Features  Changing the Narrative

An Interview with Lucas Charlie Rose

There’s no shortage of twenty-somethings who wonder whether or not they’ll make it in the real world, but 26-year-old singer-songwriter and activist Lucas Charlie Rose ignores those nagging thoughts. Instead, the artist has been steadily working on his music from his elementary school days back in France. For the past eight years, Rose has been rapping and making hip hop music in Montreal, and has recently started a non-profit record label called Trans Trenderz to provide a platform for trans artists to promote their music. In addition to his musical pursuits, Rose participates in panels and conference about decolonization, mental health in Black communities, and trans issues. I had the opportunity to sit down with Rose in February and discuss his music, activism, and his efforts to make space for marginalized identities in the music industry.

AB: When did you start making music?

LCR: I was in elementary school, and I had this one teacher who would bring his guitar to class and teach us poems through music. He put them into song because it was easier for us to remember. At the time I was already writing poems, but this was huge for me because I realized I could make my own songs.

AB: So where did you grow up?

LCR: I was born in France. When I was nine years old I moved to Niger for three years and then back to France for three years. Then I did my last three years of high school in Washington.

AB: What’s it like moving around that much?

LCR: It’s weird. Like I’m in Canada, but I’m not Canadian, but I don’t feel French either. I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. Because I’ve lived in so many countries, I always wonder why countries exist, it just doesn’t seem to make too much sense.

Making music that makes sense

AB: How did you get started making hip hop music?

LCR: I don’t really know. That was the type of music that I was into at the time and I could relate to. Hip hop is for people who look like me and who don’t really have a voice. I just connected with the music. I was in a rock band at one point, but that’s expensive. You have to pay for the instruments, rehearsal space, and at some point I didn’t have resources to keep going. But with hip hop, you really only need a computer and you’re good.

AB: Can you tell me a little about your music? And about Gender F*ckboi?

LCR: I like to describe it as trap-infused soul music. I love mixing the sounds. Gender F*ckboi is an album about me, really. 2017 was a rough year for me and Gender F*ckboi were the songs I wrote that year. For me, it’s almost like a journal. When I’m writing music like that, most of the time I’m not really thinking about the lyrics that are coming out. It’s just coming out. I’m learning about myself in the process. That’s why I called it Gender F*ckboi. First of all, being a Black masculine person, you’re seen as misogynistic, as oppressive. You don’t have to do anything; you’re just automatically seen like that. And I’m trying to redefine Black masculinity as well with this album.

It’s a political life

AB: What does your work aim to say and how does it comment on social and political issues?

LCR: I’m just trying to be heard. People don’t really listen to us trans people. But at the same time, I don’t want people to see me exclusively as a trans artist. I’m an artist who happens to be trans. So my music is just about the things that I’m experiencing and people call it political because my life is political. It’s a political opinion to decide whether or not I should be allowed to live. I’m just trying to survive in this world.

AB: Your work also brings attention to the Black community, the trans community, and the Black trans community. So in that context what does visibility mean to you? Are there any negative consequences to that visibility?

LCR: Yeah, of course. If people see you, but don’t see you the way you want to be seen, then that visibility isn’t helpful. It’s fine to have trans people on TV and all but then if you’re not showing anything beyond the fact that this character or person needs surgery, then you’re just objectifying their bodies. Visibility then also relates to who is in power and in control of the narrative. If trans people are in control of their own narrative, then that’s the only visibility that is actually helpful. But that also comes at a price, because the more visible you are when you’re different, the more haters and death threats you get, which unfortunately, is really common.

AB: You helped to establish Trans Trenderz–what is it? What do you hope to do through it?

LCR: It’s a non-profit record label for trans artists. We want to release music that’s available for free. So if you don’t have enough money to buy the CD, you can download the music online for free. We also help other artists release their own music. We’re not like other labels where we tell the artists to pay us back the money it took to produce their music. I wanted to create a system that protects the artist and where there isn’t the pressure to be making money afterwards. I’m also working on developing the website so that there is a forum for trans people who make music and people who want to work with them to connect and learn more about each other. I’m trying to build a community because I really believe that music can change the world, especially when I see people like Rihanna, who [attended a conference on education with the French President Emmanuel Macron]. People who make music have so much potential to change the world. Trans people, we haven’t really used that avenue yet. My goal is to build up this community and empower each other.

AB: It makes sense that the artists are protected, but why the focus on making the music free?

LCR: Because being a trans person costs a lot of money, we can’t always afford CDs and music and going to shows. I also wanted to be able to have a platform where trans people can go and listen to music that’s made by people that have the same experiences.

AB: What do you think the artist’s responsibility is to their audience?

