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Henri Mayhem on Being a Dyke and Writing Passed Trauma - Tunes Tuesday Interview Transcript

Updated: Apr 6, 2022

Maud: Hi I'm Maud Mostly, my pronouns are they/them, and welcome back to Tunes Tuesday, a series where I sit down with queer, 2SLGBTQ+ musicians and bands to talk to them about their music, their experiences and much much more. Today I am joined by New Orleans-based rapper Henri Mayhem. Hey, would you like to introduce yourself?

Henri: Hey, my name is Henri Mayhem, pronouns she/her sometimes, they/them, I'm originally from Chicago Illinois currently living in New Orleans. I make hip-hop, I write poetry, but mostly I call my music queer hop. I call it that just mainly because I don't think it sounds the same as the hip-hop you you know, listen to on the music- I mean listen to it on the radio. I don't think it sounds the same as hip-hop from like the 80s and the 90s, and I think it's very different, and it's very you know, reminiscent of me and all my experiences all the queer experiences in my entire life rolled into one, and yeah that's a little bit about me.

M: I love that, and I really want to dive right into speaking about your music. So one of your most recent singles released just this past march is Louisiana, which beautifully connects your past and your present through talking about food. So can you share a bit more about this connection you have with food?

H: Yeah so it's interesting that I'm living in New Orleans now, because the song is called Louisiana, and the song is made like it first- when I first came up with the idea for the song it was really about hot sauce, because I really put hot sauce on everything I eat. Like currently I'm not but like I was just like I just would go in, and the person's food I didn't have to put the most hot sauce on was my mom's, because it was just so flavorful, it was full of love. But just growing up like, I didn't grow up in a household where it was just like all lovey-dovey, and one thing I was very scared of like I was scared of you know being who I was, I was scared of telling my mom like I was gay, and it was it was hard because I don't know if it was just the child of me, but something to me really believed that you know if I told her this then I couldn't eat anymore. Which is- isn't really a stretch because you know, and luckily I didn't get to- I didn't have to experience that, but you know many you know LGBTQ you know, they basically you know- you know tell who they are and then I'm kicked out right? A lot of homeless down here even in New Orleans you know, and it's just crazy, and so I think my- as a child like I really thought I would lose you know one of the best parts about my childhood, which was the food. And luckily I didn’t, but the song in itself is kind of a tribute to that love you know, because I have- she lives in a different state now, but even so like she still communicates that love through food, and writing the song was very like a cathartic experience, because I didn't really realize all the feelings I had about that until the song like- until I wrote that song and I was like “wow like one I really love food, but two you know I really love you know, my mom” and that experience though it was shaky, and you know at the time like I have come out of it like a better person a much stronger person and yeah this person still loves food!

M: Absolutely! I love that, and I do kind of want to take the next question to connect with a little bit more of what you just said. So artists that you know, experience all kinds of oppression are typically expected to only create around trauma, and something I've seen in your music is you're kind of starting to move away from that idea. So your songs tend to talk about difficult experiences such as you know, experiencing homophobia from a partner's family in 3.10, and as you just mentioned that you know, fear and trauma that you can go through when you're growing up and too scared to tell anyone that you're queer in your single Louisiana. But each time you tend to follow up these lyrics with like a comedic line or a lyric just like filled with love that just lightens that mood, so do you write like that intentionally and how does it feel to be mixing up that typical narrative?

