‘I’m black, I’m trans, and I can actually rap. Plus, I’m pretty... When you have beauty, brains, and talent, that’s some shit they can’t take’
“I could see myself being that bitch,” Quay Dash smiles, recalling the first time she saw Lil’ Kim on TV. But while Kim makes for an easy point of comparison with Dash – both were raised in New York City, both are take-no-prisoners rappers – simply being herself has been enough of a drive in Dash’s life. That life is one of head-turning-til-it-pops-off style, slapping down haters, and spitting raucous rhymes. “These hoes can’t compete cause I’m fly / Mad as fuck everytime I walk by / But they can’t fuck with the Q-U-A-Y / D-A-S-H Queen of NY,” she throws on “Queen of NY” over a stuttering horn sample perfectly suited to a song indebted to New York, the oft-cited throne of hip hop.
Dash has a grit, a braggadocio, and a natural ease that suggests she doesn’t give a damn what you think. She’s armed with a life-long devotion to being herself, but that doesn’t mean her story’s always been easy. The black, trans rapper grew up across New York, including time spent in foster care and group homes. She eventually found a place in the Bronx and the city’s thriving club scene – a long-time haven for the LGBTQ community – and as a result, her music developed an undeniable fluidity and attention to the beat. After a stream of Soundcloud smashes, she brought things together this year on Transphobic, a fierce five-song set that addresses the ignorant hate that she faces, but can’t be reduced to her gender. “I think talking about transgender issues is important,” she explains, “but at the same time, I’m here to make my music and do what I have to do.”
And though Dash uses the EP to put trash talk and idiocy in its place, it also works as a perfect dais from which she can reign as the queen supreme of shit-talking and the baddest rapper in the room. Her verses pounce ferociously, clawing apart the beat with a meticulous yet studied gaze. Dash ranges from Taylor King’s menacing moonlight piano production on “Squared Toe Leather Boot” to SOPHIE’s murky synth and trap percussion on “Bossed Up”, ready at a moment’s notice to shut down the competition. Throughout it all, though, she continues to communicate her truest self, always heroically empowering and brandishing her rap as a compelling loudspeaker in this increasingly noisy world.
In order to get to know the woman behind the bars, we spoke with Dash about what video games provide the best escape, how the rap game responds to transgender issues, and the dark spiral of Twitter.
When you aren’t making music, what’s your typical day like?
Quay Dash: I’m usually at home, so I’ll play video games. I’m such a nostalgic person so I’m still stuck on PS3. I play games like Bayonetta, Soulcalibur V, that’s one of my favorite games. I’m pretty popular online. Then I’ll read emails, make sure that I’m being booked, smoke weed, have a little sex, or just keep writing music for future projects. I am working on my album right now.
Sometimes escaping can do wonders when you’re feeling creatively blocked.
Quay Dash: Oh yeah, if not video games I’ll go online and read something, a blog, Tumblr, Twitter, social media. Or, since since I’m not a social network-head like that, I’ll watch one of my favorite anime on YouTube or an old interview from one of my favourite female rappers from the 90s.
It’s interesting to know that you enjoy looking back, a lot of your music feels heavily rooted in what you’re going through today.
Quay Dash: Yeah, definitely. My music on the EP was mostly about being a black trans woman in America going through a lot of shit – a lot of hate and transphobia. The EP is a kick to the nuts for all those losers out there that can’t stand, or understand, trans women. It’s here to break all those boundaries and obstacles. It’s to say, ‘I’m here, and fuck you all! This is who I am and you’re going to have to live with it. As long as I continue to strive and be successful, you’ll have to deal with that.’
It must be devastating to see the kind of hate and bigotry flaring up lately, particularly Charlottesville. Even when it’s not explicitly an attack on the LGBTQ+ community, more LGBTQ+ people have been killed in what advocacy groups categorise as hate-violence-related homicides so far in 2017 than in all of last year. Does seeing the news trigger you?
Quay Dash: I’m always triggered. I’m always triggered by any LGBT attacks, or any attacks on the community. I always continue to focus on my music because when I try to focus on things on the outside, I tend to overwhelm myself with unwanted and negative thoughts. I pay attention to a lot of things that are going on, but at the same time I need to keep my mind focused on the grind, on my music, because if I let those things bother me I tend to spiral.
Do you aim to make transgender identity a bigger topic of conversation?
Quay Dash: I think talking about transgender issues is important, but at the same time, I’m here to make my music and do what I have to do as a trans woman. Sure, I made that EP (Transphobic) and my music in general is for people like me. I’m here to continue making my music and to keep going. I definitely want to represent people like me who are trans.
Do you feel like New York is open to trans people?
