The rap world collides with the bear community thanks toBig Dipper, the Chicago-born, Brooklyn-transplant rapper who looks good and thinks big. In December 2011, the Dipper came out with his first song--"Drop Drop (April Showers)"--which raunchily toyed with themes from Bambi, as Walt Disney rolled around in his grave. (I hope.) When a bear messes with a famous deer, watch out! More recently, the 20-something rapper released a mixtape called Thick Life--downloadable for free on BigDipperJelly.com--with the lead single "Skank," and the result is beary, beary good. Here's our chat:
Musto: Hi, Big Dipper. Your raunchy video for "Skank" seems inspired by The Wolf of Wall Street, but that can't be, can it?
Big Dipper: We were influenced more by Pretty Woman. I watched it a lot when I was growing up. We wanted to do a high-end brothel scenario, and we thought we could do that jewelry box scene from Pretty Woman.
What is your creative aesthetic?
I grew up listening to hip-hop music. That's the kind of music I want to make. I don't do a lot of premeditation when I go in the studio. The music I make just comes out of me. I'm generally a happy, positive-vibing person who likes to have fun. I want to make music people want to listen to and dance to. I want to live out fantasies in videos. There are things I've seen in movies or on TV that I want to recreate so I can put my face on it, like driving off in the sunset. Originally I wanted to do the shit from Grease, but we didn't have a crane to put a car on.
Do you just rap or do you sing, too?
I can't sing for shit. I used to describe my show as a Britney Spears arena tour, but in a dive bar with a 6-foot ceiling and a bunch of sweaty dudes around. I like to dance around, and I have backup dancers. And I run it like it's a pop show. I act like I'm a singer, but I'm a rapper.
What is your crowd like?
The audience is so funny. Two weeks ago, I played a bachelorette party for a bunch of straight women in an apartment with no sound system. I said to the woman who booked me, "So the bachelorette's a fan?" She said, "She has no idea who you are, but I think you're great and her husband's a big boy, so she's a chubby chaser and I think she'll like you."
I've played bear festivals, P-town, San Francisco Bear Pride. The intersection between the bear community and rapping is not good on the Venn diagram. But in New York, there's an audience for everything. My crowd is a mixed bag. There are young kids from art school, straight hipsters, and then bears. I love to see an art student turn around and see a 45-year-old daddy, and they're listening to the same music.
Do you consider yourself a bear?
I do. I identify to a certain degree with that culture. I identify across the board--also as a gay man. Whatever label someone wants to put on me so they can follow what I'm giving, that's fine. That means you're paying attention to what I'm doing, and that's the whole goal.
Do you consider yourself the new Cazwell [another gay, white rapper who does satirical material]?
No, I don't. We're friendly and have even worked together a little bit. So many of the boxes line up between what we're doing, but we're attracted to different kinds of sounds and we write in different ways. A lot of my flow is either really specific storytelling or stream of consciousness--weird words that rhyme that don't make any sense.
He draws from a classic idea of hip-hop in that it's very machismo and boastful. "I'm the best at this, and I'm the best at that. You come at me, and I'll hit you with a bat." People who are interested in how he looks might not be interested in how I look, so we cut that already niche audience into a smaller niche.
Have you always been out?
Since high school.
Were you popular in high school?
I like to think I was. I was friends with the popular people, but I think because I didn't drink or go out and party or have sex with girls, I wasn't more popular. I was a theater fag.
Does your performing career make you popular, sexually?
Yes, but I always try to avoid that at shows. I never like to go home with anyone from a show. Onstage, I wear an ass-out jockstrap, a wrestling singlet, and chains on chains on chains. So when I leave, I like to put on my regular T-shirt and boots and jacket and look like a civilian and go find some middle-aged trade who has no idea. Someone who's always complaining about pop culture, and we go have sex in his nice apartment.
So I gather you're not in a relationship?
Well, if you are, it must be pretty open.
It sounds like your career started because you were just having some creative fun rather than intending to break down barriers.
I was not thinking about anything until the first song was done. I played it back to friends and they said, "This is nasty." I said, "Is it?" I couldn't tell.
When I listen to straight artists rap, all they do is rap about [female body parts]. It's about women and molly and partying and money and doing drugs and getting [serviced]. I was falling into the genre from my own experience and I didn't even think twice--I'm gonna rap about [oral sex] and dudes and [body fluids]. People said, "You're so nasty." I thought, Let me write some songs that aren't nasty.
Now I've got a little more practice under my belt, and I'm able to rap about more of my experience than just sexual ones. But rap is about experience and a lot of my experience is sexual.
Rap on, brother.
Bryan Cranston in 'All the Way' | Photo by Evgenia Eliseeva
ALL THE PRESIDENT'S MEN
On to more sobering historical material: Robert Shenkkan's All the Way is a lively three-hour sprawl concerning the 1963 and '64 events surrounding President Lyndon B. Johnson's machinations, cajoling, and demanding, which led to the passing of the historic Civil Rights Act. In his Broadway debut, Bryan Cranston gives a real star performance, digging into the role with an astounding gusto while relishing the character's drive, occasional inappropriateness, and ultimate heroism in this case.
Cranston dominates the stage the whole time--more "on" than any President has ever been, but hey, it's an interpretation--abetted by an able ensemble, including Michael McKean as FBI head J. Edgar Hoover.
At one point, LBJ asks Hoover, "How do you know when someone is 'that way?' " Hoover replies that it's in the way they comb their hair or walk funny. "I'm sure you'd know," says the Prez, dripping with innuendo. "In your line of work, I mean." Bring out the chains on chains on chains.
DON'T DREAM IT, BE IT
Doing your hair and walking funny was encouraged last week at the Cori Ellison-produced The Rocky Horror Opera Show at the New Museum, where four opera singers performed arias for an audience urged to dress up, sing along, and dance around. The museum even provided the costumes!
The singers were exquisite--and unflappable--as audience members tossed dried flowers at the stage, some going up there in clown face to strike seriocomic poses. But they never yelled "Say it!" In fact, they were generally quite respectful because, as one guy seated near me said, "I didn't want to treat them like lap dancers. I'm a love heckler." And no doubt a little bit of a bear, too.