Rollin' deep in the heart of the I.E. through the gnarled concrete arteries of 60+10+91 east to neon sunsets and Naugles, Taco Tia, the Mad/Friendly/Happy or Lucky Greek,The Menagerie, Spanky's, Butch's Grinders, The Denny's Cocktail Lounge at Hardman Center (in pace requiescat). We spell Paris P-E-R-R-I-S, bitches!

2.19.2007

Tours of Duty (Free) + An Interview with Melange LaVonne

My book proposal is (to cite Laguna Beach) "done-zo," and yet I find myself careening towards many more tasks and much administrative insanity. I won't bore with the minutiae of the Inland Emperor's day job, but before I launch into my exclusive tete-a-tete with the up-and-coming I.E. based hip-hop diva, Melange Lavonne (pictured on the left and featured in the 2007 Homo Revolution Hip-Hop Tour, the first of its kind), allow me to list some of my own "tour dates" for upcoming talks in flourescent-lit rooms near you. Friends in these spots shoot me an email! Can't wait to see you:

March 1 - Cerritos College, on a guest panel about "Gender and Hip-Hop"
March 13 - University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign, invited talk, "Contact, Creativity and Klub Fantasy" for Asian-American Studies, Latino/a Studies, Department of English and Gender and Women's Studies
March 24 - Swarthmore College, Sager Symposium Keynote on "Love Among the Ruins: Butch Intimacies in the Wake of Gentrification"
April 6 - UC Riverside, Disjunctions Conference Keynote on "Inland Emperors"
April 13 - New York University, "After CBGB, Now What?: Gender, Sexuality and the Future of Subculture," invited panelist, sponsored by NYU Performance Studies and CGSG, organized by Tavia Nyong'o
April 20 - EMP Pop Music Conference, Seattle, WA, panel on "Suburban Soundscapes" with CBB, AV, PJA
May 12 - UC Santa Cruz, "Historicism, Homonormativity and Queer Political Formations" Conference Keynote (other keynotes are Marcia Ochoa, Jasbir Puar and Lisa Duggan), on "Relocations: Queer of Color Suburban Imaginaries."
July 26-29 - New Orleans, Association for Theater in Higher Education Conference, invited panel with Jennifer Devere Brody and Ramon Rivera-Servera.

And now on with the show...
I first saw Melange Lavonne perform at this year's FUSION fest at Barnsdall art park, and I was immediately struck by her skills, smooth rhymes, and (from afar) her uncanny resemblance to Halle Berry gone Inland gansta. She spit the crowd to its feet, and despite all the hype around the night's headliner, Deadlee (one of her tourmates on the 2007 Homo Revolution Tour) Ms. Melange stole the show. As her chosen stage name suggests, Melange is a "motley assortment of things; a mixture, a medley"--a badass with game, an artist with attitude, yet an approachable sweetheart with a folksy fondness for where she's from. She's raunchy, yet devout. She's got the profile of a player, but the heart of a real homebody.

Mel, as she signs her own name, is also a survivor. Not in the "glamour camo" Destiny's Child sort of way, although she could very well pull that vibe off if she wanted. Mel's not only had to fight the predictable scourges of sexism, homophobia and racism in the music industry (and let's face it, in this wide world of ours), but she's also battled several types of cancer since childhood. We chatted about all this and more over a series of genial IM chats and emails, since neither of us were willing to brave that traffic on the 60, East or West.

KT: Recently “Entertainment Weekly” made a fuss about the fact that female MC’s, rappers and producers (Li’l Kim, Missy, even Latifah back in the day) are being eclipsed by the Male Rapper/Female R&B singer collaboration. In other words, “the woman’s role” in hip-hop has been "reduced" to providing the “melody” and “hook” to a piece whereas hip-hop “cred,” “heft” and authenticity is attributed to men. Of course we can imagine several things wrong with that formulation (I mean, give artists like Ciara proppers for how they make or break a song), but I wanted to run it by you and see what you think. How do you see yourself confronting these assumptions as you make your own music? Or do you have other comments about the record industry and pop charts writ large?

