Few new artists embody the spirit of downtown NYC more completely than Cazwell. A leading figure in the renaissance of New York nightlife that has taken place over the last five years, Cazwell’s music—a ridiculously fun mix of electrified dance music and old school hip hop—is the perfect example of the new spirit of pop music. Says Caz, "When people ask me how to describe my style, sometimes I say 'Just imagine if Biggie Smalls ate Donna Summer for breakfast.'"
Having collaborated over the years with a who’s who of downtown New York and abroad— including Amanda Lepore, Larry Tee, Boy George, Jodie Harsh, Colton Ford, David Lachapelle, The Ones, Chris Joss, Peppermint, GoodandEvil, Karl Giant and Lost Daze—Cazwell’s new album Watch My Mouth
—out August 4--is the natural next step for a performer schooled in clubland, pulling together some of his most effortlessly catchy singles and pushing things forward with new tracks perfectly-suited to bring the party. Club bangers like “All Over Your Face” and the recent viral video sensation “I Seen Beyoncé At Burger King” sit nicely next to new party jams like “Tonight” (featuring the classic Shannon chorus hook “Give me tonight!”), a plea to partygoers to retain fiscal responsibility with "Get My Money Back," and “Get Into It,” a funky fashion-hop duet starring Amanda Lepore.
Cazwell is also executive producer, brainchild and songwriter behind Amanda Lepore's upcoming debut album I...Amanda Lepore
, also due this summer. The album features such Caz-penned Lepore classics as "Champagne," "My Hair Looks Fierce," (which has already been tapped for a television theme song), and the rambunctious pop punk ode to love, "Cotton Candy."
Here, Cazwell talks to ChicagoPride.com about transcending the label “gay rapper,” the ongoing vitality of New York nightlife, and his mission to get people’s minds off their troubles and get their asses on the dance floor.Q:
What made you originally want to pursue music?C:
(Cazwell) I think I just wanted to perform, and I couldn’t really do anything else. I wasn’t good at acting, and I couldn’t really sing. I wasn’t good at gymnastics. I really just wanted to perform and create, so I just started rapping. I started off in this rap duo called Morplay--me and this butch dyke named Crasta in Worcester, Mass.Q:
When you first came onto the music scene as a solo artist, you were being hailed in the gay press as an anomaly: a gay rapper. How did you feel being labeled a gay rapper?C:
I was kind of frustrated at first. But it’s just like when you meet someone with red hair—you call him “the guy with the red hair.” As you get to know him, he becomes much more that. The more I made music and videos, I became known for what I was dropping. It morphed into me being recognized for my work rather than the fact that I’m gay.Q:
Despite not wanting to be known just for your sexuality, has being gay shaped your perspective as a musician at all?C:
I definitely think being gay has enabled me to offer a more unique perspective than your stereotypical rapper. Though, to be honest, I never really thought of my music as just rap. But being gay led me to hang around certain kinds of people, personalities that rubbed off on my songs. A lot of the sexual aspects of my songs come from being gay, like the lyrics in “All Over My Face,” for example. But I learned a lot from everyone I’ve hung around with, guys or girls. It’s a whole lifestyle that’s fed me as an artist.Q:
How has the New York nightlife scene affected your music?C:
I’m definitely inspired by nightlife. It’s about staying up all night, it’s about certain kinds of music and a certain kind of vibe. Also, being around different DJs, including my manager, Bill Coleman, has had a tremendous effect on the kind of music I make. My songs are more in tune with what’s going on in the clubs, as far as beats per minute—you can definitely mix them into what’s being played in clubs. My music has become more attuned to what people want when they go to clubs—they’re looking for a sense of freedom, to be with all kinds of different people, gay or straight. Maybe they need that kind of outlet to get away from their everyday lives, especially gay people—they want to go out, be colorful, not get bashed, and maybe get laid at the end of the night.Q:
Do you think New York nightlife has changed in the last several years? People say it’s gotten much tamer.C:
People are always comparing it to the past. It’s never going to be like the past, before Giuliani went crazy cracking down on clubs. But that doesn’t mean people still can’t go out and feel free. You know, sometimes people get turned off by some asshole working security who resents having to work a club on a gay night. That’s because there’s no relationship between the promoter who runs the night and the owner of the club who hires the security. You gotta have that for things to go smoothly. Mr. Black is an example of a good relationship between the promoters and the owners.Q:
Your music is very inclusive, a quality that carries over to your videos. You make music for gay, straight, black, white, nightlife regulars, and people who just go out once just to blow off some steam.C:
I think inclusive is a pretty good word for it. I don’t want to make music that only appeals to gay people. I want to make music for everyone. The way to be inclusive it to create a scene that gives people the ability to be colorful and be themselves, and then let them come to you. I spent a big part of my career trying to be accepted by people in the hip-hop world. I learned a lot from Larry Tee—you create your own sound and your own look, you have your own pack of friends, and then you draw people in who want to be included in what you’re doing.Q:
But there are definitely gay people who look to gay artists to speak to them about their own experience of being gay. They’ve often felt ignored or rejected by the mainstream culture.C:
I understand that. But I think it’s kind of corny if I watch a video on LOGO that hits you over the head with, “This is a gay artist for gay people.” Most straight people can’t really connect to a gay lifestyle, and that’s understandable. Rather than fight that with my music, I can accept it. At the same time, I’m not going to pretend that I’m not gay. Like in the video for “Tonight”—I told the director it’s gotta be about a guy being obsessed about another guy. I don’t need to be untrue to myself by making it about a girl.Q:
I imagine you must have a lot of groupies who follow every move you make.C:
Yeah, I’ve got guys that email me all the time and say they want to sleep with me and send me naked pictures of themselves. I’ve been with a guy for a year, so I really want to get out of those kinds of situations. I can’t really take advantage of it anyway. Besides, I’m not the kind of guy to take advantage of a hot guy just because he’s drunk. If I hooked up with someone who was an admirer, it would be because we connected, not because he was an amazing piece of ass.Q:
So, tell me about working with Lady Gaga.C:
We performed together a few times at Family on Avenue C before she got famous. It was a big show—4 different dances and all of these costume changes. Then I was asked to rap on her song “Just Dance.” She’s very cool and really supportive of everyone in the scene.Q:
How does the new music on Watch My Mouth
differ from past songs?C:
The whole album covers so many different periods, it hard to pinpoint just one vibe. Like I said, I’m really getting inspired by the clubs and what people are dancing to right now, but I don’t want to just make basic house music—I like getting involved in what interesting producers are doing. I’m consistently going down a dance-conscious road and paying less attention to the flow of the rhymes. There’s still a lot of humor to my music, but the most important thing I’ve learned is that when people go out to clubs, they don’t want to think—they just want to dance.