Talking with Cazwell on His Hot, New Spin on 'Ice Cream Truck'

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday September 25, 2020

Cazwell
Cazwell  (Source:Cazwell)

Out rapper Cazwell is looking for his Uber when he connects with EDGE on his cell phone. Though he's now based in Los Angeles after years spent in New York, he retains the speech patterns of his native Worcester, Massachusetts; this EDGE correspondent, a longtime Boston resident, resides for the moment abroad, but it's only moments before we are egging on each other's New England accents.

"People always ask me how I got so classy," ruminates the rapper, whose videos take every opportunity to show off his ripped physique along with his celebratory sense of GLTBQ-infused fun. "I tell them it's because I grew up in Worcester!"

While Cazwell tracks down his ride, he relates how he started off in a rap duo with a lesbian friend, Crasta Yo, in an act called Moreplay. After five years in Boston, in the year 2000, Cazwell and Crasta headed for New York City. "A year after we moved there, we broke up and I went solo," he recalls.

Cazwell's latest video — filled with innuendo and hot dancers, as are all of his videos — has to do with summer days and time spent cruising in, or at least near, an ice cream truck filled with tasty, refreshing treats the likes of which will "make your eyes gleam." Maybe you've heard of this particular "Ice Cream Truck." The song was initially released in 2010, with an accompanying video directed by Marco Ovando. But Cazwell has retooled the song, souping it up with a percussion-driven sound and, working with director Connor Cataloano, giving it a new coat of CGI paint that gives the new video a glossy futuristic look. The result is a strutting, state-of-the-art thirst trap that you could devour on a cone.

Spotting his lift — "Yo, I'm over here!" — Cazwell gets himself situated. The conversation rolls on as it began: An informal, instantly comfortable chat, with the highly approachable rapper making jokes and addressing the topics that concern him in life and in his work.


EDGE: What was it like growing up gay in Worcester — and did that influence your decision to be out and authentic in your career?

Cazwell: I don't really know what it would be like growing up in Worcester now. I wouldn't want to do it again, and I wouldn't recommend it to anybody, really. All of my friends when I was in high school... there was a group of five of us, and I'm the only one that graduated. We were all gay or lesbian. None of them could take it anymore because they were bullied so badly and mistreated. I just remember on my graduation day, thinking, "I'm the only one that made it."

I think that had some impact on me as far as sticking through it, but everyone has their own coping mechanism.

(Source: Screen cap / 'Ice Cream Truck')

EDGE: Was music your coping mechanism? Is that how you got into rap>

Cazwell: No, I always, always, always wanted to perform. I would go to drama classes, and then I quickly realized that I didn't want to be on stage if I had to say shit that somebody else wrote or play something that wasn't me. I wanted to be uncontrived — you know? It's hard when you have that heartbreaking realization that you can't sing.

[Laughter]

Cazwell: Then I just kind of fell into rapping, because I idolized the Beastie Boys growing up, so that was kind of what I emulated at the time. And Crosta, the girl I used to rap with, we both listened to hip hop, and then we started rapping for fun at keg parties with straight people and skaters and very rock and roll atmosphere, but we would grab the drummer from a previous band and a bass, and say, "Okay, just think, like a Prince riff, you know?" And we would rap on stage.

We started making mixtapes — on literal tapes! — and then we moved to Boston, first, but you can only go so far in Boston. It's old money, it's a college city so it's not particularly youthful. I didn't find it a particularly great place to grow as an artist, so we did what we could there for four or five years and then we moved to New York, and that's where we both started to flourish individually and also went our separate ways. At that point, I kind of realized that even though gays and lesbians might be in the same struggle for a lot of things, especially politically, we handle things completely different. Like, I stayed and worked on my career and tried to make my dreams come true, and she got a girlfriend and moved to Seattle.

[Laughter]

EDGE: So, let's talk about your re-visitation of "Ice Cream Truck." This is a song that you first recorded and released in 2010 — then years ago now — so what sparked your interest in creating a new version of "Ice Cream Truck" for 2020?

Cazwell: Well, I mean, anything to try and get a little attention. My past few singles weren't really getting me any shows.

[Laughter]

Cazwell: But in January of 2020 I thought, "Shit, it's gonna be ten years." At first I thought I should do a reunion video, and then I decided I'd just get a bunch of the guys from the original "Ice Cream Truck" video together. Most of them are still hot, most of them still want to do it. And I started plotting it out so that I was going to be in New York in May to shoot the video and drop it in June for Gay Pride. And then, of course, COVID happened, and I was like, "Well, maybe it won't last that long." So then the producer and director, the guy in charge of all the special effects in post, Connor Catalano, he lives in New York, and I'm in L.A., so I shot half the guys in L.A. at my place, with green screen and all the lighting that he wanted me to get specifically for it, and then he did the other half in New York, in Brooklyn. And then we spent four months on post [production], and just finishing it up, doing the editing, and there was one set of outdoor shots here, and one in New York and that was basically it. But I worked with Connor because ... well, we'd been talking about working together on something, and didn't really know what, and he's just, like, really futuristic and super colorful, and also an activist.




