We had the chance to speak with Brooklyn-by-way-of-Chicago queer rapper, Big Dipper, about the rapper's rise as a cultural representative of the Bear Scene, his own body image, and how he's become an ambassador for queer hip-hop.
Check out Big Dipper's music video for his single, "Vibin," below and be sure to pick up his new EP, Extra Good, here. Blast it from the rafters!
Interview by Francis Shervinski
PO: Punk out is a nonprofit organization that helps connect LGBTQ artists and fans together through music. We like to focus on 3 key factors, 3 I’s… Identity, Inclusion, and Inspiration. So with that being said, lets get started. Can you please tell us who you are, how you Identify (if you care to share), how old you are, and where you are from?
BD: Sure, my name is Big Dipper. I am a rapper. I also call myself a performer or entertainer because I do more than just write and rap lyrics. I’m from Chicago. I live in Brooklyn. I recently turned 30 years old. [laughs] I identify as male gendered. I also identify as queer, but I’m also happy to identify as gay. A lot of people call me a bear. I enjoy calling myself a bear, but my scope culturally, socially, is much larger than just the bear scene. I think a lot of people find the scene and just stick into it, and I like to just bounce around. So, I’m happy to be in the bear scene… That’s sort of where I like to get my dick wet, but other than that, my social, cultural, and political stasis are much more in a queer space.
PO: How did you land the name Big Dipper?
BD: The name Big Dipper was initially a quick, spur of the moment joke. It just sort of fit. I’m a big guy. “Big” made sense. “Dipper” is inherently sexual-sounding… it has an innuendo to it. The name itself is iconic. There are roller coasters, ice rinks, ice cream cones, ice cream shops, sandals, chewing tobacco, and the constellation and all of those things. But then upon looking further, it was sort of serendipitous…because the constellation is part of Ursa Major, which is the big bear in the sky… and it’s just like, OH! Big bear, big dipper, me… it all just made sense. But it was originally just a “throwaway name” that was funny and fit… and now it’s just grown into REALLY fitting.
PO: What are your thoughts on LGBTQ inclusion when it comes to the music scene? Do you think there is a lack of inclusiveness?
BD: I came into the music scene about 4 years ago. I was kind of like a late bloomer. I feel like a lot of musicians have been doing music since they were teenagers, but that wasn’t the case for me. But I also started putting my music in videos out in the world at a time when things were sort of in the middle of shifting, and still are. The past decade and a half we’ve been trying to figure out how the music industry is going to work. Basically since the beginning of Napster, the whole idea of making money selling music is more challenging. I think the internet has brought around this amazing wave of access to independent artists that allow niche fan bases to really connect, “Oh, I’m looking for a Punk Artist from New Orleans, who likes to skateboard, but also wears makeup” and it’s like, BOOM! You can find that. You know what I mean? You can find anything you want out in the world. And it is so great because you have direct access to people who are really connected to what you do, but also if everyone is an artist then no one is sort of making a living doing it. And that, coupled with the fact that music is so hard to sell because you can just rip it all for free or download it somewhere - it becomes challenging… so, I think it’s a double edge sword. If this was the 90s and I was shopping a cassette tape around with my music on it looking the way I do, and talking about what I talk about… which is being a chubby, hairy, white rapper that talks about sucking dick… there would be no way I would be playing national shows. But because it’s 2015 and the internet has allowed me to gain a following, and because politics have shifted in a more progressive way, I’m able to put myself out there. So, I think the internet has offered a huge accessibility to LGBTQ fans looking for LGBTQ artists, looking to connect with someone who they can see themselves in, who can share and reflect their story back to them… I think that’s amazing! I also think in the mainstream, there are tons of artists who have been pushing the boundaries. Everyone cites Frank Ocean for taking a huge step for gay artists, especially in hip-hop/R&B, and I think that’s amazing. More recently, Miley Cyrus did this interview in People magazine where she talks about her very fluid gender identity and sexuality, and that’s an amazing thing because she’s a product of the machine. A little eight year old girl with a pearly white smile, wearing clothes that are marketed to teenagers in the Disney world, has now grown up to be a force to be reckoned with when it comes to queer youth living on the streets, HIV/AIDS research, and gender/sexual identity equality… that stuff is amazing. So, I think we’re also in a time where if you want to listen to an LGBTQ artist, you can find them in every genre. You have access to their music, whether they are putting it up or a label is putting them up, and you can show your entire song with just queer people in all genres of music. I think people just didn’t have the access to that 10 years ago.
PO: Have you ever met a fan that you’ve inspired that has told you a beautiful story?
