Stose: Queer Punk and Naked Hip Hop
“What’s that straight guy doing here?”
That’s the sometime reaction Stose has gotten when performing at queer events, he tells me. It’s understandable, since his music and performance style are much more jarring and “in your face” than the typical happy, homo-house dance music you often here at the gay clubs.
I took the opportunity to chat with Stose for a while prior to his recent live performance at the Seattle Eagle in October. He has a polite and friendly demeanor in conversation that belies his brash onstage persona. And he is most definitely gay.
His recorded music has a raw, unpolished feel to it that can be attributed as much to his punk aesthetic as to its lack of production quality. That is to say, there’s more to it than simply the need for more polish. The guy is raw, and his music reflects that.
For a 24 year old (“I turn 25 in December,” he says), this guy sure has seen a lot. Stose hails from the bucolic little burg of Charlottesville, VA, but has lived in Richmond, San Francisco, London, and Greece, before settling in New York. He’s done time in restaurant kitchens, and even considered culinary school at one point. He spent 4 years studying creative writing. He started performing in punk bands in 2007, and has been pursuing a hip hop career since 2010.
Oh yeah, and he’s done porn.
“People recognize me every once in a while,” he admits. “It definitely doesn’t help that I have done it. People sure do love to make a big deal about it.”
Just doing a quick Google search turns up not only the many pictures of him naked and, shall we say, in flagranti, but also the extreme amount of public vitriol people seem to feel towards members of the adult entertainment industry. It’s enough to make you not want to get out of bed in the morning.
“It just shows how sexually deprived people are in this world,” he claims. “When that is all they can focus on, something I did for one year of my life just so I could get out of Virginia. I am not ashamed of my past, because mistake or not it’s helped mold me into the person I am today.”
And the person he is today is clearly not gonna take it anymore. His music has some fairly classic themes, ranging from the troubles of growing up poor (Alive) to the feeling of being a societal cast-off (Misfits). And while his lyrics do include the requisite mentions of drugs, liquor, and partying, you get a sense that there really is some pain there that he’s trying to kill.
Yeah I am gay, but that doesn’t mean I am going to write a song about ice cream and have a bunch of half naked guys in my video.”
When asked about his musical influences, you get a who’s who of a-list punk artists and bands, most of whom had their heyday long before this guy was even born.
“To name a few,” he says, “Henry Rollins, Vivienne Westwood, Sid Vicious. As for bands, Bad Brains, Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, Colt 45, Monster Squad.”
But he’s first and foremost a hip hop artist now, of course, so I ask him what his rap influences are.
“I grew up on Dre, Snoop, Eminem,” he tells me. “Being from Virginia, I have also been very influenced and inspired by VA artists like Pharrell, Clipse (Pusha T), Re-Up Gang, and Missy Elliott.”
And, while the comparison to Eminem is too easy, with their matching skin tones and all, the similarities in their musical themes are noticeable: poor white kid, scratching his way to the top, doing whatever’s required to get ahead. Suspiciously absent from his influences, though, are any queer artists, and this is evident in his music. While he’s very open about being gay, his public persona, his music, and his video are all very macho. I wonder if sexuality influences his music at all?
“Of course it does,” he assures me. “I have gotten a lot of flak because my video is ‘too straight’ and I am ‘pretending to be something I am not’. Of course, everyone that knows me personally knows that is exactly who I am. Also if people took the time to listen to my lyrics, I talk about my sexuality all the time. People are so narrow minded nowadays. Yeah I am gay, but that doesn’t mean I am going to write a song about ice cream and have a bunch of half naked guys in my video. That’s not me.”
Clearly Cazwell hasn’t made it onto his list of influences for a reason.
But why hip hop? Why not stick with punk?
“I grew up on both punk and rap,” he explains. “So after both of the punk bands I was in broke up, I turned to rap. I knew I still wanted to be doing music and rap seemed like the next natural step for me. I also turned to rap because I could do everything myself. It can be hard to keep a whole band motivated when you are just starting out.”
Indeed. But the amount of drive he possesses is clear. It’s hard enough to break into any musical industry and and be successful, and the rap world is as filled with as many one-hit wonders as any other musical genre. He keeps at it, though, despite a failed attempt to raise money to record his first album through Kickstarter, by plugging his music wherever he can and performing wherever someone will have him.
For Stose, though, there’s more holding him back than just the unlikely odds of anyone making it big in the music biz because there’s no denying that, despite the rise of artists like Mykki Blanco, Le1f, and Brooke Candy, there’s still a lot of homophobia to overcome. So has Stose encountered any resistance from the rap community as a queer rapper?
“Unfortunately I have,” he says. “I don’t hide my sexuality and I have definitely experienced backlash from that. I have had multiple people in the industry stop replying to my calls or emails when they found out [I’m gay]. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me. Unfortunately that is the world we live in, but I would rather lose work than lie about who I am.”
An admirable, if not necessary attitude to have, for sure. How about from the queer community? Has he felt the love?
“The queer community has been mostly supportive,” he insists. “The problem is, most gays don’t like punk music. And that is a huge part of my music.”
So what does the future hold for Stose, poised for success as a queer artist in a homophobic industry, with a make-it or break-it attitude, and colorful past that drives him forward?
“At one point I really want to be signed,” he admits. “But I am doing things on my own and having a blast. Although being an independent artist is a lot of fucking work, I have total creative freedom to do whatever the fuck I want right now. I don’t want to lose that. With that said, I would consider signing if the right contract came my way. Who knows?”