Follow us through an exploration of Blackness, queerness, and self-worth. Witness the experience of Roy Kinsey‘s unapologetic transparency.
I want people to be like, yo, he was kind, gay, out & proud, honest, and he gave us permission to be ourselves and live from our hearts.– Roy Kinsey
Around this time last year, I was sitting front row at the STEPPENWOLF, witnessing the Roy Kinsey and his family perform selections from his album, Blackie and KINSEY. I hesitate to call it a “performance” because I witnessed an experience—an exploration of Blackness, queerness, and family. I spoke with the Librarian and artist via Zoom.
Here’s our interview below:
Before we jump into the actual interview, how are you doing? How have you been navigating over the last four months?
I’m doing okay. I’m at work right now, but I’m blessed and highly favored. And that is where I am right now. We’ve all experienced such a range of emotions and have gotten to know ourselves better. I cannot be upset with that. This current climate has been so strange; this has been the most challenging time in my life. And I know it’s been the same in a lot of people’s lives.
I understand and agree where you’re coming from Roy. Times are extraordinary, but I feel like most of us are trying to do the best we can. When would you say you fell in love with words?
Oh, that is such a beautiful question. Ever since I knew what words could do, and my grandmother clapped for me when my Mom told her that I could read. Then, my grandmother gave me a piece of mail, and I read it aloud, and both my mother and grandmother clapped for me.
Sometimes I tell the story of my grandmother getting into an accident. It confined her to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. For my seventh birthday, she had given me a book about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. She personalized the book, and it had, “Happy Seventh Birthday, Roy.”
She was also able to put my cousin and me in the story. In the story, I had to write a paper about MLK, and I told my cousin about the article I had to write. By the end of the story, I received an A on the paper. That was super powerful and heavy foreshadowing. That was the first time that I saw my name printed in a book.
Shortly after, there was an essay contest at my afterschool program; it was there where I learned how to perform. The winner of the essay contest was a ball-boy for a Chicago Bulls game. I ended up winning the competition, and I went to see Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman–the legendary Bulls team.
At a very young age, I was getting this affirmation and this confirmation from my words–so I’ve always had a deep love for them.
Last year, at STEPPENWOLF, I saw you perform for the very first time. It was surprising to see how involved your family was in your production. Was this always the case, did ever question your family’s involvement at all?
So, before Blackie, it was never a consideration for me. It felt like it was a natural thing after the album came out. The album (Blackie) was about my grandmother–it was an offering. I love my grandmother so much but hadn’t said anything at her funeral.
I wanted this to be a way of healing for us. Her death caught me by surprise, but in hindsight–did I think she would be here forever? When the album dropped, I had the party at Reunion Chicago, and Wallace (Mister Wallace) opened the show and, as part of the procession, cleansing the space.
The more we did shows, I would be like, oh, I should get my Mom’s to open this show; to cleanse the space. It just made sense in an ancestral way. And so the more that I performed it, it just became more and more clear to me about what I could do.
I brought my family for us all to heal together, have a moment together, cleanse the space together, deliver a message together, and put our living room on stage. When we were at my grandmother’s house for every holiday and spent the time we gathered, that’s how it looked. That’s just what we did. Everybody has a song to sing on Christmas and Thanksgiving and even on birthdays.
As I got older, I realized that it was a special and unique bonding experience that shaped me, and I just wanted to share it with my audience.
Thank you for that. What do you want people to know about you?
I used to want so much more, you know, and the last four months have shifted a lot for me. I think I want to be known as someone who honored and lived from their heart. I want people to know how much I care about the craft of Black literature and Black Music. I want people to understand our contribution.
I want people to put respect on our name as a people who are a part of the Hip-Hop culture. I want people to put ‘respect on our names’ when it comes to being young Black and queer in Hip-Hop, you know? Highlighting Queer contributions is vital in Hip-Hop. And I want people to be like, yo, he was kind, gay, out & proud, honest, and he gave us permission to be ourselves and live from our hearts.
So I’m curious, where are you in your creative journey?
I found it hard to create and wasn’t a moment I wanted to create. I was trying to find motivation like my albums did! We have a new video out and another coming soon. But musically, I was not extremely excited and was trying to find the next thing in life that would excite me and fill me with the drive and life force that those projects did.
I was not feeling it. Things shifted. I do love music. I was feeling uninspired.
Why do you interchange queer and gay?
I don’t have a great answer, but gay seems very limiting; I don’t love the word–it’s reductive and phonetically doesn’t sound nice–we need something else. (laugh)
Are you happy?
I used to be happy, and I want to be. But lately, it seems as though it’s a moving target. I am at a level where I am trying to understand what happiness means at this age. I’ve always been a happy person, and I’ve always been joyful more than anything, but as of late, I haven’t been my happiest. But I am today, though.
Beautiful. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today. And I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Thank you. I appreciate the conversation.