Music

Rapper Blu Bone Brings Fatima Jamal 'Into Nebula'

Story by Fatima Jamal / Photography by Richard Windslow

My introduction to Blu Bone came via Instagram. "OVAH," I'd comment under a December 25, 2016 video of the femme queen (FQ) sensation, Tamiyah Mugler, voguing at Copa Cabana nightclub. I recall that night where she won the 2,000 for FQ performance at Vogue Knights, so when I saw the video I immediately clicked it. It was Thanksgiving and Starasia Mizrahi put up the money for the girls to vogue because FQ performance had been on a hiatus. Nothing brings the girls out like money will. I can relate. However, Blu Bone's Instagram post was more than just a repost of a trending vogue clip, it was cinema. The video paired with the chant "Ms. Sexual" immediately pulled me in. He would utter: "Tamiyah on fire, the one we desire/ She packing that heat, Dwayne Wade." This was incredibly fly to me in the way that it carried the spirit of hip-hop and ballroom commentating — the track felt like an LSS of sorts. In our world, the LSS — short for Legends, Statements, and Stars — is an honor. It's both a ceremony and offering. We give our flowers to the girls while they are living. It was then that I knew I wanted to know more about this star. Our history begins there.

I'd later travel to Chicago early 2017, for work, where we'd meet flesh to flesh, after many a FaceTime calls and social media interactions. He'd travel all the way to the North Side from Chicago's West Side to greet me. We'd share an intimacy that felt familiar — as if we'd known each other for a lifetime. He and I have been here before. That timelessness is what moves me most about the young, multi-hyphenate artist. I recall entering his bedroom studio space, like an episode of MTV cribs when I visited him, and being immediately welcomed to the real him: an ambitious 19-year-old making music in Garage Band on an iPad. I was astonished but also remember a paralyzing shame hovering over him that felt misplaced. I admired his willingness to create imaginatively by any means necessary. I encouraged him to keep going and to take care of his blessings.

I first heard traces of his Into Nebula EP that day, during my studio visit, as I like to put it, and I knew then, with certainty, that it would touch people in a special way. Into Nebula's got a soul to it that is very Black, how it moves between house, hip-hop, R&B and the blues, sampling Donnie Hathaway, Will Downing, and Kerri Chandler. It's notable to mention that the tape was made while Blu was completing school. He is quite the exemplary student in the halls of academia and to the rigor of art making. The tape is thus a living thesis as it world-builds and leads us towards a future space, talking through topics of race, gender, socioeconomic status and sexuality. The artist has surrendered to the air, and the possibility of spaces unknown, and he's surely riding it, as depicted in the album cover art. What a pleasure to witness him fly and this work two years later.

We bring it all full circle, chatting on the phone how we do about life, excavation and what's ahead. A star is surely born.

How are you feeling? I know you just left Jamaica.

I'm feeling boundless and bustling. Jamaica served as a space to mirror — surrounded by all that new water and breeze I finally found some time to lay my ass down (I inherited my mother's busyness). I rested, ate, drank, fucked, mood swung, isolated, played — and was sorry for none of it. Gave me a opportunity to kinda test drive the life I want to actualize and breath.

What kind of life do you want to actualize and breath?

A life that's sweet on the lungs and flesh. I wanna be able to hear myself while feeling the love of a community. I think my highest truth lives in those simple and undeniable pleasures. Zora Neale lived one of my favorite lives — integrity, bounty, and fearlessness. I look forward to knowing love in all her color and texture while I'm here all whilst rebuking the devil and fear.

When did you discover yourself?

I've discovered myself over and over and over, time and time again (shoutout Sylvester), but if I was to recall my earliest excavation? Hmm... I was four years old — I had just seen the Wiz (1973, as produced by Motown). A lil nigga was over the moon — euphoria. It offered a kind of kaleidoscope to see into, my world began to fractal and the possibilities multiplied. I often think about all the butch queens that touched that piece of film (Hey Quincy ) and I'm thankful. I know I must carry on and create work and worlds that liberate in that way. Oh and honorable mention to the Kelis "Caught Out There" premiere on MTV when I was three — that was a revelation.

