In­ter­view with Lu­cas Char­lie Rose



There’s no short­age of twen­tysome­things who won­der whether or not they’ll make it in the real world, but 26-year-old singer­song­writer and ac­tivist Lu­cas Char­lie Rose ig­nores those nag­ging thoughts. In­stead, the artist has been steadily work­ing on his mu­sic from his ele­men­tary school days back in France. For the past eight years, Rose has been rap­ping and mak­ing hip hop mu­sic in Mon­treal, and has re­cently started a non-profit record la­bel called Trans Tren­derz to pro­vide a plat­form for trans artists to pro­mote their mu­sic. In ad­di­tion to his mu­si­cal pur­suits, Rose par­tic­i­pates in pan­els and con­fer­ence about de­col­o­niza­tion, men­tal health in Black com­mu­ni­ties, and trans is­sues. I had the op­por­tu­nity to sit down with Rose in Fe­bru­ary and dis­cuss his mu­sic, ac­tivism, and his ef­forts to make space for marginal­ized iden­ti­ties in the mu­sic in­dus­try.

AB: When did you start mak­ing mu­sic?

LCR: I was in ele­men­tary school, and I had this one teacher who would bring his gui­tar to class and teach us po­ems through mu­sic. He put them into song be­cause it was eas­ier for us to re­mem­ber. At the time I was al­ready writ­ing po­ems, but this was huge for me be­cause I re­al­ized I could make my own songs.

AB: So where did you grow up?

LCR: I was born in France. When I was nine years old I moved to Niger for three years and then back to France for three years. Then I did my last three years of high school in Washington.

AB: What’s it like mov­ing around that much? LCR: It’s weird. Like I’m in Canada, but I’m not Cana­dian, but I don’t feel French ei­ther. I don’t feel like I be­long any­where. Be­cause I’ve lived in so many coun­tries, I al­ways won­der why coun­tries ex­ist, it just doesn’t seem to make too much sense.

Mak­ing mu­sic that makes sense

AB: How did you get started mak­ing hip hop mu­sic?

LCR: I don’t re­ally know. That was the type of mu­sic that I was into at the time and I could re­late to. Hip hop is for peo­ple who look like me and who don’t re­ally have a voice. I just con­nected with the mu­sic. I was in a rock band at one point, but that’s ex­pen­sive. You have to pay for the in­stru­ments, re­hearsal space, and at some point I didn’t have re­sources to keep go­ing. But with hip hop, you re­ally only need a com­puter and you’re good. AB: Can you tell me a lit­tle about your mu­sic? And about Gen­der F*ck­boi?

LCR: I like to de­scribe it as trap­in­fused soul mu­sic. I love mix­ing the sounds. Gen­der F*ck­boi is an al­bum about me, re­ally. 2017 was a rough year for me and Gen­der F*ck­boi were the songs I wrote that year. For me, it’s al­most like a jour­nal. When I’m writ­ing mu­sic like that, most of the time I’m not re­ally think­ing about the lyrics that are com­ing out. It’s just com­ing out. I’m learn­ing about my­self in the process. That’s why I called it Gen­der F*ck­boi. First of all, be­ing a Black mas­cu­line per­son, you’re seen as misog­y­nis­tic, as op­pres­sive. You don’t have to do any­thing; you’re just au­to­mat­i­cally seen like that. And I’m try­ing to re­de­fine Black mas­culin­ity as well with this al­bum.

Its a po­lit­i­cal life

AB: What does your work aim to say and how does it com­ment on so­cial and po­lit­i­cal is­sues?

LCR: I’m just try­ing to be heard. Peo­ple don’t re­ally lis­ten to us trans peo­ple. But at the same time, I don’t want peo­ple to see me ex­clu­sively as a trans artist. I’m an artist who hap­pens to be trans. So my mu­sic is just about the things that I’m ex­pe­ri­enc­ing and peo­ple call it po­lit­i­cal be­cause my life is po­lit­i­cal. It’s a po­lit­i­cal opin­ion to de­cide whether or not I should be al­lowed to live. I’m just try­ing to sur­vive in this world. AB: Your work also brings at­ten­tion to the Black com­mu­nity, the trans com­mu­nity, and the Black trans com­mu­nity. So in that con­text what does vis­i­bil­ity mean to you? Are there any neg­a­tive con­se­quences to that vis­i­bil­ity?

LCR: Yeah, of course. If peo­ple see you, but don’t see you the way you want to be seen, then that vis­i­bil­ity isn’t help­ful. It’s fine to have trans peo­ple on TV and all but then if you’re not show­ing any­thing be­yond the fact that this char­ac­ter or per­son needs surgery, then you’re just ob­jec­ti­fy­ing their bod­ies. Vis­i­bil­ity then also re­lates to who is in power and in con­trol of the nar­ra­tive. If trans peo­ple are in con­trol of their own nar­ra­tive, then that’s the only vis­i­bil­ity that is ac­tu­ally help­ful. But that also comes at a price, be­cause the more vis­i­ble you are when you’re dif­fer­ent, the more haters and death threats you get, which un­for­tu­nately, is re­ally common.