ML: The pop charts, the music charts, billboard, etc., are all media outlets that favor the Major Record label artist. If you have the payola to get your spins on the radio, then you get your soundscan credit, your awards, your recognition and so forth. Radio involves politics, it's sad, but true. Half the songs you hear on urban radio stations are just plain talentless. And to hear them over and over again brainwashes folks to think they're hits. We don't have much to choose from if they only play 20-25 songs everyday, for weeks if not months in rotation, right? Hmmm... who will make the #1 song this week, the rapper who is rapping about big booty hoes and his car sitting on 25 inch rims, or the rapper who is rapping about big booty hoes and his weed stash being bigger than mini-me? How many ways can you rap about the same things over and over again?!? It gets monotanous. And the winner is...the rapper who you can't understand but whose beat you love because it came from the a well-known producer. Welcome to the music industry. I try not to cater my art to that mentality. Just because I'm female doesn't mean I have a natural gift for singing an R&B melody. I'm a rapper. Period.

KT: That said, what is your own “process” as an artist, songwriter, producer and performer? How do you develop your poignant political content? Do you have your hand in everything, or do you have any collaborators who are crucial to that process?
Also, who ultimately decides on your “image presentation” and what are your goals within (or outside of "the industry")? Do you have any concerns about being pigeon-holed as "just" a queer hip-hop artist?

ML: As an artist it is my responsibility to speak on the facts when I choose to mention social and political issues in my music. That means I read before I open my mouth. I research these issues, and then from there I base my lyrics on the history and the personal stories, and incorporate them with my own opinions and beliefs. My friend and mentor, Bobby King is my producer. He allows me to be creative as an artist and I do the same for him, I think. I write all my lyrics. I wouldn't have it any other way because I'm inviting you into my mind for a few minutes! Ultimately, when it comes to my "image," I'm my own decision maker. I do listen to other opinions and ideas, but ultimately I have to make the decision at the end of the day about where I want to go with this and what will come from it. I have staff behind me so I also consider what's in their best interest, as well as what would make it beneficial for them...To have longevity in this industry is to have a great staff of people behind you & working the scene in front. I am just one of the pieces to the "success puzzle" that we're all trying to put together. As for being pigeon-holed...I don't believe in "just" being a queer hip-hop artist, only because I don't believe there is such a thing as queer hip-hop. There isn't white hip-hop, or black hip-hop, or female hip-hop. Hip-hop is hip-hop. And although I know that might not seem the most convincing to people who believe everything has to be categorized (unfortunately), I do believe I can hold my own regardless of where and in what scene I happen to end up.

KT: OK...so you say that you don’t believe in categorizing hip-hop (as either female, queer, white or black), yet you’re touring as part of what promises to be a historical event—the first regional homo-hip-hop tour with multiple artists. I know this has to do with marketing and the industry, but what other benefits are there to being a part of this kind of line-up? Does it make touring easier for you as a queer woman to be a part of a crew that “understands” your desires and your politics? Have any of the artists you’re touring with inspired or influenced some of your own work?

ML: You're right! I am part of a tour called Homo-Revolution, and my belief is that I
think it will be a good way to get my music out there to LGBT Venues. More than anything, it allows music listeners to have an option about what kind of hip-hop they can relate too. I can't relate to so-called hip-hop music about Bentley's and platinum jewelry. Hell, I didnt even know what a Bentley was until Puff Daddy (not PDiddy, because I'm tired of him changing names as quickly as he rotates artists in and out of his label) kept mentioning them in his songs. But the problem that I have with only appealing to queer audiences is that once we categorize ourselves as "queer hip-hop," we limit ourselves and our message to that category. When I win a Grammy, I don't want to win a "Best Homo-Grammy." I hope that makes sense. As for the practical aspects of it...yeah, it's much easier touring in the gay circuit because the support is automatically there (although not all the time, which has to do with race, class, etc.). Some Gays and Lesbians can relate to some of the issues you rap about, but then again some of them don't. I would have to say every single artist on this tour has inspired me due to the fact that they have been dedicated to their work and open about everything

KT: Since we're on the topic of broadening your fan base, how do you see your audience shaping up? Since you’ve been out you’ve probably acquired a ton of female fans. What’s it like handling that kind of fandom, and does it ever get too intense or creepy because the lesbian community feels like it has “ownership” over you?

