Cazwell brings wit to PrideFest, but shirts are optional

Gregg Shapiro, Contributing writer

Perhaps the first gay white rapper and break dancer to gain a national following, Cazwell is a born entertainer. With a surprisingly sophisticated sense of humor and apparently not a single shirt in his wardrobe, Cazwell wryly parodies New York club culture with sizzling energy, dazzling moves and lots of eye candy. His outrageous and sexy music videos, usually featuring barely-clad dancers from the New York club scene, have a tendency to go viral. “Ice Cream Truck,” with such quintessential Cazwell lyrics as, “I’ll show you my drumstick / It will make your eyes gleam,” has scored 3.7 million hits since it debuted three years ago. Other hits include “I Seen Beyonce at Burger King,” “All Over Your Face,” “Rice and Beans” and “No Selfie Control.” 

I spoke with Cazwell about his past work, his upcoming album and his June 7 appearance at PrideFest Milwaukee.  

Do you know if Beyoncé has ever heard “I Seen Beyoncé at Burger King” — and if so, what she thought of it? Yes. I heard that she saw the video (and) she thought it was funny. That’s all I heard. I don’t know if it’s true. I heard it from someone who works with her people. I assume she likes it because she has a sense of humor about herself.

Will your recent singles “Helen Keller” and “Guess What,” as well as “No Selfie Control,” be on your new album Hard 2 B Fresh? Yes, sir! There’s a total of 17 tracks. There are five tracks that people probably know, aside from the ones you mentioned. “Rice and Beans” is on there, too. The rest are new to ears.

You have a long history of collaboration, from your early days as one half of Morplay, extending to the present day and your collaborations with Manila Luzon and others. What makes you so good at playing well with others? First of all, thank you for being a journalist who does his research. I appreciate that (laughs). I enjoy working with other people and I enjoy writing for other people. It’s a lot easier to write for others than it is for myself, because I’m less afraid of what the judgment will be. 

Manila Luzon is featured on your song “Helen Keller.” What was the inspiration for that song? Manila Luzon had texted me. I really enjoy her. I think she’s great and a natural star. That’s why I wanted to work with her. The inspiration for that song was a break-up I went through a year and a half ago. There are a couple of songs on the (forthcoming) album that revolve around that break-up. I took some time to do some lyrical therapy. It was really difficult for me. One thing that happens in a break-up, especially if you are with a person for five and a half years, as I was, you still have to go out and see them. Helen Kellering came from when you see the person, you (utilize) tunnel vision. They’re at the club, but you don’t hear them, you don’t see them. They’re excommunicated. I’ve always heard the queens in the club say, “I don’t see her.” That usually means they don’t care for their look or what they’re wearing. I changed it around a little bit. 

“Guess What,” your collaboration with Luciana, charted well on Billboard’s Dance Chart. How do you feel when you walk into a club and hear one of your songs being spun by a DJ? The first thing I think is, “Do they really like it? Or are they just playing it because they know I’m here (laughs)?” Either way, I’m happy that the whole room is hearing it. It feels good. It feels like I get a lot of respect in gay clubs and gay club culture. I’ve been doing this an awfully long time. 

How much time do you spend at the gym to maintain that physique you like to show off in your music vids? It depends on if I’m going to be making a music video or not (laughs). Because if I’m not making a music video, I like to slack off. I’ll tell you right now, I’m not a natural at the gym. But I do enjoy it more lately, because I’ve been boxing. I like having an activity to do. I like classes. I like learning something while I’m doing it and I like being in a class with other people. I’m really proud of myself that I keep up in the class. I would say I work out five or six days a week, sometime twice a day. But that is because I’m getting ready to shoot as many videos as I can. Summertime is coming, obviously, and I have a lot of Pride shows coming up where I’m going to be outside in 95-degree weather with my shirt off. If I come to your hometown and I take off my shirt and have muffin-tops hanging over my waist, you’re not going to hire me to come back. You’re just going to walk away saying, “Cazwell’s been hanging out by the ice cream truck. Cazwell’s been to Burger King with Beyoncé.” People are going to say that. I know it’s going to happen.

A big fuss is made every time a rapper comes out of the closet. As a rapper who was never in the closet, what advice would you give to those newly out? Just don’t stop. Life is like a highway and the road will eventually bring you somewhere.  Don’t stop the car. Keep going, no matter what. Can I just tell you the Number 1 piece of advice? Don’t be afraid to suck. Because everybody sucks. There’s no one that looks back 10 years ago and says, “That song was genius!”

What do you like best about performing outside New York? Meeting new people. I do get a lot of gay gigs. It’s interesting to see the other gay communities and the club world of Charlotte, North Carolina. I also get a good grip on how gay people are treated and how they treat themselves. If I play someplace where the city or the town allows them to have a gay Pride and a gay sense of self and a gay neighborhood, people always seem to be a lot looser at shows. If I play some place like Gainesville (Georgia), where there is no gay Pride or gay ’hood or sense of gay community, there seems to be less of a connection. 

Have you ever performed in Wisconsin? Yes, I played the Fruit Fest in Madison.

What do you have in store for Milwaukee PrideFest? I might try out some new songs or at least a new song from the new album that they haven’t heard before. They’re going to get a little bit of a fashion show. I always wear nice clothes and show off. It’s going to be a good show. I’m an energetic performer. I really bring it. It’s going to be some good shit.

On stage

Cazwell performs in the Dance Pavilion at Milwaukee Pridefest on Sat., June 7.