Femcee Kayemtee raps for queer rights

November 23, 2012
Kayemtee: "I plan to take over the world one mind at a time."

Impossible Odds Records

Jimmy Barnes is probably the most heterosexual man in Australia - but he has now inspired probably the best homosexual rap tune to come out of the country.

The Cold Chisel frontman is famous for allegedly bedding more than 1000 women early on in his career. But Indigenous femcee Kayemtee has taken his band's highest-charting song, "Forever Now", and given it a radical twist.

As soon as she heard the lovers' lament played back to her by Aboriginal producer DCP, she knew she had to rhyme over it. "DCP showed me the instrumental he had made which contained a Cold Chisel sample that said, ‘Is this the way it’s gonna be forever?'," Kayemtee tells Green Left.

"I wanted it straight away, because there were SOOO many things that I could’ve written about in regards to this question. But on the day that I picked up the pen, my thoughts on lack of gratitude and homophobia were the issues that I needed to get off my chest."

Kayemtee's vehemently anti-homophobic stance is one that is slowly catching on in the historically homophobic genre of hip-hop, as rappers from Fat Joe to The Game have changed their tune. But for Kayemtee it was no slow realisation. Over Cold Chisel's lilting, Hawaiian-like guitar riff, she raps:

Young couple, lovin' with a whole heart
Inseparable from the start
Hearts racin' off the chart
Parents won't hark
They'd rather rip their love apart
Cos on Noah's Ark it was boy and girl bees
'N' boy and girl dogs and cows and monkeys
'N' God created Adam with Eve
So, 'It wouldn't be right for Adam to want Steve'
But man wrote the Bible, not my G-O-D
Cos God spreads nothin' but L-O-V-E
'N' I know you don't like what I'm sayin' in this piece
But I know God sent my last girl to save me
So keep on sayin' the things that you do
That people like me don't belong in the pews
Cos regardless of your outdated views
I'll praise Him everyday 'n' this is the truth!

Just last year there were a group of girls
Representin' their country of Nigeria
Off to Germany for the Women's World Cup
Till the Football Federation showed homophobia
These girls worked to achieve their dream
Gettin' on the world stage ain't an easy feat
So imagine gettin' kicked of the team
Cos you prefer to bed with the ladies
Now as I speak in Ecuador
Health care professionals, or 'so-called'
Dish out starvation, rape and torture
In clinics that offer a violent 'cure'
For the apparently 'sick' lesbians
Where the fuck is you people's common sense?
Some girls are admitted by their parents!
Can't you see that this is nonsense?!

How do you sleep at night knowin' that you do this?
Are you not human? Don't you feel it in your conscience?
Do you realise how inhumane that you are?
Or will your cruel attitude last forever?

Is this the way it's gonna be forever?
Is this the way it's gonna be forever?
Is this the way it's gonna be forever, now?

Kayemtee - or Kaylah Tyson to her proud family - says she was lucky that her relatives were far more accepting than the people she raps about. "I have been blessed with an open-minded, accepting, loving and supportive family who made it possible for me to not have to ‘come out’," says the rapper, who was raised in the Brisbane suburb of Browns Plains.

"I had a boyfriend for a while. Then I had a girlfriend for a while. It wasn’t an issue for any of them. Of course there have been some people along the way who’ve had something to say, but those who matter, don’t care and those who care, don’t matter."

Understandably, not all gay people manage to be so stoic. Suicide Prevention Australia says gay teenagers are up to 14 times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.

"That is disgusting," says Kayemtee. "People just need to wake up to themselves because it could be their brother or sister next. And if their brother or sister is copping shit from them because they can’t be accepting of matters of the heart, they should deal with their own problems instead of forcing it onto others."

Suicide is also up to five times higher among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people compared with their non-Aboriginal peers. It might be argued that Indigenous and gay people are both oppressed for the same reason - they are not the dominant majority.

"To some extent I would agree," says Kayemtee. "Being in a category that is regarded as a minority group does make you a target for ignorance and all of the unfortunate things that stem from that. Us ATSI mob are statistically a minority so the odds are against us when it comes to being able to be in people’s faces enough that they HAVE to start taking the time to understand.

"I personally don’t think that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender people are as much of a minority as people think. We are everywhere! But yes, I would say that ATSI & LGBT people both fall into the same category – Targets of Prejudice."

