LGBT fans of rap will have no doubt noticed that a member of our community has yet to break the industry big-time… Is Karnage up to the challenge? Anthony Gilét chats with him to find out…
“Not a lot of LGBT artists aren’t taken seriously…” Karnage delves straight into his point, before I’ve even started the tape recorder. “Especially rappers. So I thought ‘no’, I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna be myself, and I’m gonna show that you can be taken seriously.” Sitting in the Groucho club, in a daring crop top, Karnage practices what he’s preaches – and it’s hard to believe he’s only 19.
“It doesn’t have to be about sex and getting fucked all the time. I’m just spitting about stuff that other masculine men are rapping about, although I’m not masculine, I just wanna show that you don’t have to be the stereotypical rapper to do it. Being a gay rapper is like being a female rapper, people aren’t gonna take you seriously so it’s your job to prove them wrong.”
So why do you think we’re yet to see a successful gay rapper in the industry?
I think people can be scared – and I’ve battled this – not scared of other rappers, but of what people think; that people won’t get what they’re rapping about. Fear can be crippling. It’s made me not want to make music before, but this time people have been really supportive. At my last gig, and everyone was telling me how good I was… If this is what comes with being myself and doing what I love, I want more of it.
How did you get into rap?
Well, I started singing in assembly. Then I kinda got bored, but growing up I would hear my uncles rapping, and I would think ‘I wanna do that, and I can do that’, and I was always a little snobby and thought, I could better than that [laughs]. So I’d go upstairs and write my raps – they were shit – and then I started liking it more and more.
So are you prepared for negative comments, perhaps from other artists
Yeah, I am prepared. I’m a very thick-skinned person anyway. I think it would be a shock to my system, as I haven’t got any negative comments so far. But I am determined that no matter how many negative comments I get, I promise to look at the positives and keep going. Once people hear you’re gay, a lot of them wouldn’t even listen to your music, but I guarantee that I can out-rap you [laughs]. Sexuality doesn’t determine your talent…
Have you always written your own raps?
Yeah. I always look down when people don’t write their own raps… Because rap is so spiritual, that if you get someone else to write them, it’s not authentic. There have been times when I’ve sat and cried after writing raps.
Who are your collaboration goals?
I’d like to collaborate with Stormzy, Lady Leshhur, and top goals: Nicki Minaj, Yung Thug and singer-wise Tamar Braxton.
So, you grew up in North – what was your upbringing like?
A lot of people think, because you’re gay and grew up in Tottenham that you had a hard life… no, life wasn’t really that hard. I had a lot of fights at school, but only to protect myself, and my uncles would toughen me up. My family 100% supported me, when I came out. I think it’s got difficult as I got older and started experimenting with my hair, eyebrows and whatever. So I think that’s harder, but never to the point they haven’t accepted me. And I think that is why I’m so motivated, I wanna give back, so everything my mum has given me, I wanna make sure I can give her.
How old were you when you came out?
So do you think you’d have struggled without that support base?
Yeah, definitely. Because I was always taught to reach for the stars. Some parents tell their kids it’s not realistic, but my mum will call me up every day and tell me she’s proud of me, even though I haven’t got anywhere. So I definitely think my family have made me as ambitious as I am.
Tell me more about the new single, Playtime
Well, it’s more of a freestyle, which people don’t usually release as singles, but I really liked it, so thought fuck it. I’ll be doing two or singles before my mixtape. The video will be set in a nursery, and I’ll be like Pinocchio. With the nose? No! [laughs] You gotta keep it cute!
I’ve seen the artwork for your mixtape X Rapunzel, is childhood and fairytales going to be a running theme?
Well, the X Rapunzel in like an ex-Damsel in distress; you know, I don’t need anybody. So it’s that kind of theme/topic.
Love that! You’ve mentioned that Karnage can feel like a different person, ’cause he’s a persona – do you think people will be able to tell the difference?
A good example is when I’m performing. Before I perform, I’ll be shaking, but then as soon as I step on stage I’m completely different; more aggressive, and I think he’s the more masculine side of me that comes out when I perform.
So do you think people would mistake you for being aggressive?
Hmm… That’s a good one. I’ve never thought about it, but I think when they meet me, people can see I’m not like that off the bat.
With personas there can be a blurring of identity boundaries, will you be able to switch it on and off?
Yeah definitely, Karnage is in the studio and on-stage, I think when I’m having a conversation with people, I’ll always be karnage ’cause it’s music, but I’m always receptive of nice comments and I’d never be aggressive that way.
How do you plan to keep yourself grounded when you blow up?
[Laughs] It probably sounds big-headed, but I’m actually quite modest anyway. You know when I performed and people stood up on their feet, I thought ‘me? I’m nobody’. Just little things like that.
So what’s NEXT for Karnage?
I’ve got two gigs in December, one in January, a photo shoot and video [for Playtime] and maybe a documentary!
And finally, any advice to aspiring LGBT rappers or artists?
Just keep on pushing! And be yourself. you know, be yourself – but also be different!
Karnage performs at The Bloc, Camden at 1am on Friday. ‘Playtime’ is out now on iTunes, Spotify & Tidal.