H: Wow, that's a great question! So like it is very like you said you know very typical to talk about those experiences, but I feel like my music is very reflective of my life, and I'm very like- I'm sarcastic, I'm very like- so the songs, they come off as like sarcastic and witty sometimes, because I think that's truly who I am as a person, and like just throughout my life as much as like the the experience of my queerness has like shaped me and have you know had gave me difficulties, also gave me things to just laugh and and be happy about you know? And so I always include those things because that- you know, that's not my full experience. You know like I'm a I'm a Black woman so I have lots of other things to draw from and like especially I now live in New Orleans, but living in Chicago, very diverse you know it's diverse but also super segregated you know, and I grew up on one of the roughest part like in the roughest part of Chicago, and so like even drawn from that experience and like as much pain as it is there, I think there's also just an eternal joy there about like my experiences, like I'm just the type of person who doesn't see the just the bad and everything. Like I love to see the light and everything and that's important to me, like especially when you have those you know traumatic experiences, like you need to you- not that you need to, but you it's better to feed on the light. And so that's what I do, a lot of my music like, I sometimes even when I write sometimes, I would say I centered- I center songs based off the the comedic element of the song. Like even in Louisiana you know I say “hot sauce on everything just like foreplay” right? And so when I start the next verse I'm still you know talking about hot sauce, and though I might be going into something you know that's about to get kind of rocky, it's just better for me to start on that light note, because there is so much- I think it's important to highlight the the love that's surrounding us, regardless of all of our you know tragic experiences. So when I write it really comes from- it comes straight from the heart, and in my heart I think there is a lot of like joy there, so.

M: Absolutely, and I have to say that just shines through all of your music. You do such a great job of communicating that you know, whatever I'm listening to of yours. And then you have a new EP coming out soon that you've kind of started releasing some singles from called The Good Dyke Young, which is an incredible title, I was so thankful- it floored me, but outside of the EP name you bring up the dyke identity a lot, so I just kind of want to say like what does being a dyke mean to you?

H: So like, it's funny so when I talk to other friends about it- so like in African-American community, a lot of times like you know, masculine presenting lesbians are identified as studs, so a lot of my friends are like “oh I don't like that word” and like, one thing is I'm interested in like as I go into the EP, I'm exploring what that word means to me, because it's very interesting and so like, I think that it's always been given- a word given to like, it's been two things to me: it's a word given to like just white masculine identifying lesbians right, or it's just a word that it's the easiest word for in hip-hop to go to to be a derogatory term so (for lesbians). And I feel like I don't want it to be that anymore in hip-hop now, like I'm not saying I can single-handedly change it right, but I'm definitely just exploring the word like there's a part on the EP which- it hasn't been released yet, but I'm definitely hearing a lot in hip-hop. Like in some of my favorite songs by some of my favorite artists, and even those who you know identify themselves as like woke or conscious, it's just like a lot of derogatory and you know slander, and so one- me- the way I identify with that word has always been positive, like always been in the positive. And like the only time I've heard it in the negatory, like in a negative sense was in hip-hop. And so I want to change that, and then it's just another way when I was entitled the the EP The Good Dyke Young I was just thinking about how fast I had to grow up, based on my identity. I definitely lost a lot of like like, a lot of people they'll ask the question because I'm not a big fan of Disney movies and I haven't seen a lot of Disney movies besides like Mulan, so like a lot of my a lot of people like “whoa what kind of childhood did you have” you know? Just then they, they kind of refrain from the question like “wait maybe I don't want to know.” But my thing is like I- the childhood I had was kind of like coming to terms who I was super early, and so it was just like everything around me looked and felt different. Like you know you know, and then you have to like, it's like you're- you're a child but you have to literally hide yourself you know? And you're like “nah I can't I can't go around doing this I'm six” you know? And so a part of you, you know dies from a young young age, but it's also I think that has contributed to me being the person I am. Like I feel like in general I feel like I'm a very good person, and I try to be a good person, but I also just can can see the child and everybody, and see that we're all learning and growing and it's like, the the it's not I'm not going to say the best people in the world are queer people right, but it's it's my general belief honestly, because I feel like we just experience things so young, and we have a like we're hyper aware of the world because we become hyper aware of ourselves so young. So I think that's where the title comes from, and that word to me it's- I'm really trying to to feel positive or have other people feel positive about the word because I feel like I love it like it's one of my favorite words, like so yeah.

M: Absolutely! well it has been so incredible to hear more about you, your experiences and your music, I feel like I have so much to take away from this, and if you would like to check out her music or more about her, make sure to check out the links below. Thank you so much see you next week folks, and Henri Mayhem will be playing us out!

*Louisiana by Henri Mayhem begins playing*

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