What is a butch queen?

A butch queen — was handed the butch but informed by the queen. To be a butch queen is to operate from the erotic, a "fem" knowledge while living in a body that is deemed butch. This has been my understanding. Now you can play wit the queen and the butch as you may — it depends on the season and the day; sometimes a nigga wanna stomp, sometimes he wanna sway... hear me well?

I hear you. And I love that about you. The sway and the stomp. Very realness with a twist. A nuance — perhaps a vogue — we're both fascinated by in our work. You mention your Aunti Bug in the outro on your tape and tribute her on your IG as someone whose black and bold gender performance moved you growing up. Can you tell me more about that?

My Aunti bug was a butch queen herself! Gag! Her presentation — often a Banji Jean accompanied by a tied bandana (that of course matched her outfit) and a fly pair of sunglasses. She was always the fighter sister, my granmama's sibling — the one "not cute or built to fit a fashion model size." She was just a fucking force, her energy was felt. You wanna talk about range? She had it. She taught most of the boys in my family how to fight — how to let a nigga know you ain't the one. [She] taught us to ride a bike. She was that Aunti. She lived with bipolar disorder; I'm sure often that she felt misunderstood in this place, but she was always intent that we (her nephews and nieces) knew her love. She was the toughest, funniest and softest person I've ever met. When you see a love like that it sticks with you — why wouldn't I aspire to be as full and rich as she?

We love range! [Laughs] Let's talk about it.

We just tryna live at range, stink! Tryna be flewed out and flewed in — body downloaded and uploaded, yuh dig.

Facts! I dig that. Like Freddie Labeija said, "It do take nerve!" And you've got it. From sight to stage to sound. Did you always know that you would be an artist?

Hell yea! There were hesitations, but both my parents are writers at heart. I was drawing before I could write or read. Creating in and through space has always been vital to my happiness. The mediums change, rearrange, take new form as the years go on, but there's a method to my whimsy and madness. I'm weaving a language; I'm sure to be fluent in the end.

Can you tell me more about your taste in music?

My taste in music in large part is informed by my yeyo (Mama) — I kinda just picked it up where she left off. She was eclectic and young, but an old soul. So I grew up on Black music proper, the soul, blues, R&B, very well acquainted with that set of knowledge, and being a child of the late '90s, my earliest years were full of hella atmospheric sound and lush visual culture, from Van Hunt, Buena Vista Social Club, Esthero, Meshell Ndegeocello, Jill, Erykah, Brandy, Aaliyah... those are my true art saints. Like the most important parts of my musical sensibility will always be laced and learned from those melodies and stylings I heard around my ma's first apartment at three years old. House music had to find me though — she wasn't a part of my growing up.

God bless your yeyo for gifting us you and such impeccable taste. Was she also your introduction to Yoruba?

She wasn't actually, but she was the first to break away from the traditional Christian dogma of our family. I was raised praying; acknowledging and honoring something larger than the self is important to me. As I've grown I've interacted with several faiths and learned from each. Ifa, the faith of the Yoruba people, has resonated the most this far. It introduced a more specific veneration of the ancestors to me. The prayer at the top of Into Nebula is a Yoruba prayer to the ancestors taught to me by my Iya Amoké. My practice been slipping lately, but Ifa never leave.

Is Blu Bone to Namir as Sasha Fierce is to Beyoncè? What is the story of your name?

