Today, Drag Race season 9 runner-up Peppermint and NYC queer rapper Cazwell release their new collaborative album, Blend, a self-proclaimed "90's groove with a millennial sensibility."
Last week, the duo released the title track off the record and its accompanying music video--an anthem for trans women of color to feel free of societal constraint and expectation. The record was written by Cazwell and, inspired by his best friend Peppermint, aims to be a record thematically "specific to the obstacles trans women of color face." The album is available for streaming today--take a listen here.
The work comes out at a crucial moment in the current pop culture zeitgeist, just days after RuPaul Charles made problematic comments (and a subsequent apology) about not wanting to have trans women in the midst of transition on the show.
Peppermint, herself a trans woman, spoke to us about her feelings on Ru's recent words and the future of Drag Race. The musical pair also explained the writing process of their new record, finding inspiration in each other, and celebrating the queer community through dance.
Take a look at the video for "Blend," then read our chat with the pair below.
Out: How did this collaboration come to be?
Peppermint: Cazwell and I have been friends for years. He's like my gay husband. We have a lot of things in common like our love for music. We like a lot of the same foods, TV shows, etc. We're like two peas in a pod. He made a cameo on my first single "Servin It Up." Years later, following the death of Islan Nettles, Cazwell and I were so moved that we created a tribute song that was essentially a precursor to this song.
Cazwell: Yes, me and Peppermint have known each other a very long time. We've been friends for over 10 years and have actually worked on a couple musical projects together before. We got really close the past five years because we threw a gay hip-hop party in New York City together called 'Do The Right Thing' every Thursday night.
How would you describe the process of writing and creating this record--what was most difficult/ most fun/ most rewarding?
Peppermint: The process was simple because we're close. It really just involved talking on the phone about details. Cazwell is the writer of the album and he really knows my voice. The hardest part was the vision and artistic direction of the videos. I think the performances to come will be the most fun and promoting the album has already brought a great deal of joy. The most rewarding part of this project was getting to make an album with my best friend.
Cazwell: It was easy to write this EP because Peppermint constantly inspires me. I was right by her side as she started transitioning in 2012 and she confided in me a lot, so I thought this was a great opportunity to make an album specific to the obstacles trans women of color face. Writing the song "Blend" was probably the most rewarding. It was also a challenge because I've actually never tried to make a contemporary pop song before. It proved to be more difficult than I thought. I literally have 87 versions of the song. What was important for me was to find a way to make a song that would empower the trans community in some way.
How would you describe the album to someone who hasn't ever heard your music before?
Peppermint: It's a 90's groove with a millennial sensibility.
Cazwell: I would describe this EP as a pop/dance EP. Me and Peppermint definitely use our pop, house and rap influences in every song. All of the songs work on the dance floor, which was very important because that's where me and Peppermint met and where we thrive.
What message or idea would you hope people take away from hearing the album?
Peppermint: I want people to celebrate the LGBTQIA community but I also want them to recognize the work that still needs to be done all while shaking their ass on the dance floor.
Cazwell: More than anything I just want people to enjoy this album and I want every song to put them in a great mood! I want people to blast the songs from their cars when they're driving to the beach all summer and on their way to the club.
Peppermint: It's the title track of the album, which is all about living your truth and rejecting the idea that one has to fit into a box.
Cazwell: Well, the word "Blend" really stood out to me in the movie Paris is Burning. There's a part where a queen is talking about the importance of being able to blend into society so you actually get home at night without being attacked. I think trans women in general are pressured to feel the need to blend and look "passable" in order to feel attractive and look like welcomed members to society. Based on conversations I've had with my trans friends, including Peppermint and Amanda Lepore, I have learned from them that when you let go of the need to blend in--in order to feel beautiful--that's when you know what true freedom feels like.
How'd you initially react after hearing Ru's latest comments (and subsequent apology) about not letting transitioning women onto Drag Race?
Peppermint: It was very personal to me and I needed time to gather my thoughts. I witnessed a lot of back and forth, name calling, and a lot of misunderstanding. I did issue an official statement [see below] but in short I believe all types of people can make excellent queens and trans women are definitely included in that group. Case in point; myself.
\u201cAs humans we are constantly growing, evolving and most importantly, learning. A special thanks to @billboard for allowing me to speak my truth. Absolutely no one defines your identity! Own it, cherish it and love yourself+others.\u2764\ufe0f#transisbeautiful \n\nhttps://t.co/d6lX2rKIwV\u201d
— Miss Peppermint. BLACK TRANS LIVES MATTER (@Miss Peppermint. BLACK TRANS LIVES MATTER)
After hearing Ru's apology tweets, what do you think of the show and what's happened moving forward?
Peppermint: I think Drag Race can be life changing for the contestants and the viewers. It raises the profile for queens and drag while exposing a new audience to drag everyday. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I'm very proud to have been the first trans woman runner-up. Hopefully not the last.