ML: Actually, this kind of relates to the point I was trying to make about not being "pigeon-holed" into one scene. The reality of it is that my fans are not only gay and lesbian--I have a lot of straight fans, ha ha! I recently performed at a straight club with gangsters. I mean literally men with guns at their hips. I spit and gained respect from them. It's obvious I'm a lesbian, but open people respect someone who has heart and love for what they do and the truth they speak. I was asked to come back and perform at their venue again. No one owns me, and if they think they do, then someone told them wrong. I represent people of all colors gay or straight. I represent equality and won't divide my fans into groups. Just because I speak on certain issues, doesn't mean I want to omit a certain group of people from getting to know me. If I did that I would be excluding my father, my mother, my coworkers, and friends. There are as many things in the so-called "gay community" that I don't agree with as much as from the "straight community."

KT: So you mention your mother, father, coworkers and friends, many of whom (I presume) are based in the I.E. Let's talk a little bit about "place" and where these communities collide and coalesce. In your bio it says that you retreated from the false promises of the Hollywood and urban music scenes to go back to the I.E. so you could make your music in the place you feel “at home" and true to yourself. What regional influences or regional tastes do you imagine reflected in your music? What social, political, cultural, class, gender or race issues do you see your work confronting from the vantage point of an “Inland Emperor” or “Inland Empress” (whichever you prefer)?

ML:
Living in the I.E., where I grew up, has helped me become a more diverse artist and person as a whole. There are so many different cultures out here and ways of living. Most people don't realize the suburbs aren't just white, but there are many ethnicities co-existing together. Also, I think people become united across class lines here, and in the Inland Empire you can sometimes see class unity regardless of race. Society always seems to want to find scapegoats based on class, religion, sexuality, race, or even political party, and it's unfortunate that people won't give up that pursuit of power over others. As for why I went back [to the I.E.]: I had to get out of Hollywood because everyone from the world landed in that city to pursue a dream. I was one of many. Then I though...if I want to start a buzz and make a statement, why not start with my hometown and then work my way out? I have to admit, I've also faced a few barriers living out here, like the lack of hip-hop support and functions to perform at. Actually, I love performing my song "The Game" in front of crowds in other places who base their social status on how much money, jewelry, or what kind of expensive car a rapper has. When I perform that song in the I.E. I always get a positive reaction. People in the I.E. aren't in Hollywood and can't relate to million dollar budgets or dropping hundreds of dollars on champagne at clubs.

KT: Really quickly, where have you performed in the I.E. despite the lack of venues? (Take note, dear readers--and book a show today!)

ML: I've performed at special events, sometimes monthly events at places like Carlos O'Briens, Incahoots, and other venues that would hold hip-hop competitions. These days my time is mostly consumed in the studio in Palm Springs every weekend.

KT:
I remember pre-prom happy hours at Carlos O'Brien's. Ah the Riverside Plaza...But before I lose myself in reminiscence, let's get back to the gender politics of hip-hop, shall we? What's the worst thing you’ve ever confronted from someone in the hip-hop community in response to your gender and/or sexuality?

ML: The worst thing I've ever had to confront (and I was also responsible for this) was hiding who I was for the sake of a major label deal. Being a woman in the industry is challenging, and a lot of men assume that because you're a woman, you're weak and submissive. They think they should dominate the situation and make the decisions for you instead of you having a team working together. That's why I prefer to work as a team now.

KT: Which brings us to some of your new stuff and your thematic confrontations with homophobia. The song and soon to be shot video, “Gay Bash” is a powerful response to homophobia. You mentioned somewhere that the story of Matthew Shepard was an inspiration. What do you think of the fact that other stories of say women of color and transexuals of color don’t often get the same media attention as assaults on gay white men? This is not to say that one hate crime is any worse than another. It’s more a commentary on the way the media (and the classes/races/sexualities in power) shape the cultural and political landscape. What are your thoughts about this?

