Tim’m West is an Chicago-based college educator, author, poet, and hip-hop emcee. His fourth solo project, Fly-Brotha, was just released and he’s performing this Saturday night in Austin, Texas, at an event he calls The Front Porch, a mix of open mic artists and featured guests. I recently talked with him about his latest release and new happenings with his publishing company, Red Dirt.
Listen to “A Real Man (feat. Quentin Adams)” and “Acrobatics (ft. DDm)” from Fly-Brotha.
GLM: Tim’m, what is the conceptual story behind your latest release, Fly-Brotha?
Tim’m: “Fly-Brotha'” was initially a song created for a movie by Basil Shadid called “heart breaks open”. It tells the story of a young man of color who finds out that he has HIV and must find a driving force to live. I initially did the song “Fly Brotha'” for the movie– thinking about own life as a POZ individual and the will to survive (now 13 years and going). When David E.F.P of 2osos in Houston, who created the music for “Fly-Brotha” shot a video for “Fly-Brotha'” the response was so favorable that people wanted to know where they could get the single. However, there was no project to speak of; and any soundtrack for the movie would be held up until the film did its festival run and found its way into public release Fall 2011 (at best). So essentially, i formed an album around that concept. “Fly-Brotha” is not just a noun but a verb and call to action. It references the term “fly” which is also a popular adjective during “Golden Era” Hip-Hop”: “you fly…believe it”. But it also reference “flight” as a command for those shackled and imprisoned, sometimes by their own shame and fear, to soar. From songs about finding courage to love (again), to commentary about bullying, or the insidious bigotry of heteronormativity in Hip Hop, “Fly-Brotha” challenges the Hip Hop mainstream with brave, soulful tracks and some of the best production I have experienced in my solo career. I believe it to be my most polished conceptual project to date.
GLM: You’re a pioneer in presenting hip-hop for and by gays, starting with the DeepDickolletive in the 90’s. Has the gay community ever really accepted rap/hip-hop music?
Tim’m: The gay community largely still sees Hip-Hop music and culture as homophobic. With the younger generations of gays (of all races) having embraced Hip-Hop moreso, there’s a burgeoning movement of openly gay hip hop artists that DDC and others helped pave the way for. Still, among older gays, there’s still the preference for disco divas, drag, or go-go boys when it comes to entertainment. If I had to rely on the gay community for sole support, I wouldn’t be doing music. Fortunately, progressive Hip Hop fans have been among the more consistent supporter of my work. We are starting to see positive changes and people who claim they “don’t like Hip Hop” see messaging that reflects LGBT experiences.. and is still good music. It takes education…and there’s still a way to go. There’s also gay racism that has a fear of Hip Hop given its roots and associations with urban people of color youth cultures. It’s almost as if some gays fear that if you allow Hip Hop, you’ll get gun-fights…. and I’ve never seen violence at a gay hip hop event, but that’s often the racist expectation. I have heard homophobic Hip-Hop songs at gay clubs, but never gay rap music. Go figure!?
GLM: You speak a lot of relationships in your music. It seems that there’s a higher public visibility of Black gay men given recent self-outings by sports figures like former Villanova University player, Will Sheridan, and media professionals like Don Lemon (CNN) (both in May 2011) and the explosion of online dating sites specifically for gay men. Are these situations making it easier for black gay male relationships?
Tim’m: While there is more visibility of gay black men in media, it doesn’t translate into the visibility of healthy relationships between gay black men. One of my songs on “Fly Brotha” (“A Real Man, featuring Quentin Adams) deals with the challenges of being “out” (about my bisexuality and HIV status) and how a seemingly plentiful pool of dating partners becomes very small, due to most black men not being comfortable with themselves… and in particular if you happen to desire masculine-identified black men. I think there’s still work to do as it pertains to relationship visibility (of all sorts and types) before more black men can develop templates for how they can manage relationships in healthy ways. Many black gay men feel like they have to go into hiding when they find a partner in order to save their relationships. I find that kind of sad. I write a lot about love and the search for it, because I haven’t truly found it. I haven’t given up and remain hopeful. I deserve and desire a good, supportive relationship.
GLM: Let’s also talk about your new one-man show, “Ready, Set, Grow”. How did this concept come about?
Tim’m: “Ready, Set, Go: a coming of age story” is simply a montage of spoken word and music pieces that, together, tell the story of what black men (and more specifically black gay/bi men) do when they aren’t given rites of passage for how to become men. We “make do” and figure things out on our own… often with tragic stumbles, some of which can prove to be deadly. After all the years of performing, people had began to ask why I hadn’t mobilized the music, poetry, etc into a theatrical body of work. It’s a challenge. Theater is a different animal, and beyond early college acting, I was never much a devotee of the discipline. Still, I appreciate how I’ve had to grow as an artist to tell a powerful and redemptive story of my own “growing pains” and offer hope and understanding to those who’ve seen it.
GLM: Since you’re also an author of three books and contributor to several anthologies, can fans expect new written work in the next twelve months?
Tim’m: I’m publishing my 4th collection “pre|dispositions” in 2012/Summer, which follows a new 2nd/10 year Anniversary Edition of “Red Dirt Revival: a poetic memoir in 6 breaths” by South End Press. I’m fortunate to have a book that will be carried by a well-known press and this will bridge some of the challenges I’ve had with keeping my most popular work in circulation. I’m also publishing 3 books through my Red Dirt Publishing imprint: “Collisions: a collection of Intersections” by L. Michael Gipson (well know to many for his work as a soul music critic), “Shadows and Lights” by celebrated actor Cornelius Jones, Jr., and “Lip Sync” by poet S. Velvet Noose. It’s been great to be in a position where I’m afforded an opportunity to help other writers get their work out there. It has been hard work though. Lastly, I have a piece that will be published in the Keith Boykin edited, Mangus Books forthcoming title “For Colored Boys who have considered Suicide with the Rainbow is Still not Enough”.
Hear Tim’m West live this Saturday night at the Victory Grill, along with several artists including, Jurni Rayne, the Qure, and Smut Stud. The Victory Grill is located at 1104 E. 11th Street in Austin, Texas. The show is free before 8:30pm; $5 after. For more information, call 512-472-2001 or email allgo[at]allgo.org