LCR: When you’re an artist, you have to keep in mind that without your audience you’re nothing. For me, the responsibility is being true to yourself. You don’t want to become a crook, or advertise violence or things that could hurt your audience. You have to be respectful to the people who listen to you. But you also have to be genuine in what you do. It’s a professional relationship between the artist and the audience; at a show the audience is essentially hiring you, so you need to respect that. At the same time, the audience needs to respect the artist’s private life, and too often people just don’t. Just because I make music and I talk about falling in love, that doesn’t mean you can come into my private life and sneak around. Respecting those boundaries is just so important.

This moment in music

AB: Okay, so let’s move on to music more broadly. What does this moment in music mean for artists of colour?

LCR: Hip-hop is the most salient music genre right now. As a result, it feels like a matter of time before it becomes a white dominated genre. When you see people like Post Malone it feels more that way. Even back when Eminem was starting off, it wasn’t like everyone said ‘you’re white, you don’t belong here.’ Everyone was praising him, even though he is lowkey mediocre. He doesn’t challenge anything, but he’s still making so much money. It’s great that hip hop has this huge visibility, but it’s so mainstream now. It’s become a matter of keeping hip hop in its rawest form — using it to give voice to marginalized people. When I say marginalized I mean people who aren’t represented in the music industry. People who you don’t see when you watch music videos or t.v. shows. Black people are still marginalized. We’re still marginalized within the music industry. It’s not like Nicki Minaj doesn’t experience racism just because she’s making money. It’s just a matter of different privileges.

AB: What is your response to the claim that mainstream hip hop is filled with misogyny and homophobia?

LCR: I think it’s racist. Black people aren’t more misogynistic or homophobic than other people. If you listen to pop music right now it’s actually a lot worse. If a Black artist is singing about going to a strip club, everybody thinks it’s misogynistic. But how is it misogynistic? Is it misogynistic to give money to a stripper? Of course it’s not. You’re supporting local businesses and hip hop is a genre that embraces sex work in a way that others just don’t. There are a lot of songs that are categorized as being misogynistic because it’s just Black people talking about sex. For example, there is a song by YG, about going to a strip club and bringing a girl home. But he says that he still calls her the next day and respects her. So you have to think about how white people see us. There is work to be done sure, but one of the biggest problems in hip hop right now is that it’s white people who own the majority of the labels. So the narrative is not one of liberation. When you’re a white person and you own a record label, Black people are your puppets. You decide what comes out of that label. For me, when somebody says that hip hop is misogynistic or transphobic or discriminatory, I want them to criticize what they’re listening to first. Especially when it comes to the actual language being used. You have to be aware of the context in which the words are being used.

AB: How do you go about trying to challenge this narrative that Black masculinity is fundamentally oppressive?

LCR: I talk a lot about Black trans men. Sometimes people will look at me and think, well, now you have male privilege, but that’s not really how privilege works. Cis men, when they look at me, don’t see someone who looks like them. They’re still violent towards my body. Trans people are often seen to be transitioning to please cis-male sexuality. The trans male privilege is conditional. I have it if I’m walking down the street, but as soon as I pull out my papers it disappears. As soon as people recognize me on the street, I’m outed. And it’s important to remember that when we’re talking about male privilege, we’re talking about white male privilege. Because does Black male privilege really exist? Is it really a privilege in most situations? That’s what’s going to get you shot. So I’m hoping that the way that I express my masculinity can help cis men as well.

Tuning in to different narratives

AB: What does being an ally look like to you?

LCR: Imagine that you’re at Madison Square Garden, and it’s completely sold out and people are there to watch you perform. But you don’t have a microphone. You’re try to sing louder and louder until eventually your voice breaks. You keep singing, but after a while you’re tired and it doesn’t even matter that people are leaving and you’re singing only to one person now. You can’t even do that now because your voice is just gone. Your message doesn’t get across. All you needed was a microphone. That’s what an ally is. An ally is there to amplify your voice. To make your life easier when you’re trying to get your message out there. But when you’re not performing, it’s turned off. It doesn’t have a role.

AB: If you could pick one accomplishment that you’re most proud of, what would it be?

LCR: I think just the fact that I’m still making music. Because it’s really not easy. I’m really proud of the fact that I’ve had failures but I’m still going. Others only really see the success, but successful people are the ones who have failed the most.

AB: We’ve talked about a variety of things, but do you have any final thoughts?

LCR: Just that people need to stop focusing on differences and focus more on what makes us alike. What I always tell people is, it’s okay if you don’t understand my life because I don’t understand yours either. I don’t understand what it’s like to not be me. Anything outside my experience, I don’t really understand. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t respect it, or that I can’t relate. And it doesn’t mean that I can’t support it. I have different sets of obstacles sure, but nothing about me is so different that you can’t listen to my music and enjoy and support it. Everybody can benefit from hearing different narratives.

This interview has been significantly edited for clarity and length.