KIN: Black Lesbians Rock

Lesbian Hip-Hop duo KIN are out to crush stereotypes one stage at a time. Ten years ago, two teenage Mount Vernon, NY based young ladies came together to form a unique group.  MC’s Nor and IQ chose the name KIN and set off to take the world by storm.  Initially, the group was unsure if […]

Lesbian Hip-Hop duo KIN are out to crush stereotypes one stage at a time. Ten years ago, two teenage Mount Vernon, NY based young ladies came together to form a unique group.  MC’s Nor and IQ chose the name KIN and set off to take the world by storm.  Initially, the group was unsure if the world was ready to consider that a lesbian Hip-Hop group with hard core lyrics and beauty to match could be taken seriously. Sought out by major labels, KIN soon learned that their unwillingness to shift focus to physical attributes instead of lyrical abilities would put an end to their dreams of being signed by a major label.  Fast forward to 2008.  Armed with their own label, Noriq Records, an international following, and a recent appearance on the popular PBS series In The Life, the duo continues to prove doubters wrong. In between booking appearances and catching trains, KIN talks with about the challenges of being out MC’s, making an old Neptunes beat new, and that groupie love isn’t just for the fellas.  How did you hook up with Pharrell for the “Good Foot” single?  It sounds like club single.IQ:  It definitely is that club single.  It was through a producer we work with.  We recorded separate.  It was a track that nobody wanted. We brought it into the studio to show what we could do on it. We didn’t get to meet him.  We laid it down and put it out.  Nor:  It was an underground freestyle type of joint. A lot of times because we produce our own tracks, we wanted to show that we can perform to our own tracks or a Neptune’s tracks or a Timbaland track.   [KIN f/ Pharrell “Good Foot”]  Was it necessary for you as artists, especially as Hip-Hop artist, to be out as MC’s?  Nor:  As far as sexuality is concerned, it was something that we would conceal early on in our careers due to feedback that we would get from people who were already established in the industry and them trying to make us hide it.  That was never a desire you shared? You never wanted to do that?Nor:  No, never.  We always wanted to be true to ourselves.  We believe if you are not a real person, at the end of the day, people are going to recognize that.   It’s not like we could ever pretend to be anything other than ourselves.  As we developed…took our career into our own hands, and wanted to do what we wanted to do, it was whatever.  It’s not something that we necessarily promote in our music.  You won’t hear in detail about it.  In interviews we are candid about it and we’re not ashamed.  People support that.  There is an untapped market for it. IQ:  I’ll be honest, when I first started it was a struggle.  When I came out at fourteen I didn’t want to be gay.  We have been rapping for ten years.  We didn’t want to be seen as gay rappers.  We noticed that we had talent and if we weren’t trying to be like “I’m a big gay rapper talking about girls.”  I wanted people to recognize me as an MC, that I put  together a studio, and an engineer. I wanted them to get that first.  In the beginning I felt like that was all they would see.  We were eighteen and had a meeting with a big A&R.  He told us we weren’t f—able.  When you tell that to an eighteen year old you die.  You get crushed.  And then you grow up and realize you are who you are.  We try to focus on making good music.  We had to try and convince people that we were talented first and didn’t wear it on our sleeves.  People always made assumptions, so why did we have to hide it anyway?  Nor:  We woke up one day and said as a female rap group, as a Hip-Hop group, you know what the struggle is performing and getting on the road.  The people in our community were supporting us.  We were touring.  These are people in my community that deem us famous enough to get paid.  No major record label deal.  And these are people from the gay community.  How can I look at them and not release all that it is that I am when they are the only people that are supporting me?  That really started to flip in my head about five years ago when we really started to tour heavy.  The people in the LGBT community wanted to support us. I wanted to not disrespect that.  What bothers you about having to discuss your sexuality along with your music?Nor:  Good music is good music.   A lot of times people put too much emphasis on people’s sexual preferences. If I decide I date women in life and that’s my sexual preference, what’s that have to do with me making a hit record?  What’s that have to do with you listening to my music while you driving in your car bobbing your head so hard that your neck hurts?  In the back of your mind will you wonder if I date women?  And if I do, you aren’t going to be my fan anymore? People put too much emphasis on the things that don’t count.  What has been the reaction to your appearance on In The Life?Nor:  I recently got an email from a fan that saw us on In The Life. She said, “Wow, you’re gay?  Don’t worry; I’m still your fan.”  I was [thinking] OK.  Thanks for doing me a favor.IQ:  I’m getting a different response [from the show].  I get people that aren’t even discussing sexuality and it’s beautiful. They think the show was great and so positive. And they are not gay.  There was some fear with that ’cause we actually were coming out on film.  Anyone could look it up and there was some fear with that.  We are out in our lives but I had to get ready for the negative feedback. But thus far, its been nothing but  What is there to be worried about?IQ:  We are in the process of putting out our mix tape, and I just put that in a song on it.  Could what I say effect my sales?  There is nothing to be afraid of!  Who cares!  Nor:  People are going to say what they want regardless.  Even if we denied it, had boyfriends and the whole nine, people would still have something to say about us.  You are not somebody until someone points that gay word at you.  But they’ll get over it because you can’t deny that our music is good.   People are overlooking the fact that we just did an episode about being gay.  People enjoy looking at us physically.  There isn’t anything to worry about unless people want to gay bash and throw stones.  If we tour and go to a certain state where that may not be accepted, but that could happen to anybody.  I’m black.  I been scared since I came out the womb and before I knew what gay  As you get older and experience more things, life can have you rhyming differently because you think differently.  