Without Marsha P. Johnson, there is no LGBTQIA+ liberation. At least, not as we know it now. 50 years ago today, she threw the first brick of the Stonewall Riots and forced Americans to take seriously the oppression of those marginalized along sexual orientation and/or gender lines.
Yet racism and anti-trans sentiments continue to spread rivulets of poison throughout the movement. For the past five decades, the needs of white, cisgender gay men and lesbians forced themselves into the highest priority slots. Marriage and adoption rights, while undoubtedly noble pursuits, were nevertheless gained at the expense of neglecting transgender healthcare access, poverty, protection for sex workers, and other issues. Not to mention often failing to acknowledge the other axes of oppression intersecting with the community.
Seattle-based rapper Brian is Ze’s latest track “Bricks (Came to Slang)” featuring Sims (of the Minnesota collective Doomtree) and produced by Queermo, pays homage to Johnson and honors her for the risks she took to ensure equality for all… even when “all” wouldn’t return the favor. As with most of their work, they weld a punk ethos on top of an irresistible beat and wrap the whole package up in a giant heart thrumming for freedom.
Meredith Nudo: First off, what does Marsha P. Johnson mean to you personally? How do you use your music to honor her and her legacy?
Brian is Ze: Marsha P. is like a matron saint to all people and for all equality, which is a service that is often forced out of black women, but she represents so much of who I want to be. Being ready to fuck up a cop with a brick was a lifestyle and she worked to make her people safer. I want to be a force of good that, when oversimplified, becomes a brick to fascists.
MN: What would this brick hit like in a less oversimplified way?
BiZ: Less simplified, it’s so hard to explain. I do a lot in service of trying to be a good person and it will never be enough. I wish I could protect everyone and burn out the evil that’s constantly being forced on us. Like, I wish I could destroy white supremacy and the patriarchy so I could just trust and like white dudes and everybody else equally. I just know that until trans womxn of color are safe everywhere, shit is fucked up. You can add to that intersectionality in hella ways but they are the most vulnerable. I want to save their world because that makes all of our worlds better.
MN: I agree completely. What role do you think music plays in liberation? And how can it do better to make sure the most vulnerable receive the most support?
BiZ: Communication is ultimately all we have to access everyone else and we’re all out here and no one actually knows what they’re doing. I treat my whole life as a space to choke out all the bigotry that we are constantly being taught and having reinforced. I use my music as a chance to show that people who give a fuck can have a good time, too.
MN: Which trans and nonbinary artists of color do you think deserve more attention?
BiZ: The first that comes to mind is the band Occlusions. The production makes these lush soundscapes and the singer has a hugely powerful voice. My synesthesia makes their music such a beautiful experience. Nic Masangkay is also great. Oh, and Angel Davanport is a fucking superstar on the come up. Everyone should def be checking for them.
MN: You mentioned that you wanted “Bricks (Came to Slang)” to sound like a song about drugs. What was your reasoning for this?
BiZ: I wanna say the idea solidified while I was listening to “Movin’ Bass (GTA Remix),” but it might’ve been “I Got the Keys.” Damn, it might even have been “Move that Dope?” The fact that it could have been so many songs and that isn’t even me trying to list songs about drugs that sound cool kinda adds to the point. I love rap tropes but I have to stay true to my value set. I’m anticapitalist. I never sold drugs. I stay on some punk shit but I felt like that energy is what translates. Some dudes think they can sell a brick and get the money to revitalize the community. I think we could throw bricks thru bank windows and erase the debt and stop the cycle of exploitation of suffering to accrue wealth because someone always has to be at the bottom of that model and it’s usually as many people as possible.
MN: And the song definitely has that punk energy, as with the rest of your catalogue. Punk and rap do share thematic overlaps, from the most macro perspective anyway. What other tropes do you want to play with now and in the future?
BiZ: I’m forever playing with the jewelry trope. I made myself a four finger ring and I wear a bunch of chains that are all thrift store finds or made by friends.
MN: Yeah! You had that amazing Nintendo controller neckpiece when I met you! What other gems are in your collection?
BiZ: Right now I’ve got a dolphin, an owl, a skull with a crow on it, an amulet looking things, and my actual house keys.
I love the “this is my shit” trope, [too]. It’s like when Rick Ross was on Ace Hood’s “Hustle Hard” remix and he came in by saying, “You know I love this shit..!” which we know because Ross’ first hit was “Hustlin’.” I’ve gotten to bring that “this is my wheelhouse” energy to tracks for Nic Masangkay for a track on mental health and Badb on the song “Queers Bash Back” because I’ve got a double album about mental health and I’ve been on my violent rad queer. I feel like that’s what Sims brings to “Bricks.” He’s been on this vibe for a long time and I knew he would be perfect for the track.
MN: Is that what first attracted you to Sims’ work?
BiZ: Yeah, I loved how Sims and Doomtree clearly brought punk ethos to rap and it seemed so honest and mad at all the right stuff but still so fun. It’s not gimmicky. It’s good rapping with sincerity without trying to be smart. It’s not headbop shit either. I knew a long time ago that I never want to have the type of show where everyone just stands there nodding and he helped show me that you can, indeed, rant about Reaganomics on a banger.
MN: How did you enjoy working with Sims? How did your collaboration come together?
BiZ: Working with Sims was literally a dream come true. When I played the song for my mom she said, “Wait. Like, Sims from Doomtree who you’ve been needing over since you were 18?” Sims and I got to where would talk super late after his shows and he would chop it up with me on some rap nerd elder shit. Like, he’s open and honest about his career and having to be realistic about what you want and still pushing yourself and doing it on some, “Fuck yeah! Art!” instead of scheming about getting rich and famous.
I was shocked when he agreed to do a feature for me and then it took me what seemed like forever to produce a beat that I felt was worthy. He sent me his vocals to me after… maybe 90 minutes. I didn’t want to waste this opportunity so I spent a lot of time trying to make sure the track was perfect and I made so many versions and waited to put it out and then one day I heard an old version I’d tried to improve and was like, “Oh, I was so hell bent on ‘perfect’ that I missed when I made something that’s perfectly me.”
MN: I love how supportive your mom is of your work! Has she shaped your tastes and creative processes at all?
BiZ: My mom is legit one of my best friends. She gave me the space and confidence to be the weirdo I am. She took me to my first Buzzfest in fourth grade and kept going with me until junior or senior year of high school. She dropped me off at shows every weekend and has always loved coming to my shows. She had to get past her baby putting themself at risk by calling out bigotry but now she’s just about as mad as I am.
MN: She sounds like an incredible person. Has she heard the new track yet or do you make her wait until release day?
BiZ: She’s amazing. She definitely gets to hear everything before it’s released. Well, unless I’m talking a lot about how good I am at the sex type things. She’s surprisingly objective and will tell me if she doesn’t like something but she’s learned to trust my process more. She knows that something that seems weird or irritating might be the catchiest part of a song by the time that I’m done with it.