mister wallace is the ‘cool mom’ of queer hip-hop in chicago
On their debut album, COOL MOM, Mister Wallace bridges the gap between their biological family and their chosen family.
Photography Leila Afghan, outtakes from Cause & Effect magazine.
When a pink velour tracksuit-wearing Amy Poehler said “I’m not a regular mom, I’m a cool mom” in Mean Girls, we laughed and rolled our eyes. But when Erik Wallace says it, we can’t deny it. That’s because the queer rapper, who performs as Mister Wallace, has taken on such a strong maternal leadership role in Chicago’s queer hip-hop community that they’re now literally known as Cool Mom.
This nickname has proved so important to Wallace that they released their debut album with the same title earlier this month. With its positive messages and hip-hop club bops like “Birds & Bees” and “Heavy Heat,” COOL MOM is all about empowering queer youth and, for Wallace, uniting their chosen family with their biological one.
It all started in 2016, when they released their debut EP, FAGGOT. The title sought to reclaim the insult via a series of queer anthems, but Wallace says not everyone saw it that way. “When I first put out the FAGGOT EP my mother said, ‘Congratulations, but do you ever think you’ll put out music for everyone?’ That kind of hurt me at first, I was like, ‘What do you mean ‘everyone?’ My music is for everyone!’” they laugh on the phone from their home in Chicago. “I guess she was saying that because of the title and the provocative lyrics. She felt that I didn’t make the project for her; she felt that I was making it for my chosen family.”
Wallace is referring to the up-and-coming hip-hop and R&B artists they call their daughters, who they mentor with Futurehood, the community and record label they co-founded with DJ and producer aCeb00mbaP in 2016. “For a lot of black queer people, your chosen family often becomes more important than your biological family, when you’re out in the world and becoming your adult self,” Wallace explains. “They’re the ones giving you the feedback and love and support that you need to figure out who you are."
After the EP’s lead single “It Girl” blew up, Wallace moved to New York to pursue all of the opportunities that were being thrown their way, but soon found themselves craving their community back in Chicago. So they returned to their hometown and started working on COOL MOM, with the aim of bridging the gap between their biological family and their chosen one. Their dream was realized when they debuted the new material at the nightclub Subterranean for the Red Bull Music Festival showcase Futurehood & Friends. “Four of the five daughters that I name on the last track of my new album were onstage with me, and that was a phenomenal experience,” Wallace says. “To have those people with me who look up to me, and who I look at as a reflection of myself and as a key to the future; it was a really holistic moment.”
The positivity surrounding the making of the album shines through in COOL MOM, which glistens with hope from the opening synth line of first track “Birds & Bees”, and flows through the ebullient beats by producers Jeremiah Meece and Wallace’s younger brother, Soupe. The underlying darkness of the world isn’t ignored – it bubbles below the surface, and in lines like “The ways of the world are weary.” But that’s quickly countered with encouragement: “Rise above the rapture only if you’re really willing.”
Just like Wallace themselves, COOL MOM is both sexy and wholesome. On “Salad”, they portray a positive family situation in which “Everybody winnin’ and the haters is mad.” Wallace brought rappers Eric Donté and Petty (who’s also an entrepreneur of shea butter products, who Wallace plans to collaborate with on a line of lip balms) to the studio for the song. “That was me being the cool mom, bringing the up-and-coming kids to the studio with me to play — to whip up a salad! I was like ‘How much fun can we have letting the world know who we are?’”
Positivity is partly a survival tactic for Wallace. “A lot of the music that’s coming out right now is so solemn, especially things by queer artists. And I know it’s hard to date being queer and black, and we should be able to express non-positive things and still be celebrated. Black people should be able to be sad. But I wanted to create something very positive and fun – to the point where I actually second-guessed myself. I said, ‘Wallace, you’re an amazing lyricist, you could be talking about so many things… Do you want to be more serious on this project? And I was like ‘no, it’s called COOL MOM! You’re not a regular mom, you’re a cool mom!” they laugh. “People need to bop, they need something to get them through their day.” Besides, how can we right the wrongs of the world if we have no hope?
Wallace hopes that by setting this tone, they can encourage people to break out of their siloed existences and embrace people and ideas that are different from them. “I’m not anti-straight people – obviously I’m very fluid in my sexuality – but I’m anti-heteronormativity. I’m anti the fact that people are so consumed with their cis-hetero lives, because they don’t understand that by disregarding anybody that doesn’t look or live like them, they’re on a crash course to literally ruining the entire planet for all of us,” Wallace says.
“The more we bridge those gaps and introduce queer people to cis hetero people, the more we can humanize them to the larger dominant group and hopefully save ourselves from further persecution under this administration.”
As Cool Mom, Wallace is already making a difference in young queer people’s lives, but they want to do more. They have multiple family members battling cancer, so they designed the COOL MOM album cover to look like a cigarette packet. “So instead of people buying into Newport, they buy into Cool Mom! Which will help me help take care of my mom, and help me step into a leadership position within politics or business and start creating sustainable living for people who don’t have that.”
“It’s not just about music for me; it’s about creating a sustainable world for people like myself – and for the world in itself."