“Where’re the black people? Where are they?”
Smooth crooner Ty McKinnie chats about being an impossibly happy kid growing up Gay and Black in America’s religious South.
He discusses first boy-kisses, Queer shaming in the home and the invisibility of Black Queer artists in Queer spaces.
- Episode transcription.
- Ty’s Spotify playlist featuring his songs from this episode and his five tracks to save from Armageddon.
- Ty’s forever home online.
- Me. Him. Us. A sexual health awareness project for gay and bisexual men from Black, South Asian and other ethnic minority communities.
- Mental Health America links providing support for bullied LGBT Youth.
- Georgetown University piece on Proposition 8.
- Medical News Today writes about Toxic Masculinity.
- “A Close Look At Frank Ocean’s Coming Out Letter” from NPR.
- BBC reports on Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery.
- In the Key of Q composer Paul Leonidou’s online home.
Please subscribe to the podcast, rate and review. And spread the word!
You can find us on Twitter and Instagram and join the community over on Facebook.
SERIES 1, EPISODE 2
Being black is already like in societal terms, that you already are born deficit like you already have that.
So adding a gay label on top of that, you're just like asking yourself are just like a forever arse whipping from the world.
I'm Dan Hall. I'm a gay man and I love my music. However, I've spent my life translating hetero normative content into my own story. So I'm speaking with Queer musicians from around the world who mirror and inspire my Queer journey.
Welcome to In The Key of Q.
Today, I'm joined by Ty McKinney. His lyrics can tug at the heart in places and his sound and voice feel like the most beautiful, sleepy all-night hug.
Ty, welcome to In the Key of Q!
That was such a beautiful intro! I'm over here blushing and smiling. Oh.
Song Clip. Blank Page 1.03
Fear in my heart
Ticket in my hand
I know where I wanna go
But will it all go as planned?
I’m so ready so ready to begin
I’m just scared to see where this all ends.
Oh, yeah, let's just talk about a little Tyree who grew up in Atlanta, that's what Ty is short for his short for Tyree. Um, that kid was a super smiley, super.
Intelligent, outgoing kid who internally was freaking the fuck out because he knew he was gay and didn't know how to really navigate that in his world, but he was definitely just such a light, such a joy. All he ever wanted to do was make his mom happy.
I definitely recall listening to a lot of Sierra because Sierra's from Atlanta as well. And so, like I had like a lot of hometown heroes, like growing up actually to listen to. So I had Sierra's debut album "Goodies" on CD and her next album.
"The Evolution" I had that in my CD player like that. I just dated myself to say CD player-.
Sweetie, sweetie. I bought Madonna LPs. So please let us have none of that!
I know. I know, I know.
But I just know people who are like CDs?! And I like listening to a lot of Usher because Usher's "Confessions" was like a boom that just took over everywhere. And being from Atlanta, you would hear Usher non-stop in the best way. Like Usher was like, 'Yo, Usher!'. Usher was like a huge thing.
My mother, she listened to a lot of Gospel music and Top 40 as well. It was like those are her two things, a little bit of like, but it'll be like mainstream, like RnB in a little bit of like the general Pop stuff.
My dad was very much like anti-radio. He would only listen to the Jazz station or the occasional Hip Hop station, but he was very much like, nah, I was just paying my CDs, which are he's a Hip Hop head, so you just play Hip Hop stuff.
So you mentioned Gospel music. Was religion quite a big part of your upbringing?
Oh, yes, it was a huge part.
And my mom said when I was a kid, they would call me the Hallelujah Baby because any time like they would be like a, you know, sort of a moment of praise, I was kind of like 'HALLELUJAH!' because I'm, you know, being a kid mimicking what I'm seeing.
So that's what my logic went to.
When I and I I went to a school that was affiliated with the church that I grew up in. So doing church musicals, that's really how I got started.
Song Clip. Crossroads 4.06
I never felt so vulnerable
Never felt this vulnerable
It feels so raw
Being black is already like I don't consider it a deficit, but like in societal terms, you already are born deficit, like you already have that. So adding a gay label on top of that, you're just like asking yourself for just like a forever arse whipping from the world.
And and even in my own home, talking about like Prop 8, which is the whole the first step to make of getting marriage equality in the states was underway when when that was happening, my family had some shit to say about it.
