barf troop don't care about rap's gender rules

Meet the radical rap unit spreading their message on their own terms, and recruiting listeners — including Drake —to their self-expressive cause.

by Lior Phillips
10 May 2016, 1:30pm

Barf Troop have been buzzing in the rap scene for a while, but sharing a track with Drake will catapult anyone to the front of the line. Although they are a group of four female, non-binary, and gender neutral rappers who joined forces over the Internet, they have the skills to win over anyone unprepared for that unexpected perspective. An early version of Barf Troop's Babeo Baggins' duet with Drake on a cover of Nico's "These Days" made massive headlines before the track was taken down, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Those that clicked through found more candy-colored rap brilliance from Baggins, not to mention more from her equally thrilling Troop-mates Babe Simpson, Babenstein, and Babe Field. 

While non-cis-male rappers are few and far between, Barf Troop take on the challenge as a cohesive unit, acting as a counterpoint to the at times misogynist or homophobic content of other groups. "At the end of the day, everything, not just music, is male-driven, so there's no way to escape those 'bitches and hoes,'" Baggins explains. "I just have to own that. 'Okay, that's how you feel? You have hoes? I also have hoes! We both have hoes together.' We have no problem telling a man he's stupid."

With a bullshit-meter set to high-voltage, Barf Troop already has the likes of Jaden Smith singing their praises: "The Barf Troop is Superbly talented and extremely cautious of the animal kingdom taking over humanity," he tells us. The group has risen in the rap game from a young age — while Simpson claims to be 5000 years old, Baggins is now 23 — a common thread for Internet-era hip-hop. But they're not here just to just have fun, or to be seen as quirky outsiders. "I don't exist for anyone outside of myself," Baggins insists. And if that means sampling Adventure Time, challenging gender norms, or pushing past racial stigmas, then they're even more game to do so.

It's a rare treat — hell, a needed phenomenon — when a collective drops a truthful agenda that totally flips your perspective on an industry, a genre, and an entire creative era. This rap collective seems to wrap around itself, banding beneath a protective cape despite being individually weighted down by life's cruel rules. Every day they grow louder with a perspective that feels more reflective. Barf Troop are a passionate bunch of highly intelligent and super-stylish trendsetters putting in work to take over the world.

Is there a narrative to Barf Troop? A goal?
Babeo Baggins: I want people to not be afraid to be defiant. This world is so lacking in truth and honest. Our message until the end, no matter what the music sounds like is, is for people to not use us as a voice, but to use our existence as the power they need to carry on. I'm always here to help someone find their voice, but I never want to speak for you; I'm happy to hold your hand while you're screaming about change.

The most striking thing about you both is your confidence. When did you first see that confidence in yourselves, and did you have to defeat your own shyness before jumping into this world?
BB: Oh god, one hundred percent. I struggled and still struggle to this day with depression. I was very secluded when I first started creating. I didn't want people looking at me. I was using it as an escape not only for the situation I was living in, but also for my sadness. I was trying to figure out how not to be too exposed, and over time I gained power from that exposure, from being able to be vulnerable and connect with people that I might never meet.

Babe Simpson: When Barf Troop first started out, I was trying to create things on my own terms. I had everything set to private — I didn't even have pictures of myself on the Internet. I found freedom in that, but it was really limiting because I never wanted the way I sounded or how I looked to be attached to anything I did. It ultimately did me a disservice, because I wasn't even open about the work that I did. It wasn't until recently when I allowed myself to flourish the way that I should and create things on my own terms.

Do you see your origin, forming through blogging and Skype, as essential to your artistic process?
BB: It's weird, because I'm not necessarily an "internet person." I don't enjoy technology at all. I'm not good at it. The reality is that while the Internet is the time we were born in, it's so much more than a tool — it's a community. Being able to project your essence to a wide audience allows you to connect to them in a way you couldn't before. We should always be vulnerable, and the Internet allows that. I like being able to connect with a gender-queer person who lives in a different country, who doesn't have someone to look up to.

