BY WILLIAM COOKE
The Duo Discuss Brilliant New Track ‘Blend,’ Staying Socially Conscious and Inspiration in the Age of the ‘Accidental President’
Not since RuPaul herself teamed up with Elton John has there been as inspired a pairing as rap impresario Cazwell and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” (and now Broadway) diva Peppermint. Their new EP “Blend” mixes social consciousness with good old fashioned great music, and in today’s climate, it is more important than ever. I caught up with Peppermint and Cazwell recently to talk about the release of this very personal music, why constant evolution is always necessary and working with someone with whom you admire, both professionally and personally. Cazwell, you and Peppermint together with an entire EP is a treat for all of your fans. Tell me about “Blend,” the first single.
Cazwell: “Blend” is the first single off of the duet EP that Peppermint and I have done together. The song is a contemporary pop song, and when I wrote and produced it with Craig C and Peppermint, we really wanted to make a trans anthem. I thought that would be very fitting for her, since she was the first out trans contestant on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” I have known Pep a long time, since even before her transition, and wanted to make it a powerful anthem for her.
Cazwell, to be honest you are probably the only person that would be able to weave “Paris Is Burning” legend Dorian Corey into a contemporary pop song, really.
Cazwell: [laughs] I’m glad you caught that!
Peppermint, your music is different now than it was pre-“Drag Race,” before the world got to know the legend that Peppermint is! How do you see your music as changing?
Peppermint: Well, you know, I’m always gonna be a New York City queen! I think my music changes with my musical tastes and with the times, and also the tools that are available to me. My first single came out in 2007, and my album “Servin It Up” came out in 2009, which Cazwell was on, and then “Hardcore Glamour” came out in 2009. Most of those songs were a mixture of music from my past, like ‘90s hip hop and house coupled with a dance electronic stuff that was happening at that time. It’s not any different from now, but the music sounds different these days—kind of post Azealia Banks and other artists, my style has definitely been influenced. This project has been penned by Cazwell, so I am hoping that most of the heavy influences come from his tastes that go with mine. We definitely make a great couple.
Cazwell, why do you think you and Peppermint make such a dream team?
Cazwell: I think Peppermint is easy to get along with. I don’t really know anyone who has a problem with her. I think I am the difficult one. Personally, any time I have written or worked with anyone, be it Peppermint or Amanda Lepore, I love working with my friends more than anything. You know how you have that one person in your life, and you are so proud of them that they are embarrassed by it? That is Peppermint for me. It’s a great opportunity for me to take my love for her and turn it into music!
Peppermint: We gravitated towards each other really early on, before we had any music together. We performed and worked together in the club scene years ago. I remind him of this from time to time, but when he was still living in Boston, before he moved to New York City, he came down and did a guest spot at one of the clubs I worked at at the time, which is when we first met and hit it off. That was more than 10 years ago, and I won’t go any further. [laughs]
Peppermint, “Drag Race” girls put out a large amount of music, but your music is smart and crafted well, truly setting it apart. Why do you think your music is able to stand on its own?
Peppermint: I think with some girls from “Drag Race,” some queens who are fabulous queens realize, “Oh my God, we need something to do,” so they suddenly make a song. That is how a lot of the drag music comes to be—it is just out of necessity. Not that they don’t have true passion for it, I just think it comes as an afterthought. My dream has always been to be a musician, a singer and a performer, and that is before drag. I have been working on this way before “Drag Race.” Many people don’t know this, but I was the first drag queen to have a video playing on Logo. Music has always been a part of the equation for me, whether I was going to be on “Drag Race” or not. I am always thinking what my next album is going to be and what I am gonna say. I think that informs the quality of the music as well.
With “Drag Race” being such a launching pad, do you think you will be able to stand on your own without the shadow of “Drag Race”? A number of your sisters have been able to do that so far.