And I was just like, oh, no, not to bring that up. I know this is like another nail in the coffin. I'm like, there's another. And it was I just never felt safe. So that's why I always just retreat in my room. Like, any time those conversations happen, I was just like slowly back away, like Homer Simpson in “The Simpsons” when he goes into the bushes, that was me.
I was like, oh, bye, I'm backing away.
Song Clip. Crossroads 5.16
So hard to be free,
To be free.
But I’m still fighting
To be me.
My dad, he he's a veteran in the military and Navy, and he's just had anger issues, like he didn't take him out on us, but he just was a, you know, a black man in America. And to be a black man or black person in America and to be aware is to be in constant rage. That's a quote. I forgot who quoted it, but that's a quote. And he would always quote that in my adolescence, like, he would say that a lot.
And I would just be so frightened to sort of even ask him for like basic things, like, ‘Can I go to the school dance?’. It was just, you know, being the man in the house and taking care of not only his immediate family, but taking care of my grandmother of extended family like he was looked at as that.
So that was a lot of weight that he had to carry. And he just, you know, didn't have the tools to really how to divvy it out and how to express that sort of weight on his shoulders.
I grew up in a very agnostic households. A religion didn't play a part at all in my upbringing. My perception of religion, probably unfairly, is of quite a homophobic environment, quite a challenging environment in which to grow up. Was that your case or and my prejudices completely unfounded?
No, that is very, very accurate. Very accurate.
It was very strong and very in your face, like you could do anything wrong and, you know, you will be forgiven for it. But if you're gay, oh, my gosh, you are just going to the pits of hell, you will burn the lake of fire, eternal fire may I add.
And not just the little one. And eternal one!
An eternal fire like you may get burned, but then you'll be all right now you're going to burn forever.
My dad was a very much you cannot talk with your hands because you'll seem like effeminate or you seemed unhinged. And then I talk with my hands. So that was a big thing for us.
There would be just comments. So that led me to just shelter myself and encase myself and just put on the layers and layers of clothing and to hide the true gay boy that was inside.
Song Clip. Boys Like Me 7.46
Dad said, ‘Don’t wear tight pants’
Dad said, ‘Don’t talk with your hands’
He was trying to build a man.
With "Boys Like Me" off the first EP that was all about like, 'No, we need to talk about I'm gay, we need to talk about how that hard that was. When you talk about toxic masculinity'. And it was also just like a call for like, 'Hey, if any guys like that like me, like, come find me.'
And that is a great song. It's a really it's a really, really good song because it does touch on those issues. You know, the don't talk with your heart. Yeah. That you know, those things which are just basically someone saying, ‘Don't be you’.
Exactly. And it was coming from one of the people who made me. So it was just a very like when I was writing it, I was realising I was like 'This… that's very damaging. Like this person, my father is the one that told me not to be myself.’
But that's what I loved about that song, was that I was I was getting the chance to take that autonomy back, take that power back and be like, 'No, I know this is wrong, that you tried to make me be a certain way and I'm going to undo what you've done.’
But hopefully, someone else can help me out, like we can do this together. So I'm not alone because I don't want to do it alone.'
That's why music is so important. It is reaching out, isn't it, both for audiences to feel heard, but also I think for artists as well for you as the content creators to feel, ‘Yes, there is an audience and yes, I am heard.’
Yeah. Yeah. So that's there. That song in particular was like that's, 'I am gay hear me roar!'
Song Clip. Boys Like Me 9.35
I just hope I meet someone along the way.
So are there other boys like me
Trying desperately to be free?
Free from everything they told us to be
Everything they told us to be
I was trying to fit into the whole hetero normative world by like, 'OK, I am a guy, I need a girlfriend, we're in seventh grade.'
My female friend was like, 'Well, have you ever kissed a girl before?'
I was like, 'No, I've kissed a pillow'.
But it was like so like, ‘I don't know what to do’.
So she had asked her then boyfriend, 'Y'all just just practise kissing.'
And I'm like, we're both looking at each other, like, why would we kiss we? The whole point is for me to kiss a girl, not a guy.
So we go to the bathroom. We schedule it out. And I'm like, OK, here we go, let's do it.
I kiss him and I'm like, 'Oh, shit, I get it now I get it. I don't want a girlfriend. I want YOU!'
And it was so it was literally like how, you know, the, you know, in cartoons, how they do it like fireworks, DING DING DING!
Oh like all of that was happening-.
That was your hallelujah!
