Local music: Hip-hop in trans-lation

Minneapolis rapper Heidi Barton Stink hopes one day she won't have to explain transgenderism. But for now, she's doing it loudly.

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Heidi Barton Stink will perform at several Pride events, including Queertopia at Intermedia Arts.

The rock world lit up a couple of months ago when Tom Gabel, frontman of the politico-punk band Against Me!, bravely revealed to Rolling Stone that he has secretly been living a transgender lifestyle and plans to become a woman.

Heidi Barton Stink, for one, seemed blasé about the news.

"It's hard to be transgender, period, but try being a transgender activist and rapper," said the artist legally known as Heidi Foster, who fits all of the aforementioned roles.

A musical genre renowned for its sexist and sometimes homophobic overtones, hip-hop has become Heidi's unlikely platform of choice for spreading the word on the trials of being a transgender woman. Which shouldn't come as a surprise considering the vast amount of people her age (29) who grew up on rap music.

Even in the liberal Twin Cities indie-rap scene, though, "it's still often hard for me to get taken seriously," she said.

It's getting a little easier since the release of her second album, "A Charming Gut," a politically fiery yet deeply funky and playful collection that could be filed between Eyedea & Abilities and Doomtree in the local record bins. Her work also brings to mind Brother Ali, whose rhymes about being albino have taken hip-hop's strong sense of self-identity to new heights.

Being a transgender woman not only puts a unique skew on Heidi's music, but it made her a strong voice for gay rights, a role she'll back up with appearances at numerous Twin Cities Pride events this week, including the nightly Queertopia showcases continuing through Saturday at Intermedia Arts Center (she goes on around 8:30 p.m.).

Consider the bleak reality she raps about in the anti-violence track "Direct Action (Do-Over)": "Something like five times a week, a trans person is murdered, you see / We've been viewed as less than human / Stop that, let's lower the stats."

However, most of her tracks are more lighthearted and universal. With a nasal, slightly bratty voice and fast delivery style, she could be mistaken for Eyedea as she snarkily raps about women's body-image issues in "Celebrity Skin" ("As an outsider inside these bodies today / I can't tell you what to think, but these standards are fake"). She even takes a twofer jab at her own kind in "The Bad Sleep Well": "Some activists are showbiz, so passive-aggressive, you would swear they're Minnesotan."

Maybe her most definitive lyric about being a transgender rapper comes in "Direct Action": "Testicles have nothing to do with bravery, and even less to do with skill."

Rapper and spoken-word artist Guante guests on one of the album's best tracks, "Intersecting Lines." He applauded her efforts to raise "a voice for a struggle that's too often ignored," but also said, "I really think Heidi's contributions to the scene will involve more than her identity. It's in her music, her sense of humor, her approach to songwriting, her sincerity. It's all so refreshing."

With a rapper name inspired by the Coen brothers' cult classic "Barton Fink" -- actor John Turturro's image is also tattooed on her left calf, and the title "Charming Gut" is from a line in the movie -- Heidi started performing even before she began her transition to a transgender woman four years ago. Once she came out, she said, "there were definitely some people I used to hang out with who wouldn't be comfortable around me now."

Heidi mostly fell in with GLBT circles and has drummed a steady base of fans and supporters there. She's thrilled about that, she said, "because I feel like I'm rapping about a lot of the issues that those people want to hear about, but they're not. Especially from rappers."

Her ultimate goal, though, is the kind of crossover success that Guante believes she deserves.

Alluding to the case of Tom Gabel, she said, "It helps anytime a transgender person is out there talking or singing about it. The more it happens, the less we need to explain ourselves to everyone else every day of our lives."

Hüsker re-Dü

When Eric Mahle's band landed a gig opening for Grant Hart in Chicago in 2010, the drummer rehearsed a handful of Hüsker Dü tunes with bassist Geoff Greenberg hoping to serve as Hart's pickup band. Hart never showed, though -- "He said he got lost," Greenberg said -- so the guys played the Hüskers songs anyway. Thus was born Hüsker Düdes, a tribute band making its debut in the Hüskers' home town Saturday at the Turf Club (10 p.m., $7, with Pocket Genius and Kruddler). "It's a pretty daring move for us to play up there," admitted Greenberg, "but this is such a fringe thing, we can only play four times a year or so in Chicago before we wear out our welcome."

