Rapping for the Queer Collective

Rough Diamond Collective Embraces Queer Hip-Hop

Hip-hop is not entirely accustomed to seeing Queer artists amongst its ranks—or so you might think.

Having a strong, Queer hip-hop community in Montreal may be surprising, but Queer artists have actually been incredibly present in the Montreal hip-hop scene since the 1980s.

It’s a community that Montreal Collective Rough Diamond, composed of Alex Heggie and Priscilla Pleasant, wants to see grow and gain more awareness.

“Initially, we were sort of jealous of what other cities had going on,” said Pleasant. “There was this large tour that was like Jean Grae, Invincible and Tamar-Kali, and we were talking about it. They were big underground rappers—Invincible is queer, the others are […] ambiguous,” laughed Pleasant. “They were doing this kind of grassroots tour and we wished that it would come to Montreal,” added Heggie.

“We were looking on their website, and they were like ‘if you’re interested in having it happen in your city, you should get in touch with us.’ So we got in touch with them,” said Heggie. They went for smaller, but as effective artists after the group found out the cost of bringing the show to town was around $10,000.

“But [we thought] maybe we could come up with a tenth of that and put on some other kind of shows,” said Pleasant.

And that’s exactly what happened. Their first concert was in Aug. 2011 and featured New York Queer rapper Le1f, which took place at Montreal’s Pervers/Cite Festival.

“And so we were thinking, there’s all these amazing shows happening in other places—New York, LA, Toronto, Philadelphia. And we’re just sort of sitting around wondering why Montreal doesn’t have any of this awesome stuff going on,” said Pleasant. “And finally one day we just sort of got our act together. We were craving these sort of events, so we thought it would be satisfying to other people [too].”

Along with continuing to book concerts, the group hosts a monthly DJ event called Queers Pump This, at Cabaret Playhouse, formerly at the Royal Phoenix.

“Queers Pump This is definitely a rap party. We usually try to get a local person to perform a little bit, but it’s not mainly a live performance party, it’s a DJ party,” said Heggie. “It’s about doing a rap party that’s all about DJs doing rap music, but also things around it like dancehall and ballroom and reggaeton and stuff too.

“That kind of sound [is] a place that’s really inclusive for Queer and Trans and kind of variant people, and [that] people can feel safe going to,” said Heggie, mentioning it’s even more special by hosting in a way that integrates queer-made music.

They’ve also co-hosted fundraiser events with the Ste-Emilie Skillshare that step outside the realm of strictly hip-hop and rap.

“As far as other stuff goes, it’s a little bit less hip-hop centered I would say it does have connections with spoken word and slam poetry that people in the city are doing which are also hip-hop focused, but slightly more of a stretch,” said Pleasant.

“But I mean, it’s also in our mandate to be primarily about Queer hip-hop, primarily about Queer people and people of colour, but not exclusively either of those things. We’re also just committed to working towards Queer social change in Montreal,” added Pleasant.

While hip-hop is what got them started, Rough Diamond hopes to expand by hosting more art shows, freestyling rap cyphers, and booking as many local artists as possible.

As far as the Montreal Queer artistic community as a whole, Heggie and Pleasant aren’t quite sure where their collective fits in.

“I feel like a lot of people have a fantasy about the Queer community, in that it’s just going to be all-embracing and all-welcoming and whatever, but it’s just a group of fucked up people like any other,” said Pleasant. “I love a lot of things about the Queer community, but it’s not perfect.”

“It’s who I am, and it’s where I live,” added Heggie. “And so for me it’s not just sitting around and complaining about issues, it’s building up and trying to make something cohesive happen.”

Upcoming Events

Queers Pumps This / Cabaret Playhouse (5656 Avenue du Parc) / Feb. 18

Man Chyna / Part of the Radical Queer Semaine / Mar. 2 / Location TBA

More info: roughdiamondmtl.tumblr.com

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