That was my hallelujah! Oh yeah. I was like. It's like, 'You like boys! You like guys!'. I'm like, 'CRAP'!
It was so odd to look back because I found some recent pictures of myself when I was home for the holidays. And I look at these pictures and it's like I'm going through puberty. So I know that. But it's also like, oh, my. Like, I remember I was tortured. I was a tortured kid because that's when I really started to grasp the whole, like, going to hell concept, because I if I do this and that is the ultimate consequence.
But then as I got older, I started learning about the sort of in your face consequences that can happen, not just like, you know, eternal like, you know, when you die, but like, oh, no, this could happen. You can get beat up, you can get bullied, you can get ostracised by your family. You can lose your family, you could be homeless, you could be, you know, on the streets and all that stuff.
And once I realised that, I was kind of like, ‘OK, I got to really keep that close to the vest because that would like shatter my world.’
Song Clip. Boys Like Me 12.02
Trying desperately to be free.
Free to be everything that we already are.
So are you out there?
Are you out there?
Are you out there?
Is there anybody out there?
Wave those hands high so I can see
There’s other boys like me.
We actually ended up continuing that kissing thing in the bathroom for a year.
It was very hard having that sort of inner sphere of energy, not being able to express it, just being boiled down and just buried and buried and buried.
I can embrace my Blackness. Because I was in a Black household that when I grew up in my world of Black society, but embracing the Queerness, the Gayness, that was like, ‘Oh, no, you can't do that now. You got to keep that buried. Buried.’
Song Clip. Welcome to Adulthood 12.54
There’s no more Mommy and Daddy holding your hands
We’re all alone
Why were we in such a rush to get here?
I came to New York because I applied to NYU, which is New York Universities, and within like the first two weeks of January, like I got in and I was so shocked because there was everybody knew from like my childhood, even in college, like NYU was my dream school.
Like, I would have rather went to NYU, my undergrad experience in the school I went to. But I still love Georgia State. I love that school.
So you went to NYU, an excellent university, an outstanding university. And you also mentioned earlier that you were an excellent academic achiever at school. What was it that was driving you to pretty much all your life always drive for quality academia or quality studies?
Oh, because I like the attention.
I knew getting good grades meant that I was going to be seen in a positive light.
And even at a young age, I knew that I'm like, 'OK, for our social standing, I have to look good.' And then when the whole being gay sort of came into play because I got like teased for it and bullied in like elementary school. So I knew that, 'OK, you can call me gay, you can call me fag, you can call me whatever. But you knew I was smart.'
I didn't get, like, the brunt of bullying. Thank God. I just got, like, called names and wasn't invited to things.
Hey that's shitty enough. It is you know, you don't have to say, hey, the scale of bullying was this. I didn't get my shit kicked out of me. That's nasty being socially excluded. And that's pretty scarring.
Yeah, it's pretty scarring. I will. Thank you for that. Thank you for that, Dan.
But yeah. So but even the kids who bullied me are just in, you know, associated with me. They knew I was smart so they would try to cheat off my stuff and I knew I was like, 'OK, if I let them cheat then I would increase my social standing.'
Song Clip. Welcome to Adulthood 14.58
Welcome to Adulthood where things aren’t what they seem
It’s not like anything I thought it would be
Where nothing is life is free
Everything comes with a price, just wait and you’ll see
Leave your Childhood at the door
Because nothing can prepare you for
Welcome to Adulthood.
I truly hope that with the music that I make empowers the Queer community, but specifically the Black Queer community, just to have something that is they can relate to on a full scale. Because there are white artists that I, I connected to because I was like, ‘Yes, we are singing about this and yes, we love it, I'm here for it.’
But it was just like, ‘Oh yes, we're here. But it's still felt like I was like, you don't get the Blackness that is associated with being a Black, Queer southern man? Dealing with this religious drama is like we feel each other. We are here. We can have a conversation about it. But like, my Blackness is just another layer that you will never understand or experience because you are not Black. You may date Black people and, you know, you may have Black friends, but you personally won't experience the Black religious trauma that I have experience because you're not that.’when Frank Ocean came out in:
You know, it's it is pretty easy to find White Queer artists.
But it's not.
Yeah. And it's-
Everywhere. It's easy for them to get press now.
It's like even in on in that dare I say it on like sort of LGBT platforms like they're majority White.
It's like, 'Well where is the black people? Where are they like. And if they're there like, why aren't they being pushed like as much as their White counterparts?'