AB: You helped to es­tab­lish Trans Tren­derz–what is it? What do you hope to do through it?

LCR: It’s a non-profit record la­bel for trans artists. We want to re­lease mu­sic that’s avail­able for free. So if you don’t have enough money to buy the CD, you can down­load the mu­sic online for free. We alswo help other artists re­lease their own mu­sic. We’re not like other la­bels where we tell the artists to pay us back the money it took to pro­duce their mu­sic. I wanted to cre­ate a sys­tem that pro­tects the artist and where there isn’t the pres­sure to be mak­ing money af­ter­wards. I’m also work­ing on de­vel­op­ing the web­site so that there is a fo­rum for trans peo­ple who make mu­sic and peo­ple who want to work with them to con­nect and learn more about each other. I’m try­ing to build a com­mu­nity be­cause I re­ally be­lieve that mu­sic can change the world, es­pe­cially when I see peo­ple like Ri­hanna, who [at­tended a con­fer­ence on ed­u­ca­tion with the French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron]. Peo­ple who make mu­sic have so much po­ten­tial to change the world. Trans peo­ple, we haven’t re­ally used that av­enue yet. My goal is to build up this com­mu­nity and em­power each other.

AB: It makes sense that the artists are pro­tected, but why the fo­cus on mak­ing the mu­sic free?

LCR: Be­cause be­ing a trans per­son costs a lot of money, we can’t al­ways af­ford CDS and mu­sic and go­ing to shows. I also wanted to be able to have a plat­form where trans peo­ple can go and lis­ten to mu­sic that’s

“It’s fine to have trans peo­ple on TV and all but then if you’re not show­ing any­thing be­yond the fact that this char­ac­ter or per­son needs surgery, then you’re just ob­jec­ti­fy­ing their bod­ies. Vis­i­bil­ity then also re­lates to who is in power and in con­trol of the nar­ra­tive.”

— Lu­cas Char­lie Rose

“So my mu­sic is just about the things that I’m ex­pe­ri­enc­ing and peo­ple call it po­lit­i­cal be­cause my life is po­lit­i­cal. It’s a po­lit­i­cal opin­ion to de­cide whether or not I should be al­lowed to live. I’m just try­ing to sur­vive in this world.”

— Lu­cas Char­lie Rose

“It’s great that hip hop has this huge vis­i­bil­ity, but it’s so main­stream now. It’s be­come a mat­ter of keep­ing hip hop in its rawest form — us­ing it to give voice to marginal­ized peo­ple.”

— Lu­cas Char­lie Rose

made by peo­ple that have the same ex­pe­ri­ences.

AB: What do you think the artist’s re­spon­si­bil­ity is to their au­di­ence?

LCR: When you’re an artist, you have to keep in mind that with­out your au­di­ence you’re noth­ing. For me, the re­spon­si­bil­ity is be­ing true to your­self. You don’t want to be­come a crook, or ad­ver­tise vi­o­lence or things that could hurt your au­di­ence. You have to be re­spect­ful to the peo­ple who lis­ten to you. But you also have to be gen­uine in what you do. It’s a pro­fes­sional re­la­tion­ship be­tween the artist and the au­di­ence; at a show the au­di­ence is es­sen­tially hir­ing you, so you need to re­spect that. At the same time, the au­di­ence needs to re­spect the artist’s pri­vate life, and too of­ten peo­ple just don’t. Just be­cause I make mu­sic and I talk about fall­ing in love, that doesn’t mean you can come into my pri­vate life and sneak around. Re­spect­ing those bound­aries is just so im­por­tant.

This mo­ment in mu­sic

AB: Okay, so let’s move on to mu­sic more broadly. What does this mo­ment in mu­sic mean for artists of colour?

LCR: Hip-hop is the most salient mu­sic genre right now. As a re­sult, it feels like a mat­ter of time be­fore it be­comes a white dom­i­nated genre. When you see peo­ple like Post Malone it feels more that way. Even back when Eminem was start­ing off, it wasn’t like ev­ery­one said ‘you’re white, you don’t be­long here.’ Ev­ery­one was prais­ing him, even though he is lowkey medi­ocre. He doesn’t chal­lenge any­thing, but he’s still mak­ing so much money. It’s great that hip hop has this huge vis­i­bil­ity, but it’s so main­stream now. It’s be­come a mat­ter of keep­ing hip hop in its rawest form — us­ing it to give voice to marginal­ized peo­ple. When I say marginal­ized I mean peo­ple who aren’t rep­re­sented in the mu­sic in­dus­try. Peo­ple who you don’t see when you watch mu­sic videos or t.v. shows. Black peo­ple are still marginal­ized. We’re still marginal­ized within the mu­sic in­dus­try. It’s not like Nicki Mi­naj doesn’t ex­pe­ri­ence racism just be­cause she’s mak­ing money. It’s just a mat­ter of dif­fer­ent priv­i­leges.

