Queer hip-hop artist Cazwell, real name Luke Caswell, got his start as a teen in the “fag/dyke” duo Morplay while kicking around his hometown of Worcester, Massachusetts. In the decade since he went solo, Cazwell’s provocative music videos have garnered millions of hits on YouTube, and one, “All Over Your Face,” is too racy for daytime play on Logo.
Cazwell spoke to Xtra from a New York City gym to dish on collaborating with Peaches, his upcoming album and gay-male body image.
You recently wrote on Facebook that you’re excited by how your new album is shaping up. Can you preview it for our listeners? What can they expect?
They can expect the best album they’ve ever heard in their life. It’s going to be about 13 tracks. There’s definitely a big club music influence on the tracks. There’s also some tracks that would be in the hip-hop genre. They’re all hot. I’m collaborating with a bunch of new people, including Nicky Da B, who is on Diplo’s latest track. . . I just did a track with Manila Luzon from RuPaul’s Drag Race. My new single is called “Guess What,” and it’s a high-energy dance track that I did with Luciana, who I love. We just shot a video, and it should be released within four weeks. People can expect different types of visuals, playing with my image a little bit more. I’ve been keeping it sexy, but I’ll be playing with things a lot more. I’m very proud of every track on the album. I feel like I can defend every single one of them, which doesn’t always happen. Every single song on this album sounds the way I want it to sound. It’s going to kick everyone’s ass.
Who would you cite as your main musical influences?
What influences my music the most are the producers I work with. They play me their tracks. Richie Beretta is someone I’ve worked with pretty closely this year. We did a lot of work on the album together. He does a lot of trap beats, Louis Vuitton-type beats. He makes a lot of reggae, hip hop, he does it all . . . I don’t feel like my album sounds like anything that’s happening in hip hop right now because it’s so, for the most part, up-tempo. It definitely feels more up-tempo and club without losing integrity.
Cazwell closes out the University of Ottawa's Pride Week Saturday, March 8 at Club SAW.
(Courtesy of Peace Bisquit.)
A lot of your music is very sexually charged. Are you as enamoured with sex as your music suggests, or are you playing to the gay male audience?
I’ve never said, "What does everyone want to hear, let’s talk about that." I’ve always said that I’m just like anyone else. The things that take over my mind the most are food, sex and money. That tends to be what I write about the most. I’m certainly not an out-of-control sex addict. For the most part, I think that gay men relate to me as far as me talking about sex. Maybe it makes them feel that they are just as entitled to talk about their sex life as a straight guy does.
What was your experience growing up queer in Massachusetts? It is considered a very liberal state. Did you encounter any homophobia?
Of course, I experience it every day on the internet. I didn’t know anyone that was out in school. I don’t think that started to be as common until recently. Your typical shit of people calling each other fag and people calling me a fag all the time. I met a group of kids that were dropouts that were gay when I was 15, so I always felt that I had a circle of friends that understood me. I never felt alone once I got to high school.
Logo has been a big supporter of your music, but they did ban the video for “All Over Your Face.” What was your reaction to the banning?
I was pretty grateful that they did because then more people talked about it. I don’t think they actually banned it. I think they were playing it late at night when there were more shows that centred around gay musicians on Logo at the time. I don’t think it was Logo. Logo is owned by Viacom, and they have to review everything. There’s no way to edit the song. Even if I take words out of the song, the song is still about jizzing on somebody’s face. There’s really no way around it.
She is a dream come true. Working with her is like some vision board shit. I never really thought it would happen, but it did. It’s just an honour to be next to her, to work with her and have her on a song. She’s such an influence. Whenever I want to be inspired, I’ll just listen to her talk. She takes you into that zone of doing whatever you want, a different point of view. When we recorded the song, it wasn’t a situation where we were in the studio together. She was in Berlin at the time and we went back and forth. I sent her three songs, and she chose “Unzip Me.” I told her to write a rap to it, sing the hook, and she did; she turned it out. I remember the first time I heard her voice. It was just a cappella, and I was like, "Oh my god, she sounds so awesome." She just has that perfect bad-girl tone that I love. There were a lot of moments when making the song and video that I said I felt I was not cool enough to be working with her. I’m very grateful that I got to work with her.
It’s a common criticism that rap videos objectify women. The guys in your videos are obviously gorgeous, and you also have an amazing body. But there is a common discussion that representing gay men in this way presents an unrealistic male body image and gay men feel they have to look a certain way to be attractive.
I guess I have a different opinion on it. The thing I hear most about my videos is that guys say, "I saw your video; now I’m inspired to go to the gym." I think that’s a good thing. I definitely think gay men put pressure on themselves to look good, be attractive and feel attractive; ultimately, because they want other people to think they are attractive and they want to get laid. That has a lot to do with it. I certainly wasn’t trying to make any suggestion on the way other people should live their lives or standards other people should live up to . . . I don’t think it’s necessarily coming just from the gay community. You see Mario Lopez and David Beckham selling underwear. . . I think that everyone has the ability to look better and to treat themselves better. I’ll tell you right now that having a good body does not come naturally to me. I would much rather just be sitting on the couch, watching Judge Judy and eating ice cream. . . I have videos to make and shows to do. I think I put a certain amount of pressure on myself. When I do shows, people are paying me to perform, and they expect me to look like I do in the video. I don’t enjoy not having carbs and not having sugar, but I’m in the entertainment industry. I can’t jump onstage with some muffin top hanging over my waistband. But I think there are plenty of people that don’t have perfect bodies who are great performers that people want to go see. To me, it’s really about health, and whenever I make the healthy decision, then I end up looking good. It’s a back and forth; when I eat healthy I’m in the mood to go to the gym, and when I go to the gym I’m in the mood to eat healthy. I think it’s a positive thing.
You will be performing for college-aged students at the University of Ottawa this weekend. Do you have a message for queer youth who may be struggling with their sexuality or enduring homophobia?
If you’re living in a small town where the population of gay people is two and you don’t seem to be able to connect with the people around you, ultimately because you are gay or lesbian, my suggestion is to move. Move somewhere else and be surrounded by people who inspire you. Do what you love to do and you’ll meet other people who have the same interests and won’t care that you are gay. Everyone says be true to yourself, and my definition of being true to yourself is doing what you love to do. If I listened to people who thought it was stupid for me to be gay and rap, then I certainly wouldn’t have met so many amazing people. Put yourself in an environment where you can be around accepting people.
"Ice Cream Truck"