I found my name when writing my first show. It was a piece of experimental theater I produced and directed my senior year of high school. I named it Blu Bone, a sort of idea I made when thinking over the southern term of endearment "red bone" reserved for the lighter complected, red tinted Black folk. I began to think about what could be the inverse of that; what would be used to exalt and endear what be deemed ugly, or worst, invisible? And wallah' Blu Bone — so Black, you blue. I appreciated the way those words kissed and wove through each other, bones in reference to excavation, durability, resilience; blues in reference to my foremothers land of Mississippi, cycles, sound, oceans and skies. Not long after putting on the show I began to make it my name, and it has followed and grown wit me. So nah it ain't giving Sasha Fierce exactly (fab era from Beyoncé may I add), but Blu isn't an alter ego though, perhaps an alter understanding.

I love alter understanding. I like to think of FatFemme in the same way — a depth beneath the surface.

It's deeper than alternative ego! This is excavation work. How an identity is found is as important as the identity itself.

Speaking of identity, how do you identify (if that's important to you)? The line: "The men love me, the women adore me/ None of those niggas could ever afford me" jumps out when I think of this question.

I identify as deity... very Sarah Vaughn "whatever Lola wants Lola gets" is the mood [Laughs]. I make love to the pretty and the gruesome. My bed a garden (Taurus-Venus) but that lyric is inspired by the iconic line delivered from Diana Ross as Mahogany. It is to say: everyone wants a piece, but few are deserving of the piece. You think Mahogany gave a fuck about the gender of those eating her box? Hell no, it was about who was carryin' a coin [Laughs]. But I guess in line with the terminology I'd be Bi/pan uh-whateva.

Diety is always a mood. I can relate. And I understand the whateva at the end, too, because identity and sexuality are both overwhelming in how they consume us present day. I just had to ask a trendy question [Laughs]. This reminds me always of how language both helps and fails us simultaneously. What's more fascinating, though, is the grammar we create ourselves. You know a thing or two about that right?

I mean the grammar and dialect is passed down and taught. We Black folk know our way through, under and around a word. They've been both our friend and enemy. The silences are as important as the spoken for us, and that's where the dance and jive be. Being Black and queer; that grammar and way of word has just exploded — all the more fly it becomes, the more vulgar, more dangerous, more sweet and endearing. It just takes it to 10th power. This is the legacy I honor in my music, and honestly it's what I respect most about the genre and culture of hip-hop — the emphasis on lexicon.

Does your mother listen to music? What does she have to say about it?

The first time my ma heard my music I had made a year end list in 2017, and Banji Jean was the track they featured. I've always been weary to show her what I've been making cause I'm sensitive about my shit to say the least and she's my toughest critic (also my biggest fan). Plus she just doesn't get house music! [Laughs] And being that my first project was mostly house, I kinda never presented it to her proper. That, added with the fact my lyrical content can be a lil... raunchy and banjee cunt [Laughs]. It's a process. It's all timing, we're finding our new comfortable with each other; that takes some being uncomfortable in the interim.

Tell me more about the worlds you make in your work. What would a trip into Nebula look like?

A trip into Nebula? Into Nebula is about refusing the land that has been given — exploding the monolith. A trip into Nebula is like being on a beam of light — sonically it ascends. I made Into Nebula with transition and transformation in mind, so the music is located to no one world in particular. My next project is about the land/home that is promised, self determined and created. I exploded a nigga Into Nebula so that he may find a new home in all the ash and gas in the next world. One of my new tracks is entitled "Swamp;" it locates me in the delta of Mississippi, but years into the future. I'm interested in reclaiming that place as home. The sound be lush, it's green and blue, naked, improvised, and humid. I'm runnin' hummin' through a cotton field, with a solar-powered backpack with some big boots on, dick swangin thigh to thigh. You see what I'm seeing?

Your mind never ceases to amaze me. I mean that. What inspires you?

The Black babies! I gotta clean and rebuild this shitty nest of a world for them. If that doesn't inspire a nigga to up jump the rhythm, I don't know what will.

Is there anything else that you want to say?

I luh you, you luh me, now let's get free! Onward! And that's by any means. Download that!

Follow Blu Bone (@blu_bone) and Fatima Jamal (@fatfemme) on Instagram.

Photography: Richard Windslow

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