Big Dipper: An Interview with the “Gay Bear Rapper”
Big Dipper’s music is queer.
Not just queer. It’s also clever. And ironic, musically smart, and pretty liberating.
But, still, it’s really queer.
More specifically, it’s fun, smart pop-rap that sexualizes bearish men instead of naked girls. It’s subtly critical of masculinity and mainstream sexuality and not-so-subtly celebratory of gay erotics. It’s both dancey and clever, by turns fun-dirty and dead serious, rumbling with love, sex, posturing and self-doubt. In his own words, it’s “upbeat raunchy optimism delivered in the form of rap music but packaged in the identity of pop music; its sole purpose is to bring joy to the listener.”
“In the beginning,” he says, “my music was masked by what I thought I should be doing, and now I’ve decided I’m only going to make songs that are true and honest and authentic to my experience.”
“Now, granted,” he tells me, laughing, “at one point I’m in a robe and tighty-whities in light-up shoes, dancing.”
Dipper started by making music just for himself, but once it came to marketing, things got tricky. At first, the buzzwords that are the stuff of headlines niched him as the “Gay Bear Rapper.” In his podcast (“UnBEARable,” with drag performer Meatball), he speaks about creating “your own cave [in media] that you have to fight your way out of just to be your authentic self,” and he’s now become, he tells me, “more and more authentically myself when I make music. As I’ve done that I feel like the music and the art have gotten better and better and better.”
Dipper has got a camp humor, knowing and politically-charged. In the beginning, he took offense at the label “camp.” “All I wanted was to be cool, but that was linked to me putting on a front. Now, as everything has become more authentic, I’ve engaged in my comedy, I’ve engaged in my humor, I’ve engaged in my campiness, and I love that about myself.”
In “Cut Up,” a song from the new album Late Bloomer, Big Dipper promises, “I will be loud, I will be proud […] out here sucking dick as a political act.” He’s careful to point out that many people don’t have a choice about that, and it’s not always a political act. But, he says, in his case “there’s a purpose behind it, and there’s an importance: visibility and representation.”
“The louder and prouder we can be, the more visibility and representation we show in the world, the more we embolden our people to stand up and fight for what’s right,” Dipper says.
But becoming more mainstream meant clamping down on the camp. In the video for “La Croix Boi,” Late Bloomer’s sexy, falsetto R&B ballad that absolutely revels in camp, Dipper wanted to be in a bathtub, “naked, covered in bubbles, with a huge lemon wedge,” but was told it wouldn’t play well to a mainstream audience. And so he didn’t. And so it got press on NPR and the AV Club.
“Now, granted,” he tells me, laughing, “at one point I’m in a robe and tighty-whities in light-up shoes, dancing.” The kid just doesn’t give up.
The combination of Dipper’s queerness, his ironic humor, and his willingness to bare his body means, though, that many won’t take him seriously, and he’s been labeled a “joke rapper” in the press. I mean, he’s not just a man stripping down and flaunting his bum on stage —he does that, and that would be hard enough for people to swallow (I know what I just wrote), but he’s also a bearish man, which means thick, hairy and queer.
“People haven’t seen someone with my body covered in oil, wrestling someone, but we’ve seen women do it. We’ve seen a car wash before with girls in bikinis, but we’ve never seen it where a bunch of fat dudes do it and dance,” he says. Thus, the video for “Lookin” is born, and Big Dipper goes, as they say, gayly forward.
“The louder and prouder we can be, the more visibility and representation we show in the world, the more we embolden our people to stand up and fight for what’s right,” Dipper says. “Maybe there’s a little genius activist sitting there who’ll say, yeah, I saw this performance, and I’m going to go out and do that work.”
As a former good girl, when I saw Dipper perform (when he stripped down to a jock strap and sang about… well, about what he does), one of the first things that popped into my mind was how do your parents react?
Turns out, while he keeps his parents away from his videos and shows, they raised him to make his own path and are pretty supportive. He jokes: “I’m sure they both fantasized about being able to say, ‘This is my son, the criminal defense lawyer for wrongly-accused people on death row.’”
“When they were picking your name, that’s what they dreamed of?” I ask.
“Yes. My parents dreamed of me preaching to large groups of people about fisting, and now I’m doing it,” he says.
Dreams really do come true.