That comes across in outlets like Instagram quite well. Our minds work in pictures too, so how we present ourselves is crucial. How important is self-expression in what you wear, especially for women in rap?
BB: I'm a musician who identifies as gender-fluid, so my existence itself is radical. It's super important for others to see. I don't exist for anyone outside of myself, and I never consider how my actions or how I dress is going to be perceived, it just comes out of me. Kids replying [to our social media] that they didn't know they could be a gender-queer kid and still be super feminine ... I didn't know I could be female-embodied with big breasts and big butt and still wear "masculine clothes." I realize how important it is that I can post a picture and have it captioned, "Oh I'm just the cutest boy in the world," how that is radical for some.

Babeo, you've just experienced this after your track with Drake was leaked. A lot more people looked you up, were exposed to you, maybe even learned something about gender-queer individuals. Was that something you had strived for from the beginning?
BB: We were all misfits and weirdos. We're just strange people and we were able to connect on that via the Internet. I also know no one has done what we have done. We are four people who connected from different states in the country. We made music for three years before we ever met. What we were doing was so important! We're the first female/non-binary art collective music group to spawn from the Internet, but we're also all black which is a huge deal. When we first started making rap music, it was rap music that wasn't trying to sound like any other female or male rapper. We were making rap music that was unique and applied to us. A lot of people, especially young black girls, were able to relate to us. We said, "It's fine, you don't have to talk about social issues. You can talk about cartoons just like dudes talk about cartoons."

What does your music give rap fans that they're not currently getting?
BB: Asking where we fit in is difficult because we don't and we don't try to. We don't ask for forgiveness, we don't ask for permission, we make what we make. If you like it, then you like it and we like you. If you don't, that's not going to influence my next project.

BS: If you want to listen and it changes your life, that's beautiful, I'm so glad we could bond that way, but I don't understand anyone who reaches out to us just to say they don't like something. It was never for them to begin with. They can't figure out where they want us to stand, what role we have in their life. Like, maybe you're so used to wanting women to be sexual, or men to be outspoken, and you're so busy projecting how you want us to sound. Okay we don't look like Nicki Minaj or Lauryn Hill — so, who are we?

You both play a lot of instruments, which allows you to produce your own music and explore whatever sound you want. And now, Babeo, you are working on a country-influenced project. What's inspiring about country music?
BB: I grew up in rural Virginia, so I've always been around mountains and rivers, had a field to walk through or trees to climb. I think that the truest way for me to [express vulnerability] is country music. I want to show people what country music is supposed to sound like. Country music right now is mainly pop music sung with southern accents. It's not Hank Williams, it's not Dolly Parton. I want to show people that every musical genre you listen to started with country music, so for someone to say, "I love all music except for country" is so illogical. Rap music even has country music influence in it.

Members of Barf Troop hail from Atlanta, Chicago, Canada. Is there a part of you that wishes you were all in one place, or is there an advantage to working online?
BB: At the end of the day, these are my brothers. We are family. We'd always prefer to be together all the time. I would always rather be with my brothers than have to communicate online. We are so connected, and that's something that the Internet helps with, but it allows you to detach yourself from seeing things. I think people find a lot of power in that, but in the same sense you can then say whatever you want and you're never accountable for it.

That family aspect is something so often lacking for people who identify as gender-queer or non-binary. What would you say to someone who is struggling with self-doubt, identity, and belonging?
BB: Don't ever let it come into your mind that someone might not like you, even if you make something and no one listens to it — you still did it. Especially for the queer community, the non-binary, and the transgender, to just do it, because their existence in itself is so important already. I know how difficult it is, in a world that is constantly telling you not to do it, telling you that your truth and your words are not valid. The only thing to combat that is to do everything in spite of it.

BS: I think that it's important to say that no one tries to exist radically, it's just what happens when you do what you want. Of course we can elegantly explain using catchy jargon online, but we didn't go to school and learn how to do any of this. It all comes down to perception and who you want to pay attention to. In the end of the day the right people will always find you and that is radical in itself. There's always someone who is willing and anxious to know what you are thinking. As little time there is in the day, why wouldn't you take the time to teach somebody something new or share what you enjoy.



Text Lior Phillips

Barf Troop
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