What can you say has changed the most about your rhyme style from the time KIN came together until now?  IQ:  I found my voice.  When we first started the group ten years ago in the 90’s, the glory days of Hip-Hop, we imitated.  Our first songs we tried to sound rough.  I became comfortable with my voice and experience.  If you listen to our first album Kin 4 Life, I talked about a lot of murder stuff.  I never murdered anybody!  I realized that there were things I have experienced in my life that were much greater than copying all the imaginary gun play. I found out that KIN had a story to tell that people wanted to listen to whether it be clever rhymes, stories, our father not being in our lives or whatever the case may be.  We have a story that the majority of the world who is not into the street and guns can relate to. Nor: You find your swagger.  You find your place, niches, things that you want to discuss, and how you want to discuss them.  Early we had a lot of vulgarity and cursing.  That’s what you hear and that’s what you copy.  As you mature and really develop as an artist, you’ll say things in a more eloquent manner as opposed to “F**k you” and “F**k this.”  You gotta break it down for people.  How hard is it to write a rhyme when you don’t feel inspired? Nor:  It’s not hard because writing comes easily.  We can make fun of it and get it done.  We don’t do too many songs where we don’t feel the track.  A lot of times we can write and make the track sound hotter than it originally sounded.IQ:  We flip that energy around.  People are always trying to make us prove ourselves to them.  Nobody ever believes that we produced that track or that I just wrote that [rhyme] ten minutes ago.  When we record over other peoples things, we try to exceed and go above and beyond to challenge ourselves.  A lot of times when we are on other peoples tracks, regardless of if it’s hot or not, those will be some of our hottest verses.  They are looking and expecting us to be these two wack females.  What was the defining moment when you knew you could sustain yourselves as a group in the Hip-Hop game?Nor:  It was always a passion. Deep gut passion.  Originally IQ wanted to manage me.  I was like, “Nah you need to be in the group.” I thought she was an ill MC.  From the first time we built our first studio and sold our own records, we just knew that this is what we were destined to do. Passion keeps us going.  If you don’t love what you do you can’t keep up with it.  IQ:  We have that friendship.  The turning point for me was when I knew that people weren’t going to give us record deals after that whole incident at the record label when we were told we weren’t f—kable.  We should just go out there and do like the white bands did back in the day—get a van and start touring.  When we went to Cali the first year and didn’t have any shows.  We came back the second year and had two shows.  The third year we had eleven shows in nine days.  I walked into a club called the Monte Cristo and this female walked up to us with our first album in her hand.  She had no idea we were going to be there.  She yelled, “That’s KIN 4 Life!”  If someone can be all these miles away from my home and someone is walking around with my album I put out two years ago, then we should keep doing it.  That’s when it clicked for me.  I said I can’t do nothing but this.[Kin “Falling Out Of Love”]  How is the groupie love?Nor:  It’s crazy! But you have to weed through the people that are really insane. It is what it is.  We get people that drive or fly hours to see us perform.  We have heard people driving from the Bay Area to LA to see us perform.  Renting hotels room to try and get us there.  All kinds of s**  Can fans be friend?Nor:  Fans, yes.  Can groupies be friends? That’s a different thing.  I don’t think so.  IQ:  Fans flip when they become friends. They start thinking they are close enough that they can start kicking it with you.  It depends.  Don’t sleep.  Everyone talks about our sexuality but I have some major male groupies.  What’s next for KIN?IQ:  We’ll be in Philly in February at an event.  We were in a documentary called black./womyn.:conversations… that’s going to be in a film festival.  It’s talking about the LGBT perspective from the African-American side.  Unfortunately, we didn’t get to focus on being black on In the Life. This is an opportunity for us to talk about the separate struggles being an African American.  How important are the live performances?Nor:  People that may not believe we are hot on a record they have to believe it in person.IQ:  It is the most important aspect of our career because that is where we were able to not have a record deal, Hot 100 single, no spins on radio and get promoters to book us.  Because of the work we did in our first five years the way we performed has changed our whole careers.  People come in and say, “Oh God, females rapping.”  But we get on the stage and rock out!  Nor:  You don’t want us to open the show.IQ:  I’ve never seen this in the music industry.  There is a group called Team Gina out of Seattle.  They asked us to open up for them on their mini tour.  When they came to the Knitting Factory we tore it down.  When they performed in Atlanta, they changed the bill around and they opened for us.  They couldn’t go on after us.  Nor:  Jin that was signed to Ruff Ryders did the same thing.IQ:  He thought they were screaming Jin but they were screaming KIN.  We get our love from the guys.  We had to go above and beyond to win them over.Nor:  The energy of the live band took us three thousand notches higher. We perform in front of all people and the response is always, “You f**king girls are amazing.”  IQ: That’s the only way we can win over the non believers.  Come check out a live show.  If you don’t like it, you never have to talk to me again.  No one has stopped talking to us  What do you want the KIN legacy to be?Nor:  When Hip-Hop was it its lowest point to bring it back.  Things evolve. Things change.  If you can’t evolve then you have nothing.  We’ve evolved the game.  There is no black woman in the game—acting, art, whatever, that doesn’t give a f**k.  I can only think of a few people who are out and black.  Me’shell Ndegeocello.  But she’s not even in Hip-Hop.  We are doing something that’s scary. We are taking a major chance. IQ:  Remember us as being intelligent business women, artist, musicians, and that we weren’t afraid.  When people say it’s not cool to be who you are or love who you are– we decided to love who we were. We are just trying to put together good music.   www.kin4life.com