Music is almost inextricably linked to the institutions that prop it up, and so when the club scene got hit during pandemic lockdowns, its associated musical scene almost evaporated, with the light being carried on by a few brave souls as they traversed the unstable years ahead devoid of places to congregate.
That connection to the club goes way back for Rush Davis and Kingdom, who first met at Mustache Mondays, a weekly queer night that moved from club to club as it made its way around the Los Angeles nightlife scene.
The LA scene had become a fixture of Rush Davis’s life. The singer/producer grew up in a Black and Mexican household in Watts, California before fate took him to queer clubs and underground ballroom events all over the city, eventually leading him to work with artists like KAYTRANADA, Zhu and serpentwithfeet.
All the while, Kingdom was still living out his early life on the other side of the country, growing up in rural Massachusetts before moving to New York City to study at Parsons School of Design. He lived there for 10 years before making the decision to swap coasts, moving to Los Angeles and bringing him one step closer to Davis.
After meeting, the pair quickly got to work making music together. Their styles slid together almost effortlessly, with those few points of friction only leading to heightened creativity and new horizons for both. Kingdom brought out the more experimental side of Davis and put him atop cacophonous and even atonal beats, with Davis telling the producer, “I feel like every artist that works with you steps into your world, and you give them this beautiful atmosphere that you create.”
We brought Davis and Kingdom together to talk about the creative process behind the album, their dream collaborations and the queer nightlife scene.
Kingdom: We weren't even expecting to do a second album necessarily, right?
Rush Davis: I wasn't! I wanted to do a project with you in the first place because every artist that works with you steps into your world, and you give them this beautiful atmosphere that you create. There's so much of you in that space that it doesn't even feel right to just say, "Oh, this is a Rush record."
If it was just me, it would be a completely different thing. The sound would be different. The approach would be different. When I come into your world, it calls on a different aspect of my artistry that I really love to express, but it's really unique to working with you. It feels more like a feature than a production, you know? Which is why some producers are more than producers. You're definitely an artist.
Kingdom: Was "Pretty Boy Venom" the first one you did?
Rush Davis: Yeah, I think it was.
Kingdom: I don't do that many beats that you can identify as a straight-up house-type beat, so it's not my usual territory, but what you did was crazy with that one.
Rush Davis: But what you did was crazy with that one because honestly, I still don't think of that record as traditional house.
Kingdom: Yeah, it's hardstyle, distorted...
Rush Davis: And then when you drop into them nasty-ass Sisqó “Unleash the Dragon” strings, I was like, "Oo!"
Kingdom: It ended up being at butch queen speed. It was all sped up! By the time I ended it, I was at 135 [beats per minute], and I blended it out of a more... actually, the track was even more of that harder stompy sound. I think they were taken a little bit aback because when you're DJing and you're crossfading, you can't hear actually every frequency range, so your mind is like, "Okay, I'm about to hear another hard techno-ish or hardstyle track," but then as the EQ fully fades over, they're hearing the weird plucky synth strings, and then they're hearing sweet vocals. So the kick just drove them all the way home, but then somewhere in their mind it’s like, "There's some other shit going on!"
Rush Davis: That's why I love playing that record. She's faggotry manifested fully. I listen to that and I feel so gay, and I love playing it. I really love playing it in my neighborhood. It's my favorite thing because you roll the windows down and you turn that shit up and they know you're a faggot.
Kingdom: Shit! So you're just showing them!
Rush Davis: It's Grindr without Grindr!
Kingdom: Audio Grindr...
Rush Davis: In the music, especially the stuff that I've been doing with you, I've really been playing with the softest side of my voice, literally the most cunt side of my voice. The more I listen back to it, the more I get opportunities to perform it, it's helping me embody my masculinity and femininity in a way that's even more integrated than it's ever been in my life. Before, when I was working on stuff that was a little bit more R&B around the edges, I was leaning more on the butcher side, but even more aggressive, you know?
Kingdom: Yeah, I really liked that. You should keep pushing that.
Rush Davis: I definitely wanted to stay in that soft texture. But production-wise, I wanted to terrorize a little bit more.
Kingdom: Can you break down what “butch queen” means?
Rush Davis: A butch queen is basically a male-presenting queer. In the ballroom scene, there's butch queens and femme queens, right? And butch queens can go anywhere, from the Realness Kids that present as your everyday cis boy walking down the street unclockable. And then femme queens would be like our trans sisters, and the ones that present in the female form — so it's really about your presentation.
