brooklyn dance-pop goddess nomi ruiz revives jessica 6
Nomi Ruiz on Jessica 6’s return and dealing with discrimination as a trans artist in the music and fashion industry
Photography Gabriel Magdaleno
It's been four years since lauded dance pop trio Jessica 6 released any music. It's been one week since a (pop) star was (re)born via the release of Jessica 6's EP, The Capricorn. Instead of hanging up the mic when frontwoman Nomi Ruiz's bandmates quit in the middle of 2011's album promo for See The Light, Ruiz triumphantly toured the globe solo before eventually partnering with some of her favorite dance producers to create The Capricorn. This time around, all eyes are on the captivating siren, who first came to prominence as a vocalist for Hercules and Love Affair. In the new music video for the shadowy 'Down Low,' Ruiz and her duo of dancers are clad in Chromat lingerie as they dance against a fence and strut down an alleyway. If you listen closely, the trans beauty sings in a Janet-tinged breathy coo about going down on a "down-low" man while observing both his pleasure and fear. Like the entirety of The Capricorn, 'Down Low' is seductive, dark, smart, and it's as catchy as Miss Jackson's greatest hits. We caught up with Ruiz on a hammock in her Bushwick backyard, where she discussed the freedom of going it alone, her experiences of prejudice in the music (and fashion) industry, and all things The Capricorn, where she hopes to "take the listener on a journey through love, shame, and, in the end, forgiveness."
It's been 4 years since the last Jessica 6 release. Why? What's happened since then?
So much! I was living in Greece for a while. I got a bit overwhelmed in New York. The other members had quit in the middle of the last album cycle, so that really affected me in many ways. I had to figure out my next move -- we had all of these shows coming up and it was pretty frightening for me to be out there on my own. I remember the first show I did alone was in Russia right after they had passed all of these anti LGBT laws. I was so used to traveling with the guys -- they were kind of a safety net for me. I thought I was going to be booed, but when I walked onto the stage, the crowd went wild and sang every song with me and danced. After, they thanked me for coming during this insane time for gay rights. It taught me a lot, it gave me a lot of strength, it really showed me the strength of my voice and the power of the songs and of my presence.
How was Jessica 6 evolved musically without the bandmembers?
The last record obviously was recorded with the concept of a band in mind and we all worked and produced the songs together. Now I can work as much as I want without any restrictions. Jessica 6 is an alter ego for my dance music, to separate my hip hop and R&B side. This time I worked with different producers from all around the world -- my favorite producers, actually. It was a real treat to have all my favorite sounds and inspirations in dance and electronic music and have the songs feed off of that energy.
Speaking of different sounds, let's talk about 'Down Low,' the first single and music video from the EP. It's both seductive and dark.
It's very seductive. It talks about performing oral sex while staring into this man's eyes and seeing this mixture of pleasure and fear trembling in him, and how it reflects back on the person who is trying to please. It begins to feel like you don't want to be there. There's a line that repeats "Let me go, let me go." Underneath all the sex and seduction, there's this feeling of darkness and sadness -- this realization of this person being so afraid of their own desire because of what society has done to him.
How do you feel about the recent mainstream spotlight on trans rights and trans women like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox? Do you feel pressure to make a statement with your work? To be an activist and a role model?
It's a very exciting time. I feel the world is beginning to evolve and become more in tune with our collective spirit as opposed to our flesh. There is this pressure to make a statement. But being visible in an industry that doesn't want to accept that I exist is an act of activism in itself. I feel the industry makes us feel like we have to exploit ourselves in order to gain success. As if that's the only thing you're worth. They overlook the actual talent. People have said to me, "I know you're over the "trans thing'" or "I know you don't want to talk about it," and that's not the case. I'm proud of who I am. I'm out, I'm active in my community, in the media, and amongst my peers. But being a musician is my work and I don't necessarily want to sell my story because I'm made to feel like that is the only way to succeed in an industry that is built to exploit me. I think that's a good example to other girls who are coming up to know that they don't have to sell themselves. In the end, my talent has gotten me where I am today, not my before and after shots.
Have you experienced discrimination in the industry?
I have definitely experienced tons of discrimination. I began working in hip hop and once the media took notice of my trans experience, they began exploiting that part of me and not writing about the music itself. So many producers, rappers, and promoters stopped working with me. I once collaborated with the rapper Ill Bill, who was someone I looked up to and admired. And when he found out, he never spoke to me again and put out a song saying transsexuals are disgusting.
THAT is disgusting. What about in the fashion world?Jessica 6 was supposed to perform for Guess Jeans once. A week before the show, they sent my agent an email canceling that said "We were unaware the lead singer was a transsexual." There are many people who think being associated with me will discredit them because I am trans. But the truth is, I don't need any of them. I'm an independent artist, I have my support system and I filled my bank account on my own.
Text Alex Catarinella
Photography Gabriel Magdaleno