Since the trio's official debut on Halloween 2010, their gigs have included an all-"New Day Rising" tribute as well as a gig in March that made the music blogs after Hüskers bassist Greg Norton sat in for a few songs, including his own "From the Gut." Norton was impressed, calling it "good, clean fun." Greenberg said the Düdes have worked up more than 50 of the old songs, and noted, "There's not a whole lot more left for us to learn." Considering that the original Hüskers will probably never play together again, and can't even sort out proper treatment of their catalog, Greenberg said, "I think there's a demand for what we're doing."

Random mix

Legend has it that the Midnight Evils set a liquor-sales record at 7th Street Entry when they played their farewell shows there in 2005. True or not, you can bet they and their fans will try to raise the bar there Saturday when the mighty garage-punks play a long-awaited reunion gig (9 p.m., $8). Drummer Jesse Tomlinson is leaving town soon, a move that also sadly contributed to the end of his and guitarist/singer Brian Vanderwerf's equally loved post-Evils band, Chooglin'. ...

You might call her the Rihanna of the Twin Cities hip-hop scene, minus the sexpot thing: Claire de Lune has provided sultry vocals on tracks by rappers MaLLy, the Tribe & Big Cats! and Guante, and she's also part of a new all-female hip-hop collective called the Chalice. Her new solo EP, however, shows she's also a charming, soulful songwriter. She'll promote the seven-song collection, "New Lion," Thursday at the Entry (9 p.m., $5, Greg Grease, TT&BC! and K. Raydio open). ... A finalist last year in Vita.mn's Are You Local? contest, Chicago transplant Longshot is dropping another mixtape, "Live From the Gravebomb, Vol. 2," with a release party Saturday at Cause (9 p.m., $5). It features Psalm One, Felix of Heiruspecs, Carnage, Jake One and many other local all-stars. You can get it for free at Longshot's Bandcamp page. ...

The Daredevil Christopher Wright returns Saturday to Cedar Cultural Center to promote its sophomore record, "The Nature of Things" (8 p.m., $10-$12). Eau Claire's psychedelic-folk trio, who seem dead set on getting Fleet Foxes comparisons, made the album with help from Daytrotter.com engineer Patrick Stolley. ... The Cedar is also hosting 89.3 the Current's first "Local Current Live" show on Wednesday, a free all-ages concert featuring Chastity Brown, Van Stee and the aforementioned Chalice (7:30 p.m., all ages). ...

Nicely timed to the nearby River's Edge Music Fest, McNally Smith College of Music in downtown St. Paul will host an open house Saturday with numerous workshops from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. ... In addition to the handful of local bands recruited to play River's Edge (Motion City Soundtrack, Poliça, the Rope and Quietdrive), a nice smattering of DJs and electronic producers will also perform in the festival's so-called Silent Disco, including Gigamesh, Jon Ackerman, Jack Trash, Strangelove and Blaze One. I'll remain silent on my own thoughts of attending a festival to listen to dance music through headphones.

chrisr@startribune.com • 612-673-4658 • Twitter: @ChrisRstrib

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    Thursday June 21, 2012

    "A Charming Gut (Theme)," by Heidi Barton Stink, from the CD A Charming Gut.

  • Audio: "Celebrity Skin" by Heidi Barton Stink

    Thursday June 21, 2012

    "Celebrity Skin" by Heidi Barton Stink, from the CD A Charming Gut

  • QUEERTOPIA

    With: Heidi Barton Stink, Dustin Maxwell, Harry Waters Jr., Kelley Meister, more.

    When: 7 p.m. Fri.-Sat.

    Where: Intermedia Arts Center, 2822 Lyndale Av. S., Mpls.

    Tickets: $2-$15. 612-871-4444.

    HEAR

    samples from "A Charming Gut" at startribune.com/music

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