The one thing about the ballroom scene is it makes you choose what your category is in order to compete, and the music world is the same in a lot of ways. You got to know where you fit in, and even though it's something as an artist that can feel stifling, I think it's fun to play with you know? You know, all the straights are showing ass and stuff now too.
Kingdom: Oh my god!
Rush Davis: Straight guys have definitely embraced having ass now.
Rush Davis: Which is crazy to me!
Kingdom: Yeah, I mean, sometimes at the gym I'm shocked! These straight guys are just so caked up and it's like, do even you know what that's for? Do you know what that's made for?
Rush Davis: [laughs] Do you know what it's made for?
Kingdom: They're learning because they're realizing that they like all the thirst. They want all the attention they can get, so they're showing it off for everybody!
Rush Davis and Kingdom at the XMSN DS release party (Photo courtesy of Dorian Ulises López Macías)
Rush Davis: Okay, dream lineup and dream collaboration?
Kingdom: You know I'm really into my Shygirl collabs right now, so I definitely want Shygirl.
Rush Davis: She's everything, and she's so good live.
Kingdom: She's got so much energy. Definitely want a Total Freedom set, or now formerly known as Total Freedom. Definitely get some Big Gay Idiot DJ. Just because I miss it so much, I want an NGUZUNGUZU set in my life.
Rush Davis: Well, I would be there for that for sure. And your dream collaboration?
Kingdom: My dream lineup's not done! Cause that's all the expected stuff. That's our friends, and then I need to mix that. I want Brandy as well. I want her to be mingling with the weirdos backstage and be completely thrown off.
Rush Davis: Yes!
Kingdom: I went into that insane Lovers & Friends R&B festival in Vegas. Kelis’s show was amazing.
Rush Davis: I love Kelis!
Kingdom: I loved Kelis’s show. I would love to have Kelis out. She still doesn't get as much respect as she deserves.
Rush Davis: Yeah, I know.
Kingdom: The-Dream I would like to have as well. Basically, it's a fade-to-mind meets my favorite R&B people would be ideal. I don't know how we would mix it up and combine it but that would be sick.
Rush Davis: And where would it be? On the beach, in the mountains, in a theater, in the club?
Kingdom: Oh, I want to do it at the mall but closed-down after hours.
Rush Davis: In Hot Topic.
Kingdom: Yeah, in the Hot Topic or even just everything with the roll gates down just like... is it Dawn of the Dead or some horror movie where you have to live in the mall because the zombies are outside? I want to do apocalyptic. Maybe even a mall that's out of business completely so it's just a shell of a mall.
What about you? What's your dream lineup?
Rush Davis: It would be Janet headlining. Missy would be involved for sure.
Kingdom: These are all people I forgot. I want to copy you.
Rush Davis: I would want to see Shaun of course because, in that situation, Shaun would levitate. I want River Moon because she’s that girl.
Kingdom: And they’re the new generation. I didn't pick any of the real baby-babies.
Rush Davis: Yeah, and they’re turning it! And on top of it, they just care, and I miss bitches giving a fuck. They really do care.
Kingdom: They also speak their mind! They’re not tiptoeing around shit.
Rush Davis: Nah, they know what they’re doing. And then you, bitch! You're on stage too for sure. So that's the dream lineup. Dream collab, though?
Kingdom: Janet also, right?
Rush Davis: Secretly, yes! I feel like that's possible. She doesn't feel far for some reason. No, I would have to say Pharrell because that motherfucker has keys, and those keys open doors.
Kingdom: Does he play keys?
Rush Davis: No, keys as in information, ways of crafting that are so powerful that I would just like to see it happen and see how he would use my voice. That's why you remind me of each other in some ways production-wise, just because you definitely create such an identifiable world. It's a clear perspective. Who's yours?
Kingdom: Obviously Timbaland is a huge influence on me.
Rush Davis: He's fun.
Kingdom: I hope he'd be in a fun goofy mood. Missy should have been in full control.
Rush Davis: When Missy steps into a situation, she at least puts the artists in the right light.
Kingdom: She likes to cater to the artist's thing more.