BD: People say really REALLY nice things to me. It’s incredible! Honestly, when I’m up on stage, I feel really selfish. I feel like, I’m doing this because I love to do and it makes me feel good… in the middle of my set I’ll play Britney Spears songs and just dance to it in a crop top and jock strap like all sweaty, just dancing on stage for a bunch of people… and they’re indulging me! They’re letting it happen, and they’re cheering me on… so I feel really selfish. And people will say really nice things to me. Some nice things I’ve heard… a lot of hip hop fans will say, “As a gay person I never felt represented, I never felt I could see myself in the music I listen to and that’s changed when I listen to your music,” which is REALLY cool! A lot of people talk about how my music is fun. When I do my live show I really like to have a good time, I like to smile and dance. I like to make people have fun! And that’s a really great thing because it’s not only escapist entertainment, but it also shows you that even if your life is shitty, even if some people are coming down on you for who you are or if you’re facing some sort of oppression or discrimination… we can still rise above it, and we as queer people have been doing that for years and years and years… so, that’s really great! The other element is body positivity… and that’s not something I ever set out to tackle. Additionally, it’s not something I necessarily feel I conquer in any way. I started stripping when I was working with the dance group in Chicago, and the response was always really positive, and so, then purely out of habit, and maybe necessity because I was getting too hot while I was performing, I would take my shirt off and I would start to strip and I realized the reaction was so great. Then I was like - oh, that’ll be part of my thing…I’ll start and I’ll, like, take off layers of clothes and I’ll really get into it… When you look at mainstream pop music, it’s all incredibly sexual. With straight rappers, it’s about the women next to them who are in thongs. With female rappers or female pop artists, its objectifying their bodies…and now more and more, there’s Justin Beiber with his bulge out in a Calvin Klein ad, or the moment Drake posts a selfie of him at the gym, the internet went crazy… Sex sells! Sex is what music is about. I’m selling sex too… I just look a little different. So, body positivity sort of snuck up on me…. And so, I had this crazy thing happen to me… there’s this guy in South Africa who sent me this epic message… an Instagram direct message that basically said, “You are my hero. I look up to you. You make me smile everyday. I live in a situation where I cant even follow you on Instagram because people are checking who I follow. So every night when I come home I have to type in your account, and I look at the pictures, and they make me feel proud and happy and excited for a future when I don’t have to live here anymore.” That is some really intense shit! Someone policing who he follows on Instagram to make sure he’s not gay. I looked at his account and he’s a big and he’s a cute guy, nice smile…but he’s a big boy. And he was saying that when I post pictures of me at the beach or at my show or stripping or whatever, it gives him so much confidence to not only keep going in his hard situation, but look to the future when he can be himself out in the world like I am.
PO: That’s awesome! Body positivity! I absolutely see you are very confident with that, especially when performing. It’s cool that people are catching on and being touched by that because you don’t really see that too much!
BD: I feel like it was a running joke on sitcoms back then…in like the early 2000s. People were like, “Ih a blind date. I hope he doesn’t have back hair!” Back hair! It was like the worst possible thing a guy could have. I have hobbit feet, I’m covered in hair from head to toe. I’ve got a big old belly, I have little sausage fingers. I’ve had this “middle aged man body” since I was in my 20s…but it’s like, embrace what you’ve got! When you start to harness sexuality you realize that everyone is somebody’s type. There’s always someone out there who wants to fuck you, so my might as well act like the whole room wants to fuck you!
For me, it’s not like, oh, no one should ever go to the gym! Just eat a bunch of cheeseburgers…no! I’m really physical at my shows. I like to work up a sweat, I like to bike, I love to exercise… yeah, muscles are sexy, but bodies are made certain ways and not everyone looks like a fucking supermodel. So, embrace what you’ve got, but also take care of yourself. I think there is a tipping point. Sometimes people talk about body positivity and they’re like, “I’m big and I’m beautiful and I’m like this,” and I’m like, yeah but, you might have diabetes and you need eat some vegetables and take care of yourself. The same is for those go-go boys. It’s like, do you really need to go to the gym 3 times a day and do as much steroids as you do? That’s actually unhealthy even though you look like a stereotypical god. It’s all about a healthy balance.
PO: What pushes you to do what you do? When times are rough, what inspires you?
BD: That’s an interesting question because this is my full time job. So, I don’t go work somewhere else for 40 hours a week and then come home and do my music hustle. This is it! But there are days that are really hard. There are huge ups and downs. Sometimes when I’m blinded by all of the problems stacking up, by all of the “Oh this/that didn’t work... This person needs more money... This person isn’t responding to me...This shit fell through,” when all of those things pile up around me I think, what does keep me going? Sometimes its purely the snowball effect. It’s like, well bitch, what else am I going to do? Am I gonna cancel a bunch of gigs, and just stop, and take down my videos and stop being? No! I have to keep going. That’s in the bad moments. In the good moments I have enough clarity to realize, like I said before, very selfishly, I have found what makes me happy and it’s being up on a stage performing music. That is one thing that truly makes me happy. That’s what I want to keep doing. The other thing is, it’s something a very few people get to experience, but that energy of being on that stage and doing the songs and having people sing along with the music. Literally singing along with something that came out of your head. That’s an amazing feeling! And looking back and seeing smiling faces, receiving that energy, seeing people jump up and down. After shows when I do a meet and greet, people sharing themselves with me, saying, “I listen to you all of the time. I watch your videos. We love you,” - that stuff doesn’t go unheard! Sometimes the line’s long and I’m trying to sell t-shirts or I’m just trying to move through… I hear all of it! It’s such an incredible thing! Thinking about the self confidence I had when I was in middle school, thinking about the dreams I had that I would always squash in my own brain… I was like, “oh I can do this!,” then saying “no, you could never do that! You’re not worthy enough for that! You don’t look right for that” “You’re not able to do that”. Thinking back to the fact when I was in high school, I knew that I was gay but I was in denial. I was telling myself, “Ok, maybe you’re gay and you just won’t tell anyone you’re gay and you’ll live your whole life as a bachelor, and just be single; never having a partner, and you can just focus on work! And that’ll be what keeps you happy and busy.” I literally convinced myself of that when I was like, sixteen! That’s so twisted! It’s because I had such little self-confidence that no one would want to be with me or find me attractive or any of that. So thinking back on some of those memories - of that sort of self-sabotage in my brain, and seeing where I am now where I feel confident enough to get up in front of a group of people and engage with a group of people, and put a product out on the internet and share my creativity, I feel proud of that! And that’s what keeps me going! I’m very proud of all the work I’ve done!
Editor's Note: The views and opinions expressed on our Artist Corner are exclusively of the author or interviewee and do not reflect the views and opinions of Punk Out as an organization. If you're a musician or an industry insider and would like to participate in our Artist Corner, email us at email@example.com.