Hip-hop's indie raunch queen lives a double life
A rapper called Boyfriend is giving voice to those who want to shout about their vaginas from the mountaintop.
The New Orleans emcee recently released the video for “Swanky,” a new anthem for independent ladies everywhere. It’s an alternate take on the tired refrain of “swag” in rap, an update on Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Women.” A plea to “stay swank.”
If you browse the rest of her YouTube videos, they feature wildly different personas, but they share a similar message. There’s the pro-sex rap, an ode to period sex, and perhaps the only hip-hop song to fetishize old age. Along with rapper Awkwafina, who addresses the somewhat taboo topic of queefs on her new album, and Hand Job Academy, who rapped about periods on “Shark Week,” she’s opening up hip-hop to a more honest depiction of female sexuality, with a sense of humor.
Boyfriend, who declined to give her real name, lives something of a double life. When I ask about her day job, and if there’ve been repercussions for songs like “Grannyfucker,” she offers a “no comment”: “I have to watch my ability to pay my bills for a minute.”
That duality plays into her music as well. She grew up in Nashville with a father who wrote country songs and a mother who was a photographer. She worked on Music Row, and grew up around the country music industry, but only recently stepped into the rap game.
She told the Daily Dot a bit about what it’s like being the Internet’s boyfriend.
When did you start rapping?
I started a little over two years ago. I kind of fell into it drunkenly, on accident, by having a few beers and freestyling with friends, and realizing I had a natural knack for it. Which shouldn’t be surprising because I come from a family of songwriters. I was always the odd man out. I worked in the entertainment industry, but on the logistics side of it. I called myself the white collar sheep of the family, and I think it was just brewing under the surface all along. When I realized I was good at it, it all happened really fast. I recorded my first song, “Hunch and Munch,” in the studio with my dad. …I think I’d kind of seen the struggle, seen how artists in my family really had to advocate for themselves. Everyone in my family has had to sell themselves, you know, “Like my art!” It always turned me off. And now here I am; I’ve fallen right in step with my lineage.
Tell me a bit about your aesthetic. Is that what “Swanky” is about?
When I set out to write and do the video for “Swanky,” we wanted to do something that was more accessible, because my aesthetic has bounced all around, and I look completely different from video to video. So I wanted to shoot for something I wanted to listen to when I was driving in my car, and that looks like something I can understand easily. I want people to know there are different sides to Boyfriend.
On that note, tell me about “Grannyfucker.”
I had released a mixtape of really dark, fucked up material, and it was really easy for me to write because it was so exaggerated and removed from reality. And I developed this professional relationship with Kim Fowley [former manager of the Runaways]. He sent me these photos of him in a hospital bed, because he’s battling cancer, and it made me think of this song again, which is all about fetishizing old age, and making that proximity to death a turn-on.
So he sent me these fantastic, gruesome photos, and I decided to place that within the art world, and rented out an art space in New Orleans, and set up this imaginary reality where there’s an underground where people fetishize old age, and go to art shows about it, and dress up like they’re old. And it’s a little tongue-in-cheek, because this was around the time rap and art were doing their thing, you know, Jay-Z was rapping for six hours straight, Lady Gaga did Artpop, and I wanted to do my own wink-nudge take on it.
And going from there, what about “Period Rap”?
I had just been so frustrated my whole life with boys being so grossed out by periods, and as a grown woman, I’m like, “Fuck that.” We deal with this all the time. It shouldn’t be some crazy taboo.
So I wanted to do a song that just put it out there. In the video, those costumes we’re wearing, me and the actress actually performed in ninth grade in Rodgers and Hammerstein's “Cinderella,” and my mom made those costumes for us. So it was like, here we are almost 10 years later, in the woods, drinking blood, doing the fucked up video we wanted to do in ninth grade but couldn’t because we were in a Christian high school.
I know your music has been described as “raunchy,” but do you think that’s just because people aren’t used to a woman being so honest about their sexuality?
I do think that, and it’s funny, because having a female voice in rap, when I chose to do this, my first song was “Hunch and Munch,” which is all about sex. That was a conscious choice. It was in your face, but I look like a schoolteacher; I’m not supersexy, my boobs aren’t hanging out like Lil Kim. I’m very consciously participating in that tradition.
There’s a duality to it: Isn’t it ridiculous that in order to rap, we have to rap about sex? But then the other half of me says, “Isn’t it awesome we get to rap about sex?” We should be able to talk about those things, but I recognize it’s also this artistic prison that women have placed on them.
You mentioned schoolteacher. Are you a teacher?
Um, no comment. I have to watch my ability to pay my bills for a minute. But that duality: I’m living a double life now, for sure.
You have a new album coming out soon.
It’s called Love Your Boyfriend, and it’s entirely dealing with love. I’ve never rapped about love before, and I was listening to a lot of ’60s soul records, and there’s this theme of codependency and need. And then I watched more recent videos, and the story hasn’t changed that much. We just sort of passively digest these songs about love, and I don’t really define love that way. So this is Boyfriend turning that on its ear.
Does the name Boyfriend mess with those ideas?
For sure. Everyone feels some type of way about that word, and this is me being like, “Hey, bitches, I’m your boyfriend.” Quit wondering when you’re going to meet Mr. Right and watch my videos, because I’m around 24 hours a day online. I’m the best boyfriend you could have.
Photo by Akasha Rabut