Interview with Roy Kinsey (Part II) – Kinsey: A Memoir

"I’m snatching the mic, in the tradition of hip-hop. A new story needs to be told." Part II of our conversation with Roy Kinsey.

Chicago born, queer-identified, rapper and librarian Roy Kinsey, first featured on WtMM in 2018 with his brilliant record Blackie: A Story by Roy Kinsey, is back with a new record Kinsey: A Memoir. To mark the official release of the new album (dropping February 20), we are honored to share a two-part interview with Roy Kinsey and some select tracks from the record.  In Part I, Roy shares a bit more about himself and the process of writing Kinsey. In Part II, he delves more into the record itself, some favorite tracks, and how it does and does not compare to Blackie.

“I try not to change, yet everything different.”

“I Don’t Beg” Kinsey: A Memoir

What is the relationship between Kinsey and Blackie? Talk about the albums as a pair and separately. Did you always think of needing to do two? Did one grow from the other?

That’s a good question. These two records really wrote themselves. It sounds so cliche because I feel like so many artists say that. But, it felt that way for me. [On Blackie], I wanted to tell this story that honored my grandmother. After that, with Kinsey, I thought that I was going to tell another collective story. But, it went through so many iterations. When I started, it wasn’t as personal to me. At first, it was what would I sound like being the latest generation — the latest edition — of a contributor to the black queer canon. I always wanted to figure that out.

The name of the album when I started was “400” as a reference to the 400th anniversary, in 2019, of the first ships carrying Africans that arrived in America. I wanted to commemorate that on record. But, then it turned into something else and began to change — literally, I began to change — as I was performing Blackie. I realized…I was, um, getting attached to an identity that was unsustainable. And, it was unsustainable because I was performing a funeral. I’m not a minister. I’m not a church pastor or the leader of a church. It was taking a lot out of me. It is very sad.

Cover art for Blackie: A Story by Roy Kinsey

I cannot perform Blackie and not experience every emotion that is held within this album. I am reliving all of the feelings I had about watching, you know, black people getting killed by police on a loop on social media. Every time I performed it, I’m feeling my grandmother. Am I allowing her to rest? This thing that started out as healing was becoming re-traumatizing for me. 

And, then, at the same time…people know you are a black queer-identified artist…and, I was feeling again, like, “What is my contribution going to sound like?” What does that sound like on a record? What is the story that I can tell that I needed when I was growing up but didn’t hear? Twenty years ago when I was 14 and looking through the [library] aisles and really trying to figure myself out, I needed to know that people like me existed. We throw around representation so much, but it’s super important. And, so I really moved in that direction, to tell a story I’ve been wanting to tell for years. For years. But, it took a while for that to come to the surface.

A lot of Kinsey is high school thoughts, but they are things that I’ve brought into my adulthood. It’s very much drumming up some old memories and old feelings. In a lot of times in spiritual communities, this is how you heal. It’s not that you heal and never think about it anymore, but you heal it because you’re bringing it to the surface so that you can release this thing and be aware of it. 

So, then, the two albums together became like ‘audio genealogy.’ My grandma was Blackie. Kinsey comes afterward and covers my parents and me. And, it’s the opposite in every way from Blackie. It holds masculinity in a totally different way. It’s harder. It’s faster in a lot of ways, slower in some parts. It’s industrial. It’s apocalyptic, almost. It’s urgent. 

Yeah, tell me more about the sound and soundscapes of this record.

It was very intentional to do something different and very much in the moment. Blackie had the sample, the soul, the space for the storytelling. My friend and producer, Mike Jones and I didn’t want to make a “Blackie 2.” Mike found this other producer in LA, Wildersee, who had a new batch of beats that sounded very different. There’s a song on the record with some sounds that are like metal, which makes me think of prisons. Hard sounds that went with hard feelings on Kinsey. Rage. Frustration. Exhaustion.

I hadn’t heard anything like his beats before, so it was just fresh and new and perfect for the time we’re in. And, he [Wildersee] was able to tap into my story — what he was seeing on my Instagram feed and the way I was rapping on his beats — and he would tweak the beats or add in things to fit what he was seeing. He ended up producing over half the album; he’s an incredible producer. 

What are some of your favorite tracks or moments on the record? 

I love the album because I love the writing on it. [That’s another way] it’s very different than Blackie. It reads like a book. I really like Balloons. It’s one of those songs that I couldn’t believe I was going to say in the space of hip-hop until I said it. Like, you were at a party as a young kid and you put balloons under your shirt like they were breasts or a stomach. It’s very on the nose. But, it’s also like “Oh shit, is this really happening on a hip-hop record?” 

It’s also a story about the spectrum of violence queer folk experience. I start it off with a joke or with small things that are said. “You sound like a girl. You act like a girl.” And, then as the song progresses, we are talking about Stonewall, where police came into the Stonewall Inn and arrested people just looking for a connection. Printed their names in the papers. They lost their jobs. They lost whatever stability they did have. That set people out into the world feeling last. Then we talk about the largest mass shooting that happened at the Pulse nightclub

“He came in that club shooting. They wasn’t bother nobody” 

The very small violence at the beginning of the song started as a joke or “locker room talk,” which gives [someone] permission to take away [another’s] dignity or dismiss them. That’s the same attitude that this guy walks into a club and shoots up everybody. That’s the same attitude that this police come into the bar and feel like they can arrest you for being there. I hope people put it together like that because that’s what I mean and that’s why I wrote it. I really like that song. 

And, I really like that moment on the album. I really like the progression from Awwright Now, into Invisible Man into Balloons, into Kitchen, Barber, Beauty Shop.

It’s a very interesting moment of transmuting trauma and then coming back to the beauty of yourself. That’s my favorite part of the album. 

Have you performed any of the album tracks live?

Yeah. I did two shows in December, which were the first two times I performed this music. I got emotional on Invisible Man and Balloons. On Blackie, I got emotional on Jungle Book and Rbg. And, I know why. They just hold so much. I’ve found that the more personal I get, it’s not changing anything or alienating anybody. The more personal the song, the more people [appreciate it]. People are feeling this…[Look,] all we’re trying to do is connect. Whether it’s on sex. Or emotionally. Or anything. Everybody is on these apps or on [devices] all looking for some sort of connection.

What are some of the things you learned in making this album that will most stick with you? 

Erykah Badu says this thing like, “Be careful what you write.” I felt there was this conjuring up of a character that was going to have to live and make this album. Because, it just felt like method acting, and it wasn’t acting. Going back in time and feeling overwhelmed with emotions as an adult like I was as a kid. All of the anxieties, and depressions, and traumas.

I learned to be careful with what I named this next album and what version of Roy I want to represent me in this next iteration because I’m about to live that [once the record is out]. But, I’m not scared of this thing anymore, so I can say it. I found the tact and style to say this thing as opposed to just saying “let me give you the facts of my life.” 

I’ve been bored with hip-hop for a really long time now. There are great records coming out now, but I remember what hip-hop used to do for me. I remember listening to a song and wanting to put it on repeat or having chills come over my whole body. I don’t feel that anymore. And, I want people to still feel the music like how I used to feel the music. We’re so exposed. So much music is being made. So much content is being made, I think we can get dulled down very quickly. I believe that we still can make these magical moments and experiences with music. That’s where I have seen my first magic. And, I want music to still do that.

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