ML: I agree that, unfortunately, LGBT's of color do not get the same media attention. One of the most publicized and well known gay bashing stories across the nation was Matthew Shepard's death. He was described as an all American student. My song "Gay Bash" though is actually based on all those who have suffered discrimination with the end result being death, and I knew the only way the mainstream LGBT and straight communities would take notice of the message is for me to give it a familiar face. I do think there is biased, racist thinking within the LGBT community itself, which is why its important to discuss these issues and bring up the whole range of possible arguments. I am guilty of contributing perhaps, by making a commercialized "Gay song" alluding to the Matthew Shephard story, but the idea is to get media attention for this violence before (and not only after) these events occur. This opens doors to being able to address the deeper underlying problems we have within the queer community.

KT: I don't want to take a turn towards the morbid, but you do bring up a good point about the range of different confrontations, struggles and mechanisms of survival that you engage in your own music. This is a bit of a personal question, and it comes in response to your bio that reveals your stories of “survival,” and of battling cancer in particular. First of all, do you mind revealing a little more about what specific battles you had to face? How do you see this struggle informing your work or your outlook on being a performer?

ML: I had Hodgkin's disease at 12 years old when my grandmother was dying of
breast cancer. Cancer was something that shaped my personality and beliefs in God. I grew closer to him and developed a personal relationship with him that I never thought would exist. So when people tell me that God doesn't accept my lifestyle it's actually laughable. They arent invited into my relationship with him so how could they possibly know the conversations God and I have? That's like someone telling me my Mother hates me, but I talk to my Mother everyday and I know she doesn't. I am going through another obstacle with the cancer I was just diagnosed with, I don't know much about it since there are only 22 cases worldwide. So treatment options at this point aren't known. I'm in the process of getting second opinions. I incorporate my survival into my music by trying to relay the positive outlook instead of the negatives in life. Look....life is short, and I could die tomorrow in a car accident. We have to make the best of what is handed to us. I actually started writing when I was diagnosed with cancer at 12 years old. I began to write my thoughts down, which turned into poetry. It wasn't until I met my best friend Kaelon Kroft that I started formatting my words into songs and lyrics. I don't sing. I wish I could, but rapping is the way I articulate the range of my feelings in 3 or 4 minutes, or however long a song lasts. It's a gift to address subjects and get my point across in a rap song, especially in person. Sometimes I can't actually get out what I want to say in person because I've always had a problem with proper diction and on the spot answers! I'm not the greatest MC, but I want to be the best MC I can possibly be. Michael Jordan never stopped practicing free throws, Tiger woods never stops practicing his swing, and Bush never stops practicing his lies, so there you go...

KT: On that last humorous note...let's have a little rapid fire fun with this, shall we? Here's a little something for "the fans" out there.

Boxers, Briefs, Thongs or Commando?

ML: Briefs

KT: Beyonce or Jennifer Hudson?

ML: Jennifer Hudson

KT: Would you ever audition for American Idol, and what do you think of the show?

ML: I never would. And I've never even watched the show

KT: If you could meet one “hero” dead or alive, who would it be?

ML: Martin Luther King

KT: Which L-Word character would you be? Or do you hate the show?

ML: Don't hate it but don't watch it.

KT: If you could collaborate with any pop or R&B female singer out there, who would it be?

ML: Jill Scott

KT: What’s your favorite rock band?

ML: Tears for Fears [kt makes rock horns in dorkily enthusiastic response]

KT: Justin Timberlake or Michael Jackson?

ML: Michael Jackson

KT: Commitment or non-monogamy?

ML: Commitment and monogamy, if not married.

KT: Riverside or San Bernardino?

ML: Riverside [kt's rockhorns, round two!]

KT: SUV or Hybrid?

