Living Positive

Author and musician Tim'm T. West talks about being an HIV-positive rapper, educating gay youths, his successful music career, and what he'd trade it all for.



Tim'm T. West revolutionizes nearly everything he touches. From his 2003 book, Red Dirt Revival: A Poetic Memoir in 6 Breaths, to his newest hip-hop album, In Security: The Golden Error, the 37-year-old Renaissance dude is relentless on his path of art, education, and truth.

West has many identities: Southerner, black, author, poet, rapper, gay, and HIV-positive among them. A confident, talented, and respected figure in both activism and art, West is the keynote speaker at the National Association of People With AIDS Positive Youth Institute in Denver August 13-14. In addition, he has a full-time gig as an intervention specialist at the Fusion Center in Houston, which works primarily with African-American men, ages 16 to 24, who have sex with men. Somehow he manages to squeeze in music, books, and an appearance in the Mario Van Peebles documentary on black male icons, Bring Your 'A' Game.

West sat down with to talk about his music, living with HIV, and educating gay youths.'ve released several hip-hop albums over the years, and your latest is In Security: The Golden Error. Do you have any desire to be mainstream?Tim'm T. West: Yes and no. Yes, in the fact that I think I do really good work. I feel like my work is good enough to be heard by larger populations of people. In that sense, I would like for the messages to get out there. A song like "Positive," where I talk about my HIV status and I use being positive, which can apply to you if you're HIV-positive but can also apply if you are just trying to live life in a positive light. To that extent, I would like to be mainstream. Realistically, I understand the compromises that might need to be made in order for that to happen. I'm not willing to be closeted about my HIV status, sexuality, or my political opinions. To that extent, it's a marketing risk for some people who are trying to promote projects. At the same time, I'm kind of hopeful that somebody may catch wind of the music I've done and go, "Hey, I think this guy would be really good for hip-hop right now." I'm actually moving toward jazz albums here on out [ laughs ]. So I'm moving in some different directions.

The song "Positive" is on your last album, Blakkboy Blue(s). Before you were HIV-positive, what was your perception of being HIV-positive? I was one of those people who did a lot of HIV and AIDS outreach. I had an awareness; I dated a few people who were HIV-positive. I definitely had a healthy and positive approach about people who were positive. Interestingly enough, it wasn't a positive person who infected me; it was someone who was "negative." I think some of the paranoia and fear driven HIV prevention efforts are not really useful. Fear never keeps anybody from preventing themselves from getting HIV. I think some real talk about sex and choices is a better approach. I'm able to deal with my HIV status a lot better because I didn't demonize positive people. You can only imagine people who talked negatively about HIV-positive people -- what happens when they become positive? Do they then turn those same messages on themselves? It can be this downward spiral if you've told yourself all along that people with HIV aren't worthy of being loved.

Tags: Music