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Brian is Ze: Meet the Genderqueer Artist Changing Houston’s Rap Scene

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By Joshua Watkins
Photo by Dalton DeHart

Editor’s note: Brian is Ze (BiZ) identifies as genderqueer and uses the gender-neutral pronouns “ze” (instead of “he” and “she”) and “hir” (instead of “his” and “her”). “Ze” and “hir” are often used by individuals who identify outside of the traditional male/female binary.

Every so often, a musical artist comes along who does more than simply make music. They advocate for all and give a voice to those who cannot always speak for themselves—be it people of color, those with mental-health issues, or those who are queer. After taking the local hip-hop scene by storm with a fierce rap game, it’s becoming clear that genderqueer Houstonian BiZ is that artist.

BiZ has a lot to say—and isn’t afraid to say it. Focusing heavily on identity politics, hir first album, We Lurk Among You, is a collection of queer dance rap songs. With so much LGBT-themed music revolving around sadness and sorrow, BiZ wanted to break away from that to celebrate a “super-queer life.” Hir music is open, honest, and unapologetic, diving into everything from the genderqueer journey to struggles with mental health. “[My music reflects] being open about everything in my life,” BiZ says.

With a surprise Beyoncé-style double-album drop on July 11, BiZ continues to stake hir claim as a musical force to be reckoned with. BiZ says these albums, Dopamine Dreams and Fraud Complex, were made for those “who struggle with their mental health and those people we have lost along the way.” Inspired by a broken self and a broken computer, BiZ says that the raw quality of the albums represent hir state of mind when the tracks were made.

Growing up, BiZ was always surrounded by music, with a father who worked in public relations for major music labels and a mother who sang in church choirs. Despite all of that, BiZ was a painfully shy kid who didn’t seek the spotlight. “There’s a picture of me meeting Boyz II Men, and I’m so awkward just standing there,” BiZ says. “I was imaginary friends with Boyz II Men as a kid, [but when I actually met them], I was standing there thinking ‘I don’t want to do it!’”

Following high-school graduation, BiZ had enrolled at the University of Wisconsin prior to moving back to Houston when some mental-health issues emerged. Ten years later, BiZ is studying at Houston Community College with the goal of eventually returning to the University of Wisconsin to pursue a degree in social work and a certificate in gender studies. “There’s this program at the University of Wisconsin called Outreach and Multicultural Arts Initiative,” BiZ explains. “It takes urban artists and helps them hone their craft. It helps them network and teach them about social work and social justice. So basically it’s everything I care about in one thing.” In addition to going to school, BiZ also works the door and sound at Houston’s favorite new queer-friendly beer garden, Axelrad.

BiZ’s self-discovery of gender and sexuality came very organically. Up until age 23, BiZ identified as both heterosexual and cisgender (meaning the gender assigned at birth). BiZ then started dating a woman who had previously identified as a lesbian before they began their relationship. Because of her encouragement, BiZ began to further explore personal gender identity and expression issues.

BiZ’s gender exploration began with hir nails. Even before coming out as genderqueer, BiZ painted hir nails a variety colors as a form of self-care. “Looking back, that’s when I [realized that] I’m not actually a cisgender dude, [but rather] queer as shit,” BiZ explains.

Within the last six months, BiZ has also started to incorporate more femininity into hir wardrobe. BiZ hopes to ultimately present a “soft butch” look. “I really want to figure out how to do a femme, low-maintenance sort of pseudo-punk aesthetic,” ze laughs. “Gender stuff is so difficult—it’s so hard.”

Since coming out as genderqueer, BiZ has become more open about all aspects of hir life, including the mental-health issues. Luckily, BiZ’s friends and family have been nothing but supportive during this journey. “I was like, ‘If you all won’t let me commit suicide, then you all have to deal with all of this mental health shit, too,’” BiZ says. “I’m not going do it alone, so if I have to be here, you have to [deal with that], too.’”

When asked about current attitudes toward queerness in the world of hip-hop, BiZ isn’t phased. “I think I exist in rap in the same way I exist in the regular world. And, for the most part, the rap game seems pretty cool with it.” The genre does run the risk of becoming appropriated, BiZ notes, as affluent white people continue to capitalize on its popularity and fetishize its culture.

Although BiZ doesn’t aim to “make it big” in the industry, ze emphasizes the importance of collaboration with other artists. BiZ is part of both the Queer Agenda and the Prints not Prince collectives, and has also collaborated with Brynonym, another genderqueer artist in Houston. BiZ also hopes to inspire younger artists to get into music and to pursue their dreams. “I would love for [one of] them to come along and just f–k me up and blow me out of the water,” BiZ says. “I would love that.”

For more information and upcoming performance dates, visit facebook.com/bizzyvicious.

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Joshua Watkins

Joshua Watkins is a frequent contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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