AB: What is your re­sponse to the claim that main­stream hip hop is filled with misog­yny and ho­mo­pho­bia?

LCR: I think it’s racist. Black peo­ple aren’t more misog­y­nis­tic or ho­mo­pho­bic than other peo­ple. If you lis­ten to pop mu­sic right now it’s ac­tu­ally a lot worse. If a Black artist is singing about go­ing to a strip club, every­body thinks it’s misog­y­nis­tic. But how is it misog­y­nis­tic? Is it misog­y­nis­tic to give money to a strip­per? Of course it’s not. You’re sup­port­ing lo­cal busi­nesses and hip hop is a genre that em­braces sex work in a way that oth­ers just don’t. There are a lot of songs that are cat­e­go­rized as be­ing misog­y­nis­tic be­cause it’s just Black peo­ple talk­ing about sex. For ex­am­ple, there is a song by YG, about go­ing to a strip club and bring­ing a girl home. But he says that he still calls her the next day and re­spects her. So you have to think about how white peo­ple see us. There is work to be done sure, but one of the big­gest prob­lems in hip hop right now is that it’s white peo­ple who own the ma­jor­ity of the la­bels. So the nar­ra­tive is not one of lib­er­a­tion. When you’re a white per­son and you own a record la­bel, Black peo­ple are your pup­pets. You de­cide what comes out of that la­bel. For me, when some­body says that hip hop is misog­y­nis­tic or trans­pho­bic or dis­crim­i­na­tory, I want them to crit­i­cize what they’re lis­ten­ing to first. Es­pe­cially when it comes to the ac­tual lan­guage be­ing used. You have to be aware of the con­text in which the words are be­ing used.

AB: How do you go about try­ing to chal­lenge this nar­ra­tive that Black mas­culin­ity is fun­da­men­tally op­pres­sive?

LCR: I talk a lot about Black trans men. Some­times peo­ple will look at me and think, well, now you have male priv­i­lege, but that’s not re­ally how priv­i­lege works. Cis men, when they look at me, don’t see some­one who looks like them. They’re still vi­o­lent to­wards my body. Trans peo­ple are of­ten seen to be tran­si­tion­ing to please cis-male sex­u­al­ity. The trans male priv­i­lege is con­di­tional. I have it if I’m walk­ing down the street, but as soon as I pull out my pa­pers it dis­ap­pears. As soon as peo­ple rec­og­nize me on the street, I’m outed. And it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber that when we’re talk­ing about male priv­i­lege, we’re talk­ing about white male priv­i­lege. Be­cause does Black male priv­i­lege re­ally ex­ist? Is it re­ally a priv­i­lege in most sit­u­a­tions? That’s what’s go­ing to get you shot. So I’m hop­ing that the way that I ex­press my mas­culin­ity can help cis men as well.

Tun­ing in to dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tives

AB: What does be­ing an ally look like to you?

LCR: Imag­ine that you’re at Madi­son Square Gar­den, and it’s com­pletely sold out and peo­ple are there to watch you per­form. But you don’t have a mi­cro­phone. You’re try to sing louder and louder un­til even­tu­ally your voice breaks. You keep singing, but after a while you’re tired and it doesn’t even mat­ter that peo­ple are leav­ing and you’re singing only to one per­son now. You can’t even do that now be­cause your voice is just gone. Your mes­sage doesn’t get across. All you needed was a mi­cro­phone. That’s what an ally is. An ally is there to am­plify your voice. To make your life eas­ier when you’re try­ing to get your mes­sage out there. But when you’re not per­form­ing, it’s turned off. It doesn’t have a role.

AB: If you could pick one ac­com­plish­ment that you’re most proud of, what would it be?

LCR: I think just the fact that I’m still mak­ing mu­sic. Be­cause it’s re­ally not easy. I’m re­ally proud of the fact that I’ve had fail­ures but I’m still go­ing. Oth­ers only re­ally see the suc­cess, but suc­cess­ful peo­ple are the ones who have failed the most.

AB: We’ve talked about a va­ri­ety of things, but do you have any fi­nal thoughts?

LCR: Just that peo­ple need to stop fo­cus­ing on dif­fer­ences and fo­cus more on what makes us alike. What I al­ways tell peo­ple is, it’s okay if you don’t un­der­stand my life be­cause I don’t un­der­stand yours ei­ther. I don’t un­der­stand what it’s like to not be me. Any­thing out­side my ex­pe­ri­ence, I don’t re­ally un­der­stand. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t re­spect it, or that I can’t re­late. And it doesn’t mean that I can’t sup­port it. I have dif­fer­ent sets of ob­sta­cles sure, but noth­ing about me is so dif­fer­ent that you can’t lis­ten to my mu­sic and en­joy and sup­port it. Every­body can ben­e­fit from hear­ing dif­fer­ent nar­ra­tives.

This in­ter­view has been edited for clar­ity and length.

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