This Black History Month, Atwood Magazine has invited artists to participate in a series of essays, interviews, reviews, poetry, playlists, and more features in recognition of, and out of respect for the symbolism and significance of this month.
Today, Trans Trenderz artists Blxck Cxsper, Lazarus Letcher, Jupiter Gray, and Jæ share some of their top musical influences as a part of Atwood Magazine’s Black History Month series. Trans Trenderz was launched in 2016 when Cxsper curated and produced a mixtape of the same name, featuring 14 Trans artists. The feeling at the release party was unlike anything they had experienced before. “You could feel how excited people were to finally see Trans folks on stage. It didn’t feel like a show, more like a family reunion,” they explain. “There was no hierarchy between the artist and the audience, everybody was contributing to the love in that room in their own way.” Wanting to continue to provide that space for themselves and other like-minded artists, Trans Trenderz officially evolved into a record label, signing Transgender and gender non-conforming acts.
In June of 2020, when the Black Lives Matter movement regained traction, Cxsper offered to make beats for other Black Trans artists. Within days, 30 artists reached out to them to collaborate. Around the same time, Myla, a Black Trans woman from Dallas, TX, contacted Cxsper wanting to donate some of her PUA money to help Black Trans people. They decided to use the funds to cover release costs for Black Trans musicians, and a new endeavor, The Ghostly Beats Project, was born. As soon as it was announced, Black Trans artists and allies alike began to get in touch to become involved, and it has continued to grow from there. More than a label, Trans Trenderz is a movement, uplifting Black Trans Voices through creative collaboration and supporting each other as a family. They recently partnered with producer/engineer Joel Hamilton of Studio G Brooklyn, where Trans Trenderz artists are now recording singles.
There are several genre-spanning new releases in the works from Trans Trenderz artists, including rapper/singer, Jupiter Gray, R&B/pop singer-songwriter, Jæ, indie-folk/soul singer-songwriter, Apollo Flowerchild, electro-pop singer, Heather Hills, and hip-hop artist Lady Londyn. “There isn’t one way to look or sound Trans, and we want our repertoire to showcase that,” says Cxsper. “People in our communities are groundbreakers and we are expecting genres to mash and merge and new sounds to be created.”
Our Top Influences
by Trans Trenderz
Blxck Cxsper: Growing up, I used to lock myself in my room when I felt overwhelmed by life and would listen to ‘Histoires Extraordinaires d’un Jeune de Banlieue’, the album by French rapper Disiz La Peste. A record about being a marginalized kid with dreams bigger than his resources. Back then I felt so lost and Disiz made me feel seen. He taught me that genius doesn’t have to be a white man in academia, genius is the black kid who dreams of being a rapper too. He made me feel like even though we had never met, he believed in me and my dreams and when I felt like I didn’t want to live anymore, his songs gave me the energy to keep pushing. The way that he constantly showed love to his audience by dedicating songs to them, never being afraid of being dorky or making songs that were out of the norm and being transparent about his journey in the music industry helped me figure out what type of artist I wanted to be. Honest, with integrity and unconditional love for the people who feel touched by my art and inspire me to keep creating.
Jupiter Gray: Angel Haze and Nicki Minaj have been significant to me. Nicki represents this era of rebranding and really understanding and setting the new standard for success as a black feminine figure in music and hip-hop. She has shown me that I can express myself in these more playful and sensual ways in my music. Angel Haze has influenced me a lot in my writing and in finding comfort in being different and being the outsider. She has continuously evolved yet maintained her sense of self and as an artist that’s a skill that’s so valuable. Angel is also in the LGBTQ+ community so as a Black Trans artist it showed me that I can spit aggressively, direct and up front and that I don’t adhere to any social stigmas that people may have of me.
Lazarus Letcher: My two biggest influences are Richie Havens and Odetta. I was raised playing classical music and loving folk music on the side – both scenes are incredibly white. I will never forget the first time I watched Richie Havens play at Woodstock. The way he turned his guitar into a percussion instrument, the sweat pouring down his face and body, and the energy he maintained for a four hour performance. His improvisation, “Freedom,” where he ad-libbed and wove in the negro spiritual, “Motherless Child,” will forever give me chills. Odetta’s covers of Dylan taught me how to interpret another’s writing and put my heart and soul into all works, not just my own. The way she honors the original while bringing her full voice and ancestry to every goddamn note is a lesson in art.
Jæ: An artist I think of as immensely influential for me would be Nina Simone. She had a respect for music that was so intense. She hated when people sang along at her concerts, which is hilarious but so endearing to me. Jazz and R&B music were my earliest influences. Hearing “My Baby Just Cares For Me,” and her renditions of “Felings,” and “Strange Fruit,” awoke something in me. Regardless of whether Nina was singing a rendition of a Great American Songbook song or an original work she approached performing with the same uniqueness and brazen Blackness; she wasn’t clean and square with anything she did. She breathes life into lyrics and chose shocking material for her time. She was a fury of a woman who never held her tongue. She’s credited as the first person to curse on radio with “Mississipi Goddamn,” she’s badass with purpose! Even her voice, a velvet and dark contralto with a fast-moving vibrato, is powerful to listen to as a Trans singer. Nina is someone who deserves her flowers, and though I make music very different from hers I know her influence lives in me.
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