Cazwell: To be honest with you, there were a lot of questions while I was making the video, like, the whole time, I was asking myself, "Does anyone really want to hear a new version of 'Ice Cream Truck' right now? The world is falling to pieces.' And then I was like, "You know what, if I get everyone to forget all this bullshit for two minutes and fifteen seconds, then I did my job." And anyway, what am I am gonna do, wait for twenty years? Ten years, that's an anniversary moment. I gotta do it.

EDGE: So, this is a real collaboration between you and Connor Catalano. More than the usual collaborative process between a musician and a video director, it sounds like.

Cazwell: Yeah, and it was also our first time working together. We had to know what each other had in mind. We had to know what each other was doing, and when we were going to do outside shots he had to tell me exactly how he wanted it to be shot with the stabilizer and everything. But I appreciated the direction he gave me because I learned a lot from it. But when it came to everything in post, the backgrounds and the guys riding the Popsicle sticks, I was just like, "You know what? Do whatever the fuck you want. I know you're gonna turn it out." Like, he's very detailed-oriented and I knew there was no way this was going to look like a two-dollar video. It was going to at least look expensive.

EDGE: You really do make it a point to include trans representation in your videos. In the new "Ice Cream Truck" you feature [trans artists and activist] Ezra Michael, and also last year you had a moment at the end of the video for "I Love You" where you showed a poster that says, "I will protect Black trans women."

Cazwell: I think I have a decent-sized audience that are gay white men, and I think that since we can get married now, they don't think that there's anything else to deal with. When everything was about gay marriage, for at least a decade solid — well, longer than that, but a decade in my life — and then we got it, and then it was like, "Okay, we're done." But really, we're not. Some of my closest friends are trans — Peppermint is actually my best friend — and I've lived with more of an idea of what trans women of color [go through] and what's like not blending in with society in general, what you go through and how people can be so willing to just humiliate you and treat you like you're shit.

I feel like gay white men kind of forget that. You can't really say that you have gay pride if we're not all doing okay. We have to fight for everybody. I feel connected to doing something. I've always included trans people in my videos when it's the right time. In my video for "Tonight," I have a non-binary love interest; I remember when that song and video came out, all the gays were like, "How come you don't have a hot guy? You date guys!" That song didn't get me any gigs.

I've been thinking this year particularly that I should include trans men in my videos, but I feel like it has to be authentic, and it has to be a celebration. It can't be "Oh, look at me being cool, making a video with all trans men," because I don't feel like they should be accessorized. But with the new "Ice Cream Truck," I just felt, what a great celebration song; what a great way to begin if Ezra starts with the drumline. I feel that trans men and trans women need to see themselves places, and know that they can do it. You know what I mean? "If you can't see it, you can't be it."

(Source: Cazwell)

EDGE: It seems to me you've been ahead of the curve on issues of trans representation.

Cazwell: Yes, absolutely!

EDGE: And you're also very topical in a lot of other ways, too. You have that great video for "Loose Wrists" with the "Make America Femme Again" hat; you totally mock this performative, exaggerated show of patriotism, we see going on in some places with your video for "Cakes"; and you have "Imagination" from last May, which is a song about being quarantined because of COVID and missing your lover. Do you see yourself as a political commentator in your songwriting?

Cazwell: Yeah. But not an angry one. The thing about it is, I don't know how to do anything that's not funny. You know Mykki Blanco? The trans rapper? I know her, and she has said that no matter what she does, it always comes across as serious. Like, you just can't rub it off of her; she's always serious. And I have the opposite problem: Something is just always kinda funny about it, but I think maybe it's just from my outlook. It's my safe zone. Plus, I feel like I know how to get people to look at me and laugh, or show them that I have a good personality.

But at the same time, my work is political because I am really passionate. Nothing gets me more upset than injustice. I couldn't even move after the news about Breonna Taylor — I'm completely disappointed in the human race half the time, if not more.

EDGE We all want 2020 to end and, if possible, to embrace a fresh beginning in 2021. What are you hoping for if next year we turn the corner?

Cazwell: Well, hopefully get some paid gigs. That would be amazing. I haven't had one of those in seven months. And, honestly, continue fighting. I'm not that excited about Biden being the president — I don't think that's going to solve problems as far as the environment and the fact that we all really should have access to health care... there's a laundry list. But at least we know we have a democracy. Trump is... we have to get rid of him, no matter what. '21 will just be about making the changes we actually can, rather than fighting the ignorance that's coming from the White House.

I'm still going to be creating and doing what I do, and I hope I can keep up with the pace I'm on now — like, I just developed a YouTube show, I have a new YouTube channel. And I have a single out pretty much every month for the next four months and a new EP. So I hope that the difference is that now my work will pay off with money.

Right now I'm just putting out music and videos so that people don't forget about me — but also because I still have a vision, and I can't rest until I do it.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.

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