Rush Davis: She really steps into their world in a unique way. Even with the Jazmine Sullivan record Need U Bad, when she did that record with her, it was such a unique thing to put Jasmine's voice on. We were so used to hearing her on gospel shit being heavily auntie R&B, and then she did that shit and it was just so fly. She just has really great taste and her mind is so dope that [if] you get Missy and Timbaland in the same space, you get Aaliyah/Ginuine type shit. And then Static Major, too.
Kingdom: My answers to the collab thing in the past have been some of the expected things — Pharell, Timbaland. I'm a big fan of Danja's old production.
Rush Davis: I just hit him up. I slid into his DMs.
Kingdom: I'm looking for a rapping alien, so I want a Lil Wayne type or someone with an insane texture that I can play completely atonal dark beats for and who can just do texture shit for me, so that's not my life dream, which is obviously the R&B people, but it's also something I'm craving this new category [for], you know?
Rush Davis: There’s just no limit to what you can create in that space. You don't necessarily need to create form, and I think that we've had so much form lately. As much as I understand pop song structure, I've been playing a lot more with atonal stuff, but I think we understand as much as we can understand about form.
Kingdom: When I sit down to make a beat, I gotta give the singer something to grab onto, because I had so many experiences playing my weird or beats for people and [they] just only [latch] on to the one where one of my friends who knows about music did chords. One of my trained friends will lay some cool chord changes for me sometimes — John Kirby is an amazing person that I collaborate with — and they gravitate towards those automatically. I'm like, "Okay, I get the message! You need something that has traditional chord changes, essentially."
Rush Davis: But do you ever just remove all the chords after?
Kingdom: Depends on the nature of the collab. If it's a song for me, I suppose I could. If it's a song for them, they probably want that. It speaks to the power of rapping that it could actually have that experimental potential more, but I'm also always looking for those singers that can handle it.
Rush Davis: Who's the new Grace Jones?
Kingdom: Right? Who's giving that?
Rush Davis: Because I feel like that type of energy that understands they are bringing themselves to a space, not necessarily trying to find something to stand on. It's more like...
Rush Davis: Yeah, attitude! Sauce, swag. You just have to have an understanding of how to approach your own instrument.
Kingdom: It does take someone who has the understanding. "Love Is Blood" from the Transmission album might have been the first one you sent me. I was really impressed that you were able to grab onto it because I've had writers with that beat be like, "No, no, you have to change that one last chord in the progression! It's not right!"
Rush Davis: Nine times out of ten I just go into it assuming I need to figure out how to show up. I really do trust your ear and your perspective and your taste, so I know when I come to it, I'm coming to it with the understanding that you took enough care with it to do what you wanted to do and what you intended to do.
Kingdom: Yeah, the fusion of the two worlds can be really satisfying too. I think there are some Rich Harrison productions where it is really cacophonous and atonal until the bridge and then suddenly the chords come in and the key doesn't change — or maybe it does — but I like when you get that satisfying second half of the song and you do get the traditional pay-off after experiencing something really atonal and unexpected for the first part.
Rush Davis: This is the West Coast part of me talking. I'm really in love with DJ Quik and Battlecat. Battlecat is like...
Kingdom: It's one of your dream collabs?
Rush Davis: Oh my god, yes. I love him so much.
Kingdom: I don't think it was intentional, but we just did a new album that's even more for the club than our last one, and now you're DJing more than ever. It's sort of a new part of your repertoire, so regardless of the reason or intention, we're having that moment.
Rush Davis: I've always wanted to, but I think because my friends are some of the greatest DJs in the world and in history, it’s daunting! I had a manager tell me a long time ago not to DJ, just to focus on doing music because I guess he was tired of working with DJs. He just told me not to do it so I didn't, and then finally I was just like, "Fuck that! I actually just want to try." Channel Tres was actually the first person to sit down and show me how to do it.
Kingdom: Bless him for that.
Rush Davis: I saw him take one song and slow it all the way down and take this other song at half the speed of that and create this brand new song out of this loop. I was just like, "Okay, that's what I want to do!" I've been obsessed with that, and it's also informed the type of music that I want to create because I want to make music that I can play.
Kingdom: I hadn’t DJed much last year. Obviously, pandemic, but now it seems the demand is back and I'm back out there traveling and DJing.
Rush Davis: That's my favorite thing. I love to see that.
Kingdom: It's a moment! We're in the club!
Rush Davis: We're definitely in the club!
Kingdom: Meet us there!
Rush Davis: Meet us in the club!
Photography: Gabriel Perez Silva