From Zambia, Backxwash [MTL] is a queer and trans rapper who emotes anger in their social commentary on queerness, blackness, and witchcraft. After putting out Deviancy on Grimalkin records, they have been consistently playing shows in Ottawa and Montreal and will be heading to St. John’s on August 22nd for Out of Earshot.
Photo by Bianca Lecompte
In conversation with Backxwash [she/they], they told me about her growth as a musician, the importance of music as a form of expression, the power of anger as an emotion, and what she hopes their music can inspire in other people.
To give a bit of history, I started making music when I was 13 years old. What happened was, before that, my sister came home with this, like, cd, and she was playing Mo Money Mo Problems by The Notorious B.I.G. I used to listen to music before that, but it was usually slow r&b because that was a really popular genre back in the 90’s. That’s how I started getting into more rap and hip hop. At 13, I remember getting a pirated copy of ethnostudio and trying to make beats but they were not good at all. They were terrible. They made no sense at all.
When she moved to Canada, she was encouraged to take a break from music to concentrate on their studies. After discovering parts of herself, and her identity, they felt pulled to Montreal to explore that more freely.
It was a weird time when I was moving to Montreal. I wanted to express myself, but at the same time, being in Montreal, it was almost like there was something in the air that makes you want to do something creative. I landed in Montreal, and within the first few days of living there I looked up a hip hop cypher and that’s how I found this place called Le Cypher. I went there and it kind of like re-sparked that interest.
Backxwash [named aptly over something straight folks find disgusting] is a project that is driven by passion and communicated through anger.
When it comes to writing raps, I cant write about something that is not important to me or doesn’t hold a special position in what I’m feeling. At this point, the only thing I can write about right now is my identity because that’s what I’m passionate about. I didn’t want to approach it in a preachy way because other people can do that type of music. For me, I like it when it’s angry. Being angry is an under-rated emotion, that’s what I feel.
I started writing these raps about how I feel and was like, okay, I got the raps down. I’m still self-conscious about my voice, so I had to do what I had to do to make it sound a bit cool. Doing more things at Le Cypher allowed me to find my rap voice. If you compare the voice I use in F.R.E.A.K.S., the first project that I did, to the voice that I use now, it’s like really different. It sounds much more aggressive, loud, and intense versus the one in the first EP that didn’t really sound that way even though I tried.
In her lyrics and the voice she uses, Backxwash proactively addresses and pushes back against oppression. In “Burn Me at the Stake” on Deviancy, she raps “ever since I started rapping, I put a target on my back / I just thought I should be smarter than I am / For every bullet that they shoot I’ll take it harder as I can / I thought this shit was much harder THAN I PLANNED”. Driven by lived experience, the words expressed and the way they are expressed, set a zero tolerance standard for any discriminatory harm or violence even before it happens.
If you’re an oppressor, in order for me to feel completely safe, I’m going to lash out at you. If you’re sitting in a room as an oppressed person, and an oppressor comes into the room, even though they haven’t done anything to you at that moment, you don’t feel safe because you know what they are capable of.
By making herself vulnerable, and sharing her experience through her music, she is empowering and lifting up other folks in the trans community.
A friend of mine tells me that they listen to it when they want to feel a bad ass and I’m like, alright, that’s cool. I’m happy that there are spaces for such music because growing up, and facing racism, i felt so bad ass when I thought I was part of the N.W.A. or Chuck Keith from Public Enemy, you know? I want people in the trans community to be able to have that feeling.
Their most recent release, Deviancy, was put out by Grimalkin records on July 12th 2019. Grimalkin is a record label and collective comprised of artists from all over the world that raises money to support social justice and civil rights organizations. Sales from Deviancy were donated to Project 10 and Nationz Foundation.
It was a good opportunity to donate money to the organizations. It’s the most press I’ve ever gotten over a project and it’s allowed a larger audience to donate some money to the organizations. I’ve been really happy to be working with them and using my music to help people.
QTBIPOC folks have always paved the way for other queer and trans folks. Backxwash, through their music and the ways they distribute their music, is continuing this legacy.
When are we going to catch a break? We cant. Its our existence. We have to fight.
See them on August 22nd at The Ship with Gossamer, Worst Lay, and Grief.
Contribution by Nik A Basset