|Photo by Lydia Daniller
Rocco Kayiatos, otherwise known as the San Francisco Bay Area hip hop sensation Katastrophe, modestly describes himself as just â€œa dude that makes music.â€? That probably seems like a huge understatement to Kayiatosâ€™ many fansâ€”including the hoards of swooning sorority girls who adore his rapid-fire rhyming, â€œTender Heartedâ€? tattooed chest, and charming good looks. Lets F*ck, Then Talk About My Problems, Kayiatos first album, solidified his position as the vanguard artist leading queer hip hop into the mainstream.
The 26-year-old musician first exposed his mouthy brand of relentless streaming poetry to audiences when he became a high school champion slammer. After graduating he joined Youth Speaks, a spoken word performance and education organization and toured with the literary troupe Sister Spit.
â€œIt was on that 1999 tour,â€? Kayiatos recalls, â€œThat I learned FTMs existed, prior to that I had no idea it was even an option.â€?
With the support of his family, he transitioned from female to male a few years later. His parents paid for his chest surgery and helped him chose his male name. As his physical body transformed, his artistic performances did as well, evolving into the politically inspired staccato rants that accompany his â€˜80s pop influenced, techno-emo, hip hop beats.
Kayiatosâ€™ skin tone, sense of fashion, verbal style and minority status (within the rap community) may naturally evoke comparisons with Eminem. Such comparisons would not be tolerated well by the trans artist, who devoted his song â€œWritten in Flamesâ€? to verbally assaulting the rapping Rabbit for disrespecting women and promoting violence against gays.
Kayiatos contributed another track from that album â€œEnough Man,â€? to Luke Woodwardâ€™s 2005 FTM independent film of the same name. With lyrics that have made it a transman anthem, Kayiatos rhymes: â€œMy girl makes me feel like a real man/even though I have to stand with a needle in my hand/plan so I donâ€™t land fetal in the can/inch and a half pin prick- stick/so I can be a dude with an inch and a half thin dick- trick.â€?
â€œI love to collaborate,â€? Kayiatos explains with a self-effacing attitude that helped him win Out Musicâ€™s 2005 Producer of the Year Award.
His sophomore album Fault, Lies, and Faultlines, was produced with that spirit of collaboration, at times going so far as to subjugate Kayiatosâ€™ own voice in favor of promoting fellow artists like Scream Club, PointFiveFag, Quake Trap Collectiveâ€™s Shaggy Manatee and Ruby Valentine of Romanteek.
â€œThereâ€™s a huge queer hip hop scene in the [San Francisco] Bay Area.â€? Kayiatos has said, adding jokingly, â€œThat means there are like six of us.â€?
While Fault exposes listeners to a sampling of that emerging queer hop scene, it may leave his die-hard fans yearning for more Katastrophe.
A current project teams Kayiatos with queer artist Aggracyst to release songs under the moniker Ozone Axiom. Aggracyst, along with Katastrophe and others, were featured in Pick Up the Mic: The (r)Evolution of Queer Hip Hop, which premiered to critical acclaim at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival. The documentary showcases queer artists and producers whoâ€™ve chosen to express themselves through the music of hip-hop despite that mediumâ€™s widespread misogyny and anti-gay rhetoric.
Changing the subject from his music to his gender transition, Kayiatos says he recognizes the concern some lesbians have about trans men, especially those emerging from within the dyke community.
â€œNo one is â€˜losing a butchâ€™ [when an FTM guy transitions],â€? Kayiatos argues in response to concerns about â€˜all the butches becoming men.â€™ â€œThat is a somewhat myopic way of seeing things. As if gender and sexuality are the same thingâ€”and theyâ€™re not. Not all trans people are gay to begin with and not all FTMs were ever butch.â€?
Kayiatos says heâ€™s been confronted online by women who question his commitment to feminist politics, and those who wonder what place he has in the queer community. While he defends the former, Kayiatos admits that the later question is one that he still wrestles with himselfâ€”as do many FTMs.
â€œI try to be a good guy, and not because I want to prove that men are good, but just because I want to be a decent human being, because it feels better than being a miserable, hateful shit,â€? Kayiatos says with a smile.
Kayiatosâ€™ albums are available at select record stores and online through www.katastropherap.com, where his touring schedule can also be found. And, fans will be relieved to learn Kayiatos is working on music for another Katastrophe solo album