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WATCH: 5 Artists You Need to Hear Right Now

WATCH: 5 Artists You Need to Hear Right Now


These spoken-word artists are serving up unapologetic realness about being a trans or queer person of color in America. Sit back, listen up, and prepare to be blown away.

Photography courtesy of awQward Talent

After decades of making noise, kicking ass, and fighting for queer visibility, the iconic record label known as Riot Grrrl Ink fell silent in November. The self-proclaimed "largest queer record label in the world" has represented roughly 200 artists over the past 15 years, including Indigo Girl Amy Ray's solo projects, Bitch, Staceyann Chin, and Nervous But Excited.

But in the wake of escalating national tensions over police use of force and deadly interactions between law enforcement and communities of color, the label's founder and CEO, GIna Mamone, decided the energy she spent promoting bands was misplaced. And so the leader of the company that has "never pretended to be a traditional record label" took the website offline in November -- shortly after a grand jury decided not to indict white former Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown. Today, clicking on the URL shows viewers a "parked domain" notification, complete with a GIF of a sleepy kitten.

"We are closing for the rEvolution," wrote Mamone in an email sent to Riot Grrrl Ink supporters in December. "Being an ally is a verb, only you know your strengths and resources. This is us acting with ours."

Instead of promoting the bands on its roster, Mamone redirected her efforts -- financial, legal, and otherwise -- to supporting awQward, a new talent agency started by and for trans and queer people of color.

As founder J Mase III eloquently explains in a Huffington Post Gay Voices article, Mamone's decision to shutter the iconic record label garnered almost no media attention. But this decision wasn't about attention, he learned. It was about solidarity.

"Suddenly, here I was talking to someone who was an expert in her field (now my field), that wanted to make sure I had the support I needed," writes Mase. "In the weeks that followed, we spent hours talking about radical capitalism, legal supports, benefits for my employees and what my 10-year financial goals are for every artist on our roster. This felt like a revolutionary moment."

Here we present five of the most compelling spoken-word performances from artists currently on awQward's roster -- which the organizers hope to expand in the near future. These artists have voices -- and they're ones we should be listening to.

Shyla-hardwick_0These artists speak to the fear and pain of living in a world where armed police "must have eyes that can only see color," as Shyla Hardwick powerfully proclaims in "Worms."

Timothy-duwhite_0The artists speak to the power of forgiveness, of rediscovering and defining joy on your own terms, even after learning you are HIV-positive, as Timothy DuWhite details in "Joy Revisited."

J-mase-iii_0The artists speak to the frustration of being surrounded by those who claim to be your ally but fail to truly comprehend what allyship looks like in practice, as awQward founder J Mase III unabashedly articulates in "Ally Fail."

Regie-cabico_0Other awQward artists, like Regie Cabico, speak to the fetishism often faced by people of color in a society that prioritizes whiteness, refusing to be anyone's "teriyaki toy, a rice queen's dream, [or] bowl of soy sauce to dip your meat in."

Kavindu-ade_0Others still articulate the anguish and dehumanizing effect when a society considers your gender presentation open for public comment, "with the body you've got and the gender you don't," as Kavindu Ade proclaims in "IT."

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