Kayemtee knows she's been relatively lucky, but the lack of gratitude she sees in others is the flip-side to her song:

Just stop 'n' take a look through my eyes for a second
Let's yarn about the things in my life, yeah I reckon
We all seen some of it or heard about it, but to our first world shit it goes second
There are little kids beggin 'n' starvin'
With no clean water to drink or bath in
Any food they find they have to be halvin'
But they still smile and even chuck a laugh in
Then there's the you's and me's
Who are so used to the conveniency
Of our everyday things - our necessities
Like runnin' water and electricity
I saw you online, you like to complain
About them unimportant things like missin' a train
Cos QR's doin' trackworks again
If that's the end of your world Kat, you're insane!

How do you sleep at night when you complain about this?
Real well on a queen size posturepedic mattress (Ha!)
Do you realise just how blessed you really are?
Or will your lack of gratitude last forever?

Is this the way it's gonna be forever?
Is this the way it's gonna be forever?
Is this the way it's gonna be forever now?

That lack of gratitude can stem from multiple factors, including many white Australians being unaware of the privilege their skin colour brings them.

"I’m not one who was raised to allow myself to use the ‘it’s because I’m black’ excuse," says Kayemtee. "But unfortunately racism is still very much alive and it does put harder barriers in place for us. Unless you cop it yourself, you tend to be totally oblivious to what is going on. I don’t blame every white Australian for being ignorant to the matter, but we can’t make a change until everyone’s eyes are no longer blind to the fact – that goes for our own mob too."

Kayemtee is well-connected with her own mob - she works as a self-managed dancer, emcee and workshop facilitator in communities across the country.

"I can honestly say that every time I visit a new place, my eyes are opened to what works and what doesn’t in regards to achieving positive outcomes through the way the community is run," she says.

"In my opinion, the places that have great things going and genuinely happier young people are the places that value the input and involvement from their Elders. Unfortunately, there are some places where the government or council or non-indigenous people still think they know what’s best for us and instead of making things better they are just making it worse. My proof of this is the alarming rates of suicide."

Kayemtee is well-equipped to help. She is a graduate of the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts (ACPA), where she studied under Leah Purcell, the award-winning Aboriginal actress who most recently put in a powerful performance as an angsty aunt in the inaugural episode of the ABC's all-Indigenous drama Redfern Now.

"Leah expected nothing but the best from me, which in turn taught me to expect the same of myself," says Kayemtee. "She is an extremely hard-working woman who is so passionate about what she does and she makes no excuses. She provided me with a positive role model and I will be eternally grateful for that.

"I wish I had [time to tell] all of the lessons I learnt from my time at ACPA. Basically, not only did I learn the techniques needed to better myself as a performer but I also learnt skills that I have been able to transfer into the many tasks that life throws at me. The tools I have been given to express myself confidently and articulately are things that keep me sane in this crazy world and I will forever carry with me."

ACPA also gave Kayemtee her big break in music, when she met an Aboriginal rapper called Buda K who had also been accepted to join the centre. Shortly after she watched him perform with his hip-hop trio, Poetic Murriz, one of the boys announced he could no longer be in the group. Buda K and the remaining member, Justis, invited her on board.

"When the boys from Poetic asked me to join the crew, they provided me with the opportunity to take my music more seriously," she says. "Before that, it was really something I did ‘just because’. I also discovered my natural ability to take a lead role in the business side of things. It was a great starting point for me and I made brothers for life."

After Kayemtee joined Poetic Murriz, Indigenous rapper Rival MC of the multi-award-winning Brisbane-based group Impossible Odds signed them to his label, Impossible Odds Records.

"I met Rival in my teenage years when I was invited to dance in a Wakka Wakka traditional dance troupe," says Kayemtee. "As time passed, I started doing music and he was building up his record label so he began to keep an eye on Poetic Murriz. Through a lot of yarns and signing us to the label he became a mentor to me."

Poetic Murriz split soon after releasing the sublimely slick single "One Of Those Days", but Kayemtee's relationship with Rival MC endures. She appeared on Impossible Odds' latest album, the intensely intelligent Against All Odds, and the group repaid the favour by appearing on "Forever". Kayemtee is planning to release a string of releases through their label.

