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Premiere: Queer Oakland Artist Maha Wam's Anti-Elitism Anthem 'Am I Cool Yet?'

Photo: Joel Devereux/ Design: Nick Francis

Listen to the experimental new single off his 2018 Prego EP. 

Maha Wam is tired of social capital, which the queer Bay Area artist tackles on his new track, "Am I Cool Yet?" and resolves that it's not a commodity. "All attempts to acquire or decry it are methods of playing the game," he says on the single, released today.

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The musician's experimental sound is a percussive mix of hip-hop and electronic, and produced entirely himself. Although Wam may not be on your radar just yet, he's carved out space in San Francisco's LGBTQ scene, having opened for acts like Kingwoman, and hosted/DJed monthly shows in the heart of the Castro.

With his new track, which you can stream below, as well as his 2018 Prego EP, Wam is on his way up, even as he decries the very ladder he ascends.

OUT: What was the songwriting process behind "Am I Cool Yet?"

Maha Wam: I wrote "Am I Cool Yet?" in 2014 about a year after moving to the Bay. It's tongue-in-cheek commentary about the balance between stunt and realness and the Olympic level bouts we get into over social capital. Whether or not that capital is truly a commodity--and it's not--all attempts to acquire or decry it are methods of playing the game, and therein lies the rub. In some cases it's necessary, even rewarding, but more often it's just posturing. Most people aren't putting in the work to be able to talk shit anyway.

You argue social capital is not a commodity. What do you think gives people that capital?

I really don't believe that it is. Of course respect is earned, but you gain it through facilitating cooperation. The crew behind Swagger Like Us, Honey Mahogany and everyone at The Stud Collective in San Francisco, whose events frequently showcase and center black and brown femmes in the freest ways are shining examples of people working together create inclusive, engaging and safe opportunities to connect with those around them. If it has to be a hierarchy then it's people working in these veins that deserve the attention they get. That might sound obvious but it's unfortunate how many of us I see who haven't figured out that you can feel yourself or be in a different place in life than someone else without going full Machiavelli on your sisters.

As a queer artist, what message do you hope to spread through your work?

I want to affirm that queers looking to make their art visible shouldn't worry about being "whatever" enough as much as being truthful, because all expression is radical that is grounded in honesty. The difficulties we face in life give us unique perspective on what it is to live inside of and through suffering, and while I don't think we're necessarily obligated to shepherd the less experienced through those troubles, those of us inclined to do so have a duty to do it well.

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What other artists do you look up to?

I think my first musical hero was probably Kele Okereke of Bloc Party. Seeing a black, queer man be excruciatingly vulnerable in his writing and performance was deeply impactful for me as a kid, but more than that, that this same black, queer man fronted one of the tightest and most artful bands of the time was even bigger. Flawless execution as a means of delivering your truth. It was magic.

What can you tell us about your forthcoming EP?

I'm currently working on a five-track EP called Prego to be released early next year. It's been a long road, and this project is a crystallization of my experiences coming into my own as an artist and adult. Each song acts as a snapshot of that journey and the title acknowledges the past versions of myself that poured out work into the dark with hope that someday there would be an audience to receive it.

Many of the tracks circle that theme of hindsight, and I sought out Akiyoshi Ehara of The Seshen as a producer to help focus that vision. He's able to put a laser sight on exactly what a song needs to evolve from an atmosphere to a world. I'd say you can expect... I'll put it like this: You're alone at a party and you're high enough to enjoy yourself but not high enough to drown out your inner existential monologue and it's okay because Tricky and Lone are slaying a back-to-back.

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