Seattle-based rapper and queer musician Jeff Is He unveils a new video today. Mistress finds him frustrated with a male lover who – as the title suggests – isn’t giving 100% of himself to the relationship.
Rather than treat Jeff like his partner, he’s treating him like a mistress.
Did real experiences inspire the track? Have lovers kept him a secret in the past?
‘No, not kept a secret,’ he clarifies via a Skype call with GSN from his home in Seattle, Washington.
‘I would say with some past lovers of mine, I wasn’t the mistress but I felt like the mistress.
He says he’s guilty of broken-bird syndrome.
‘I tend to have a lot of people land on my door that need a lot of love – people who have been through really tough and difficult things. And many of those people weren’t ready to open up or get past some of the issues they had.
‘It’s more a case of, “You can’t give me all of you if someone else still has a major piece of you.”
‘Half of you is sorta gone and you’re giving me half of yourself, so how can I compete against that? You’re in a relationship with me, but your heart is still elsewhere. I’m playing a mistress to that.
‘It’s a rebound situation, but it’s people I didn’t think were looking for a rebound relationship. They just couldn’t get over whatever had happened with them. So I’m always competing and they’re always stuck where they are.’
‘I have had producers tell me, “How about we not put your face on this record?”‘
It’s a situation which might resonate with many – gay or straight. However, the video doesn’t pull any punches about Jeff’s sexuality.
‘I feel like there has to be a representation,’ he says. ‘If you don’t see anything that looks like you, or sounds like you, or walks like you, or talks like you, you have no roots to start from.
‘Growing up as a young gay man I never saw anybody that looked like me, especially in music – someone who was trying to be sexual, or be adventurous, and you’re fat, and you’re black and you’re feminine or you’re queer.
‘You’re making this music that people would tell you a skinny person should be making. I have literally had producers tell me, “How about we not put your face on this record? Then once the music becomes marketable we can work out how to change your image to put you out.”
‘That type of shit drives me crazy. I don’t see a lot of plus size guys of color. You don’t get to see many gay men in my size range.
‘You have some people in hip hop but … there’s no regular representation. No-one I can relate to or think I could connect with that or that guy could be an influence for me. So that’s just where it comes from – a lack of representation.
‘I don’t want to fit into any type of certain image,’ he adds. ‘I love love, I love sex, I love self-empowerment, I love advocacy, I love to fight for a cause. Those are things that you hear in my records.
‘I’m a storyteller when it comes down to making music, and those are the things I want to get across as an artist. I just like to make music.’
Jeff Is He
Jeff’s full name is Jeffery Lynn Evans Jnr.. He was born on Valentine’s Day 1984 (I talk to him on the day of his 34th birthday). He was born and raised in San Diego, CA, but relocated to Seattle at the start of last year.
He’s been working as a residential counselor for an emergency services non-profit, but is in the process of taking up a new role as a youth counselor. Working with young people has only strengthened his belief in the power of representation and the importance of singing in an authentic voice.
He began to make music around ten years ago under the name DJ Jeffa. Under that name he contributed a track to the 2007 Homorevolution compilation album.
He ditched that moniker around the turn of the century when he discovered a couple of other DJs were using the same name, and finally settled on Jeff Is He. He has put out a couple of ambient instrumental albums but is now wanting to showcase his rapping.
‘This is who I am, this is what I do’
He took a decision at some point not to be vague or unambiguous around his sexuality. I ask if that was an easy decision to make?
‘It was not,’ he admits. ‘At first, I wrote a lot of stuff with no pronouns, no gender, no anything. I used a lot of “baby”,’ he chuckles.
‘And then … I’ve heard a lot of artists that were out but it was dance music, or alternative music. I was like “Where is there a major presence for good quality hip hop from a gay artist?” If I can’t find that, then I’m going to have to create that. I was pretty much out already out as far as an artist, but I decided I really wanted to work on changing the face of music.
‘So it’s been about 8-9 years since I dropped the act and this is who I am, this is what I do, this is what I love to do.’