Gay rapper? Believe it

Minneapolis DJ/rapper Tori Fixx is fighting the genre's homophobic stereotypes.

Minneapolis-based rapper and DJ Tori Fixx is about to become more well-known with the release of "Pick up the Mic," a documentary on gay rappers.

Photo: Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune

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You're not going to get a sob story out of Tori Fixx about how hard it is being a gay artist in a genre of music that's notoriously homophobic.

"Honestly, I'd say that being gay opens more doors for me nowadays than it closes them," the 31-year-old producer/DJ/rapper said this week.

Sitting amid the keyboards, turntables and piles of vinyl records inside his Uptown apartment, Fixx (who legally changed his name a few years ago) is friends with other gay hip-hop artists around the country who haven't been so lucky. He knows a couple of performers who lost record deals when they opened up about their sexuality. Others have been ridiculed or pushed around after shows.

Fixx, however, is pretty content with the way his career has gone. He has released five CDs, and the latest -- the gay-marriage-themed "Marry Me" -- earned him some press and a small nationwide following. More and more, he is also getting invited to gay and lesbian pride events in other cities.

"Usually, it's six or seven folk singers, and then me," he said with a laugh, "but I still go over pretty well."

This weekend, Fixx is coming out more in his hometown via the Flaming Film Festival. He's one of a dozen featured performers in "Pick Up the Mic," a documentary about gay rappers that showed at the Toronto Film Fest. He's performing after tonight's screening at the Suburban World Theater and also will take part in Sunday's "Homo Hop" show at 7th Street Entry.

Fixx's success could be seen as a sign that hip-hop is so widely integrated in pop culture nowadays, the gay and lesbian community was bound to demand it. But let's not forget that hip-hop does have gay roots, since a part of its early formulation was sampling beats out of New York discos.

Homophobia in hip-hop became a hot issue a few months ago, when Kanye West openly denounced other rappers' gay-bashing in interviews. Fixx wasn't all that impressed.

"Action speaks louder than words," he said. "That's great Kanye spoke up. Now let's see him hire an openly gay producer or work with a gay rapper."

Still, Fixx saw West's comments as yet another sign that the hip-hop world might be inching toward acceptance.

"More and more, you're seeing the two worlds collide," he said, adding with a smile, "and let's face it, there are probably a lot of [famous rappers] who are queer but afraid to come out."

Fixx himself opened up about his sexual makeup pretty early on, which, he admitted, is generally even harder for black men to do. A south Minneapolis native from a "good churchgoing family," he said he worried about his family's reaction but "they were braver about it than I was." He struggled with his identity for several years and even attempted suicide once.

A childhood passion that started with Prince's "1999" album pulled him through.

"Making music and writing was how I dealt with my sexuality issues," he said. "Eventually, a friend of mine convinced me the music was worth putting out, but at first I was only doing it for myself."

Fixx spent a few years in San Francisco, where he first started performing. In the mid-'90s, he was a sort of "on-call DJ" for Prince. He said he'd often drive out to Paisley Park in blizzards or late at night whenever the call came to throw a party.

Nowadays, Tori spins most Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Saloon in downtown Minneapolis and works the monthly lesbian nights at the Kitty Cat Klub in Dinkytown. He produces records for other gay artists and is working on his own double CD, "Chocolate," which explores more of his funk and singer/songwriter side.

For the most part, Fixx is still largely an unknown in the local hip-hop scene. He doesn't hold any grudges, though.

"I'm a huge fan of Rhymesayers and would love to even just do a remix with them," he said. For now, though, "I'm happy with the rate things are moving along."

  • Chris Riemenschneider: Tori Fixx

    "Pick Up the Mic" screening: 9 p.m. today, Suburban World Theater, 3022 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. Music follows. $7. Also showing 5 p.m. Sat., District 202, 1601 Nicollet Av. S., Mpls. More info at www.flamingfilmfestival.com.

    "Homo Hop" concert: 9 p.m. Sun., 7th Street Entry, 701 1st Av. N., Mpls. $7. Also featuring Johnny Dangerous, Katastrophe, Deadlee, Nicky Click and more.

    Web: www.torifixx.com.

    Sound bites: Hear audio samples from Fixx's "Marry Me" album at startribune.com/music.

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