Quay Dash: There are plenty of trans women here, but at the same time, I don’t think that the people living in New York are open-minded to seeing transgender or transexual women outside, living their lives, doing what they want to do. I have a few friends that I can turn to whenever I have an issue or problem. I also have a boyfriend. I can’t condone ignorance or ignorant people. That’s why I have the few friends I have now. (Laughs)
“I’m black, I’m trans, and I can actually rap. Plus, I’m pretty... When you have beauty, brains, and talent, that’s some shit they can’t take” – Quay Dash
Rap has had such trouble with homophobia and misogyny. How does that affect your approach to the genre?
Quay Dash: Definitely. For years, I’ve been hearing gays being bashed, but I don’t hear transgender hate in rap, because they don’t want to talk about it. If they even bring the topic up it’s too much. It’s easier to talk about a gay man than to rap about a trans woman. I feel that across the world, gay men are more widely accepted than trans women. I feel like people are more open-minded and open to seeing a gay person than seeing a trans woman in public.
Why do you think that’s the case?
Quay Dash: I don’t actually know, but I can say this: a lot of people just can’t deal. I feel like a lot of cis women, cis heterosexual men, don’t know themselves, so they have to hate on what they consider weak in their society. They don’t know any better. They’ve grown up in their families and been taught to do this. People in religions are told it’s wrong. I’m not a religious person, but I do believe that everybody in this world should be respected for who they are, not for an aesthetic or a label. Just let people be who they wanna be.
No matter how strong you are, I can’t imagine what you have to go through every day. Was there ever a moment where you felt, ‘I’m wide open now, I wonder if people are going to throw some more hate my way?’
Quay Dash: Oh hell yeah! Especially when I’m in my lyrics like, ‘Yeah, I’ve got a dick and I don’t give a fuck.’ I know that I’m going to get some shit for that. It’s in your face – and it’s probably on your fucking internet history every night whenever you want to get a nut off.
But then why do you think people are hating on you? You rap about it multiple times on the EP.
Quay Dash: I’m intimidating? Obviously, I’m a successful fucking black trans woman. There are not many successful rapping black trans women in this world, so that’s a big threat. The number one threat is that I’m transgender. The other is that I’m black, I’m trans, and I can actually rap. Plus, I’m pretty. I can say I’m pretty? (Laughs) When you have beauty, brains, and talent, that’s some shit they can’t take.
“I was always the life of the party, the class clown. I was never a dickhead, or an asshole... I would talk shit. I think that’s the number one thing: I’m a big shit talker” – Quay Dash
What has your journey been like getting into this music. Were you given the space to speak your mind when you were younger?
Quay Dash: I was never a nerd. (Laughs) I was always the life of the party, the class clown. I was never a dickhead, or an asshole – or a ‘wanker’, as you guys might call it. I would talk shit. I think that’s the number one thing: I’m a big shit talker. My mom and I would be walking down the street and I would point out a person and say, ‘Look at this bitch.’ I’m very much like that. Whatever was on my mind, I would say it out of my mouth. It was sometimes very negative things. I was in group homes and treatment centers for my behaviour. I’ve grown up now.
What was the first rap that you ever wrote?
Quay Dash: (Laughs) I was listening to some beats and all of a sudden, I was like, ‘Let me see if I can write some bars.’ I was probably 19, and one of the first things that I wrote was ‘Pop Triggaz’.
Do you have the first lyric that you wrote?
Quay Dash: Let me rap it for you: ‘So let me just teach ’ya / I am the preacher / Sittin’ naked, dust to dust, get my (blast out) / I am the preacher, nice to meet ya’ / Accepting my defeat, vital facial features / If ya try my patience I’m gonna have to eat ya / Beat ya.’ Aah, damn, I forgot, these lyrics are so old, I don’t even remember word by word.
I know you’re not really a social media-head, but I know it’s important to get out there as an independent artist, and you’ve recently joined conversations about Trump and the transgender military ban. How important is Twitter for you?
Quay Dash: Oh lord. (Laughs) Twitter is an outlet for my frustration. If I’m on Twitter, I’m probably on a plane going somewhere or in my thoughts about something and I need to jot it down. That’s Twitter for me. It’s just too much drama, too negative. I just stay away from that stuff. I can speak on these topics but I feel like it’s just going to be too real for people. When I did try to have these conversations with people in person, I wasn’t successful because people were so against talking about transgender issues. On my Instagram, though, I’ll post something that says, ‘Trans people are not a burden.’ There’s a time and place for everything. I’d rather talk about that face-to-face. What am I going to be getting out of it, likes from my fans? I feel like my music has more substance than writing a simple fucking tweet.
You mentioned that you’re writing an album now. Are you trying anything new, or going along the same vein as the EP? What are some of the things that you’re writing about?
Quay Dash: This album is going to be talking about everything universal, not just focusing on one topic like Transphobic did. This is more me shitting on everybody instead of one group of people. This is me shitting on everyone. Like, everybody. (Laughs) I’m making it clear that I am not to be played with. Don’t fuck with me. That’s what it’s all about. That’s what the album’s about. Don’t fuck with me. I got my shit together, I’m here, don’t fuck with me.
Lead photo by Lauren Gesswein