Peppermint: I definitely hope so. I talk to people that I just met, and they are surprised to learn things about me that they learned within the capsule of “Drag Race.” They, for instance, think that I came out on “Drag Race” or something like that, not realizing that I have done so many things prior to the show. A lot of people have that association, and I have no shame in that; it’s a great platform. I don’t think I’ll ever really want to disassociate myself with that, but I think in a few months people may be able to try it out. As opposed to saying “Peppermint, star of ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race,’” they will be able to say “Peppermint, star of Broadway’s Head Over Heels.”
Cazwell, the direction of the music on “Blend” is different, yet definitely still fits in the Cazwell style and brand. What is the direction of this package specifically like?
Cazwell: I did take into consideration that Peppermint was on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” I took the demographics into consideration, but I definitely wanted to also make some music that we could also do in gay clubs. It would be a straight-up hip hop track or a trap track. I know what music that queens that watch the show want to hear. Part of me wanted to appease them; that’s part of the reason “Blend” sounds the way that it does. I figured I should try to make a contemporary pop song, which I had never tried to make one before. Anything that had a pop feel to it usually happened by accident. I definitely wanted it to have a sound of “right now” and have a popular point of view. I wanted to take the sound that people would gravitate to and also create a song with a message. There is a line, though. Sometimes you can take a song with a message, and it can be a bit of a yawn; if it’s too political, some people can’t balance pop appeal and keep it having a message. It’s a hard thing to balance out. I worked on the song for months, and it took so many versions. It was really difficult. I am the type of person that has to try everything until I hit the right thing. I am a perfectionist. “Blend” was a real achievement for me.
RuPaul recently made some comments about trans contestants on “Drag Race.” Peppermint gave some well-thought-out comments to Billboard. What are your thoughts?
Cazwell: I think that to a certain extent, RuPaul has said some things that make me think she has a very old school way of thinking with some gay issues and trans issues, like with the use of the word “tranny.” I think she can be a little stubborn to let go of that and move forward with the times. I can definitely understand that to a certain point; I used to say “tranny” all the time myself. I lived in New York and knew all of the girls downtown, and they all called themselves “trannies.” I think a new generation of trans women saw the word as derogatory, because hateful heterosexual men who wanted to make fun of them would use the word — you would have to talk to a trans woman to see why they really hate the word so much, though. My point of view is that I never meant it in a negative way, but I can change.
I never mean to offend anyone. It was simple for me, but there are other people that wanted to hold onto it. I listen to RuPaul’s podcast, “What’s the Tee,” and I sometimes think that she needs to be surrounded by some younger voices to maybe affect her opinion on things. There are also things to consider—like, for example, would having nine men and one woman in the workroom working together change the dynamic of the show? I can understand that concern. To some extent I can see where she is coming from; she has found a formula that works for the show, so I can understand why she would not want to change that also.
You are very vocal about the world in general and are able to put your finger on what is important to the community. From a creative perspective, is it harder to keep staying inspired with the LGBT community having to fight harder now more than ever in today’s climate?
Cazwell: Actually, no; I almost think it’s easier. I am actually inspired more when I am up against something. When we are having our rights, our safety and our healthcare taken away from us—with gun laws for example—and our money and our taxes are being fucked with, we feel we need to fight back, and write up a big sign and march. I think in times like this we are inspired more, when we have to fight. There are so many things we took for granted when we had a president that actually fought for gay marriage and won. Now that we have someone who wants to take that away from us, or take trans people out of the military, who is openly transphobic, homophobic, racist, Islamophobic, you name it, we have so much more to be loud about. Once he became president, the first thing I said was that I vowed to be as gay as possible. I think it’s important for gay people to be as loud and as vocal, and for trans people to be as loud and as vocal as possible; they want to shut us up so we appear invisible, and it then appears that their side is winning. It is so important to go against the grain. That’s the great thing about our country. It proves how much you want to fight for your country. We have this “accidental president” that obviously does not belong there. It’s like hiring a restaurant manager who you find out two weeks later is wrong for the job; he just should not be doing it. If he hadn’t won, “Loose Wrists” would not have happened. I don’t know that there would have been as much of an urgency for me to write “Blend.” I may have just written happy-go-lucky, bottle-popping club tracks. The good old days! [laughs]
Peppermint/Cazwell – “Blend”