"Even though Poetic Murriz disbanded, Rival and I have kept in contact," she says. "Because he has always helped me wherever he can, my loyalty lies with the Impossible Odds family. I will be dropping a few EPs through Impossible Odds Records in 2013. Following those releases I hope to spend quite some time touring and getting my name out there. I really want to try new things and grow as an artist, so I can’t tell you what to expect, but basically, I plan to take over the world one mind at a time."

She laughs, but she has the skills and charisma to do it. Even when she's not on stage, Kayemtee's style makes her stand out from the crowd - she's like a walking assault on the senses, a riot of subtropical colour that works so well, onlookers might think Nicki Minaj took tips from her. Asked if the polychromatic US rapper stole her style, she laughs.

"Yes! Nah, gammin," she says, using the Murri word for "joking". "There were a lot of amazing female emcees before Nicki Minaj, but I love her versatility and I respect her marketing plan. She brought rap into the homes of different ages, genders and nationalities so I’m grateful for her hard work in breaking down those barriers."

Kayemtee has also worked with the band that have probably done the most to bring Aboriginal rap into the homes of different ages, genders and nationalities, breaking down those barriers - The Last Kinection. The group approached Kayemtee when they decided to rework Local Knowledge's Aboriginal hip-hop hit, "Blackfellas".

"As you would know, Local Knowledge was made up of the current Street Warriors fellas and Weno and DJ Jaytee from The Last Kinection," she says. "MC Nay, also in The Last Kinection, contacted me and asked me if I was keen to jump on a version of the track that would be aimed at the sisters. I had grown up idolising Nay and Weno, as deadly family members and musicians, so of course I said yes." The result was the even stronger "Blacksistaz". On it, Kayemtee raps:

Kayemtee on this beat
Gonna rip this up easily
When I step I rep Brissy
Blood is Ngugi with South Sea
Spanish, Indian, some Pom
Meerooni's where my nan's from
This and that Australian
For the result switch the mic on
And I'll show I have a knack
For sleekly flowin’ with attack
Like a KO is the impact
Stamina of a nymphomaniac
In and Out
Front or back
Bounce like a a hydraulic'd Cadillac
When this black sista spits her rap
It's to put Murris on the map
Not being stopped by the glitches
Just flicking all the right switches
Writing lyrics that'll hit yas
Our skill don't kill, it enriches
Before it was the fellas
But right now it is the Tiddas
This deadly track right here goes out to all the Blacksistaz

"My grandfather on my mum's side has blood that runs from India and Spain, mixed with Murri," she says. "I'm still learning about those roots, but I believe it is important to acknowledge all of my ancestors' origins. My mum is Superwoman. We have a very supportive family but mum raised me mostly by herself and she has made me who I am today. She worked at a number of different ATSI organisations but was co-ordinator of a domestic violence refuge for quite some time."

That care for community is also shared by DCP, the supercool producer who introduced the Cold Chisel sample to Kayemtee's ears. His band, Indigenous Intrudaz, made an all-time classic of Aboriginal hip-hop in their quirky track "Inala's Still The Same", a tribute to their Brisbane suburb. The noticeably non-white Inala, dodgily dubbed "Vegemite City" by Brisbanites, is where the band have been holding the annual Stylin' Up Aboriginal hip-hop festival for more than a decade.

"When I was in primary school, my older cousins would listen to the early recordings from Intrudaz on their cassettes and I was always diggin DCP’s style," says Kayemtee. "I started seeing Intrudaz performing at NAIDOC and Stylin' Up and they were there the first time I rapped on stage. They gave me some great feedback and DCP and I started jamming here and there. He showed me some beats and it just kind of happened. The boys were my first local artists that I idolised so I have a lot of respect for them."

The track that DCP sampled, "Forever Now", was actually written by Cold Chisel's drummer, Steve Prestwich. But would frontman Jimmy Barnes, widely perceived as a paragon of pub rock, approve of Kayemtee's version, with all its sharp black and gay angles?

Well, Barnes named his daughter Mahalia after "The Queen of Gospel", civil rights activist Mahalia Jackson. He named his son Jackie after the electrifying black soul singer Jackie Wilson. And in 1999, Barnes performed the 1978 Sylvester hit "You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)" at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.

READ NEXT: Heavyweight hip-hopper builds a fine body of work

Cold Chisel's original 1982 hit "Forever Now".

Indigenous Intrudaz's classic "Inala Still The Same".

Impossible Odds' "Everything" from Against All Odds.

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