I feel pressure to be aggressive. But it’s also a sincere expression. It’s not like I’m doing it for anyone other than me. I like the juxtaposition of the really feminine presentation with aggressive vocals. I don’t consider my music to be angry at all. It’s really fun and positive and funny, and the goal is to make queers and women and femmes feel good about themselves. But it’s definitely informed by twenty-four years of pent-up queer rage and aggression.
What are your plans for the immediate future? You have a new video out.
We just shot the video for “Recognize This Pussy,” my co-worker Reed and his girlfriend Ruby directed it, and then I want to do one more video. I want to do one for “D.L.O.D.” and then we’re going into Cool Tricks 3. I’ve begun conceptualizing it but I haven’t started on a lot of the beats or actually writing any verses yet. I’m also doing a show at Hollow Earth Radio on the 29th with a bunch of other people, and I’m gonna go off.
As a working queer artist, how do you think the landscape looks for queer folks in music right now?
I fucking hate Sam Smith [laughs]. Put that in the interview.
Here’s the thing. We’re at this time culturally where every sitcom has a gay character or there’s a gay contestant on every reality show. Queer people are very visible in movies and television, at least cis gays. But I feel like music is kind of different. When Adam Lambert first came out I really supported him. A lot his music is kind of bad but I think I supported him because he was gay and feminine and unafraid to be glamorous, but mainstream audiences rejected him because of it.
So now there’s somebody like Sam Smith demolishing radio and getting number one songs, and it’s this big deal that he’s a gay artist. But I feel like he presents himself in a way that’s decidedly heteronormative. He removes all pronouns and references to gender in his lyrics and tries to excuse it by saying “oh, well it’s because I want anybody to be able to relate to it.” Can you imagine if Bruno Mars was like “I’m not going to say ‘girl’ or ‘she’ anymore because I want everyone to relate?” That’s fucking bullshit. No. I’m not a fan of cis gay men playing this role and then trying to act like this is our representation in mainstream media.