Though barely known here, Minneapolis rapper and producer Tori Fixx is at the center of a national gay hip-hop movement, having worked with 14 of the 16 artists featured with him in a new documentary out of L.A., Pick Up the Mic. (The film screens Saturday at District 202 as a part of the Flaming Film Festival; see a review here, and "Burn Down the Disco.") The 31-year-old DJ/vocalist has released six of his own CDs, rapped as part of the Oakland crew Rainbow Flava, and spun records at Paisley Park. He recently showed me his forearm tattoos of the Def Jam logo's turntable arms, which he got to celebrate 10 years of DJing. "These are going to have wires that go up my arms and attach to a mixing board on my back," he says, sitting in his home studio in south Minneapolis.
His latest album, 2004's Marry Me, opens with Fixx singing, "Motherfuck Mr. President/Fuck our society/and the Constitution/Baby, won't you marry me," and stays as provocative throughout. The crunked-up "Soul Food" surveys an "all-meat buffet," while "Anthem" (with out-of-towners Katastrophe, Dutchboy, and Aggracyst) promises to lead "queer MCs" out of the closet. Outspoken as he is, however, Fixx has yet to play a "straight" local rap show. He spins hip hop and other music on Thursdays at the Saloon, and otherwise immerses himself in his community to the point that he hasn't heard the dubious, Cam'ron-popularized slang "no homo."
Such hesitance might be a matter of self-preservation: As he admits in the film, Fixx once attempted to end his own life while living in Hawaii, downing a bottle of Tylenol with codeine, and chasing it with vodka lemonade.
City Pages: Why did you try to kill yourself?
Tori Fixx: It was a matter of not being able to accept myself. You hear so many people saying that being gay isn't natural. Well, no one can tell me what I was going through internally. These feelings came about not by choice. I didn't want them. I couldn't get rid of them. I wasn't "out" to anybody, but I started to write songs about my feelings. One day, a friend heard a cassette of mine by accident. I'd made him a DJ mixtape, and I forgot to erase the second side, which was all these songs. After the whole suicide thing, he was like, "I heard some of your stuff." Eventually he convinced me to put out my first CD.
CP: Did making music change the way you felt?
Fixx: It did. To this day, it's the only thing I live for.
CP: Did homophobia in rap contribute to your mindset?
Fixx: Actually, I think there are more homophobic lyrics in recent days, even as there has been more of a gay presence in the media. When The Chronic dropped, that was the album of albums, and it really wasn't bothered with "Who's a fag?" [But] calling somebody a fag didn't necessarily mean you had a thing against gay people. On the flip side, you did have songs in dancehall about killing homosexuals. Calling somebody a fag is different than literally saying all batty boys need to be destroyed. It became hard for me, because I love dancehall, but as a DJ, there were a lot of songs where I'm like, "I can't bring myself to play this." Everyone says, "Why aren't you playing 'Chi-Chi Man,'" and I'm like, "Do you know what they're talking about in that song?" And this would be at a gay club.
CP: Was there anything on your radar as far as gay rap before you started performing in the '90s?
Fixx: There was an article in Out Magazine, and my friend called me and was like, "There's other gay rappers!" Talk to any gay rapper, and we all thought we were the first one. There was this group called Rainbow Flava out of San Francisco, and I'd start going to internet cafes and shooting [Rainbow member] Dutchboy e-mails. A year later I moved to the Bay Area, and before I knew it, I was part of the collective. Having other people onstage with you kind of provided a level of security.
CP: Was the Rainbow crowd different from other hip-hop crowds?
Fixx: We would play events that weren't gay, but the hard sell was just being in a group called Rainbow Flava.
CP: Was it too "parade-y"?
Fixx: It really did just sound very gay. [laughs] But we shocked the hell out of people in concert. So many people expected a parade of drag queens to come out to house music, but our beats were hard. My hope, one day, is to just grab everybody from Pick Up the Mic and launch our own tour.
CP: Around the time you were launching your solo career six years ago, the "homo thugs" phenomenon was getting some media attention. Did that help you?
Fixx: That whole thing is interesting. It doesn't take long before they're right back to guys on the "down low." My beef with that community is that none of them are really into the gay hip-hop heads out there.
CP: Do you see it as another version of the closet?
Fixx: I think that's part of it.
CP: Then there was Caushun. Did you follow his career?
Fixx: I did, but the fact that they labeled him "the Gay Rapper" was already a slam to the [queer rap] community, which existed way before there was a Caushun. He was basically a hairstylist to the stars, with an affiliation with Russell Simmons. It seemed like nobody took a step further to just Google "gay hip hop," because if you did, so much more would have popped up.