ML: Hybrid

See Melange LaVonne as part of the 2007 Homo Revolution tour:

3/29/07 - San Diego, CA **Opening Night**
The Brass Rail
3796 5th Ave
San Diego, California 92103
8 PM, 21+/$10
Line Up: Deadlee, Soce The Elemental Wizard, Delacruz, MC FLOW,
Melange Lavonne, Bigg Nugg, JFP, QBoy, Mz. Fontaine, Foxxjazell, DJ Jeffa, & Shorty Roc

3/30/07 - Los Angeles, CA
El Cid
4212 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, California 90029 (Silverlake)
10:00 PM, 18+/$10
Line Up: Deadlee, Johnny Dangerous, Soce The Elemental Wizard, Delacruz, Tori Fixx, Salvimex, QBoy, Melange Lavonne, Bigg Nugg, Foxjazell, & JFP

3/31/07 - Las Vegas, NV
Gipsy Nightclub
4633 Paradise Rd.
Las Vegas, Nevada 89109
10:00 PM, 21+/$10
Line Up: Deadlee, Johnny Dangerous, Delacruz, Tori Fixx, QBoy, Melange Lavonne, Mz. Fontaine, Salvimex, Bigg Nugg, JFP, & Foxxjazell

4/01/07 - Phoenix, AZ
Plazma
1560 E. Osborn Rd.
Phoenix, AZ
8 PM, 21+/$10
Line Up: Deadlee, Johnny Dangerous, Delacruz, Tori Fixx, QBoy, Melange Lavonne, Mz. Fontaine, Salvimex, Bigg Nugg, JFP, & Foxxjazell

4/02/07 - Albuquerque, NM
Out ch'Yonda Theater Space
929 4th Street SW
Albuquerque, NM 87101
7 PM, ALL AGES/$10
Line Up: Deadlee, Johnny Dangerous, Delacruz, Tori Fixx, QBoy, Melange Lavonne, Mz. Fontaine, Salvimex, Bigg Nugg, JFP, & Foxxjazell

4/03/07 - El Paso, TX
Fat Mary's Martini Bar and Grill
8635 Dyer
El Paso, Texas 79904
8 PM, 21+/$10
Line Up: Deadlee, Johnny Dangerous, Delacruz, Tori Fixx, QBoy, Melange Lavonne, Mz. Fontaine, Bigg Nugg, JFP, & Foxxjazell

4/05/07 - San Antonio, TX
The Saint Showbar
1430 N. Main Ave
San Antonio, Texas 78212
8 PM, $10
Line Up: Deadlee, Johnny Dangerous, Delacruz, Tori Fixx, QBoy, Melange Lavonne, Mz. Fontaine, Bigg Nugg, JFP, & Foxxjazell

4/06/07 - Houston, TX
Club Dignity Bar and Grill
127 Scott Street
Houston, TX
9 PM, 18+/$10
Line Up: Deadlee, Johnny Dangerous, Delacruz, Tori Fixx, QBoy, Melange Lavonne, Mz. Fontaine, Bigg Nugg, JFP, & Foxxjazell

4/07/07 - Austin. TX
Victory Grill
1104 E 11th St
Austin, TX 78702
8 PM, 18+/$10
Line Up: Deadlee, Johnny Dangerous, Delacruz, Tori Fixx, QBoy, Melange Lavonne, Mz. Fontaine, Bigg Nugg, JFP, & Foxxjazell

4/08/07 - Dallas, TX
The Brick
4117 Maple Ave.
Dallas, TX
8 PM, 18+/$10
Line Up: Deadlee, Johnny Dangerous, Delacruz, Tori Fixx, QBoy, Melange Lavonne, Mz. Fontaine, Bigg Nugg, JFP, & Foxxjazell

3 comments:

kerihadley said...

ok, is Tears for Fears really a rock band? and why don't we get Homo Revolution out in DC

Polly said...

This is great info to know.

Anonymous said...

After getting more than 10000 visitors/day to my website I thought your theinlandemperor.blogspot.com website also need unstoppable flow of traffic...

Use this BRAND NEW software and get all the traffic for your website you will ever need ...

= = > > http://get-massive-autopilot-traffic.com

In testing phase it generated 867,981 visitors and $540,340.

Then another $86,299.13 in 90 days to be exact. That's $958.88 a
day!!

And all it took was 10 minutes to set up and run.

But how does it work??

You just configure the system, click the mouse button a few
times, activate the software, copy and paste a few links and
you're done!!

Click the link BELOW as you're about to witness a software that
could be a MAJOR turning point to your success.

= = > > http://get-massive-autopilot-traffic.com