InspiHERed By spotlights phenomenal women in the Black queer community—everyone from artists to activists. Each week ELIXHER features someone whose personal journey and individual craft inspire us to dream bigger, laugh harder, and love deeper. Hanifah Walidah, a Bronx-native and artist shares.
ELIXHER: When did you begin performing?
HANIFAH: I began when my mother bought me my first Fisher Price turntable. And I played Teddy Pendergrass’s first self-named solo album. The one with him dressed in white. He, to this day, is my standard of recording excellence as a singer and songwriter.
ELIXHER: What drew you to the craft?
HANIFAH: At first it wasn’t a craft; it was just the love of poetry and performance that I developed while growing up an only child and a latch key kid. I spent a lot of time alone and needed to amuse and keep myself busy to pass the time. Some kids ball up with books, some get into trouble, I wrote poetry and wore a bald spot in three carpets in my room dancing throughout my childhood. I was always imagining that I was dancing before a large crowd. I discovered poetry which I wrote religiously for personal pleasure and at times to sell at my elementary school for 25 cents to a $1 around Valentine’s Day or whatever. Writing poetry led to writing rhymes when hip hop came on the scene.
ELIXHER: Who or what inspires you?
HANIFAH: My first actualized craft was hip hop and the person that did it for me was MC Lyte. I was like every other kid in NY on Friday/Saturday night at 9pm. I religiously and dutifully listened to the radio to hear Red Alert or Mr. Magic introduce the legends of hip hop each week, though at the time we had no idea…no idea. I remember when he played 10% Diss by Lyte. I was like this boy is dope but MC Lyte is a funny name for a boy. Then Red used the pronoun she or something and the lights went on. I always describe it as my first honest feminist awakening. I was like, oh we can be dope like that too. I thought MC Lyte would open the flood gates for numerous brilliant MC’s but unfortunately that wouldn’t be the case. But she did allow me to think of myself as one and I wrote down my first rhyme with my best friend at the time. Once pen hit the paper it was a done deal I was hooked and gutted. I knew my shit was dope and the flow that naturally came out was like any other. I experienced my own self-made magic and that day became not just an MC but an artist.
My second awakening was my transition from hip hop to singer-songwriter. I didn’t truly find my voice until I started traveling overseas. There I thought I would be sheltered from any purist (hip hop culture) judgment and explore what my voice can do. I did and it was done. I have added pages and gone through 2 passports and consider myself a world citizen.
ELIXHER: Describe yourself in three words.
HANIFAH: Timeless. Story-teller. F*ggot.
ELIXHER: What’s the biggest misconception people have of you?
HANIFAH: They think I’m a man. I’m completely and truly androgynous. It took me some time to accept it and find a balance between who I know I am and what people see. Now I joke and refer to my androgyny as a super power. I also found peace and understand now that people can only see what their life of experience has shaped. So it is really hard to offend me around gender or even politics.
ELIXHER: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve had to face and how did you overcome it?
HANIFAH: Some say I am a straight shooter almost to a fault. I rarely edit my words and my face hides nothing. I’m still not sure it is something I should overcome but I’m sure it hasn’t helped at times. I’m also self-absorbed, but I’m an artist and am not alone.
ELIXHER: What makes you proud to be a part of the Black queer community?
HANIFAH: Pride is a weird word and so is queer. It’s like when people call me or I, for political reasons, refer to myself as a queer or out artist. I was an artist before I knew I was gay or Black for that matter. So I often resent the hierarchy or label placed upon my identity as an artist. But when you place both Black and queer in the title I have a lot more to work with. Because race does and has trumped a lot of my experience on this earth. And being Black and queer is where I have been heartbroken and “proud” more times than anyone of the individual two. U People, the documentary that myself and Olive Demetrius produced, gives me a tremendous source of pride because it has broken down doors within the Black community around gay acceptance and set a sobering example regarding racism within the White gay community.
ELIXHER: What changes would you like to see in the Black queer community?
HANIFAH: An exchange of mentorship. There isn’t enough of it. With the exception of people who are stepping out of their generational comfort zones, there is too much of a disconnect between generations. Everyone feels they know the answers to what it is to be Black and gay and often both sides are either too self-righteous or resentful to see what the other has to offer. But for what it’s worth, I really wish AG’s, butches, studs whatever would not co-opt the worst attributes of masculinity. Hyper-masculinity is a global problem and a particularly cancerous one within our community. And pull up ya fucking pants.Ya look like you just got out of jail where they take your belts to prevent you from hanging yourself. Tap a finger to ya head and think son. There…said it.
ELIXHER: What’s next for Hanifah?
HANIFAH: Music and theater and both. I have two albums out now and more on the way. I am also currently writing a new musical with award-winning writer Mecca Jamilah Sullivan about our relationship with music and our ideas around ownership, creation and purpose. It’s tentatively called “The Tracks.” We will debut the initial run at WOW Cafe theater in 2012. You find out more at suckaforlife.com or hanifahwalidah.com.