Like it's very disheartening because we have to be twice as good. And that's a thing that's echoed in within the Black community, regardless of sexuality or whatever. Like you always have to be twice as good as White people in order to get as half as much as they have.
And it's so annoying when you when you know that growing up your entire life, then would you be starting to encounter that in that inequality when you continue to encounter the inequality it's super frustrating because you're just like, 'OK, now come on!'
Like and you don't even it's not even an egotistical thing, but you're just like 'I look cute. My songs are mixed properly and they sound of standard quality that could be on radio right now. Like what is the problem is and I can sing, I'm like, I can sing, I can write.’
Like you start going go things like, ‘OK, am I really not talented or is this just inequality?'
Dan 18.51So what was:
We had this, the civil unrest around racism with George Floyd's murder massacre with Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and the countless trans women, Black, Queer, trans women that were getting murdered like left and right. It was end trans men, trans people. Like there was so much going on, like within that first half of the year.
And me being in New York at the epicentre of it, I was quickly reminded, I'm like, 'Oh, you're still a black man in America.'.
You're still a Black Gay man in America.
And you're literally like you may think you're flying like he thought it was fine, but you're not.
I'm not arguing or debating my existence with anybody anymore because, like, I live it every day.
Song Clip. Chill 19.42
I’m sitting at home
Scrolling through my phone
Waiting for your text
I bet you had a long day
And I just want to be your medicine.
You know, Ty it always amazes me how people who are not invited into my bedroom think it's their business. What I do there.
It's like, 'I didn't ask you, and your bad shoes'.
And your bad shoes! And I'm like, ‘Why do you why do you really want to know? Like, why does it bother you so much?’
It's like literally people having an opinion on what you're going to make for dinner tonight.
And it's like you're not having any it anyway.
It's like come on. Like why, why are we still obsessing over this?
Because like the Christian people, the religious people that I have encountered in my life that who are, you know.
Not homophobic, though, they're just like 'Yo, like do what you do, like God made you to be you. I don't think that's a problem at all. Like-.
Completely. My lovely friend Jill, who I was at college with, she very much has her faith, and her faith means a lot to her. But her faith has always been a thing that is about love.ything but that, you know, in:
And I think she has had experiences where people have told her, ‘No, it's not that’. And she's gone, ‘OK, I'm going to leave this church and go to one three blocks down where they're probably not as much of an arsehole as you are’.
Yeah, I know that. I went through that string of things too like in college when I was coming out to myself and I was affiliated with the church, I was super homophobic and just didn't know that I could leave.
I didn't know I had the ability, the autonomy to make my own decisions because, you know, you are you're really ingrained to kind of like do this. Or if you don't do this, you will, you know, die a thousand deaths, you know, or you'll just go down a dark black road filled with hell and damnation.
My main thing to be an artist was like, I want to be famous because I knew being adored by the public meant that they couldn't like anybody could shame me for being Gay or whatever, like ‘You still love me’. So whatever, like fame. You can't touch me. That's where I was, you know, striving for. And then I got I was getting older.
I was like, 'OK, that's not really what I want, but what do I really want? Like, why am I doing this?
Like, I could really be an accountant if I if I wanted to, like, why am I an artist?'
Like being an artist is not easy. Like there are some beautiful, like moments of being an artist. But I'm like the artist. Life is not like a cakewalk. Like that's why everybody can't do it, isn't it. Isn't that it's not an easy process, but…
Did you find your ‘Why’?
I did, I did, and that's and that's where I was still. I still love "Chill". I still love that song, regardless of you know, it's not like a popular song or whatever.
But I love that because the video I got to make with it and that was the why the why for me is making sure people like me who share my identities see themselves and that they know there's something that they can see themselves, because if they can see that, they can believe it.
They can believe they can have a relationship with the guy. And it's perfectly fine. They can be domestic, they can be so boring and domestic.
Song Clip. Chill 23.30
And nobody touches me like you touch me
And there’s no other place I’d rather be
I just want chill
All I wanna do is, yeah, chill
All I wanna do is, chill.
So with the kid Tyree remake of your music now?
Tyree, as I say, Tyree, would... Tyree would be kind of pissed off about the music I'm making because Tyree was a Pop, Pop guy like he loved Top 40, but he loved Christina Aguilera. He loved Britney. He loved. Well, he still loves Beyonce, but, uh,.
So we do listen to any of your songs already be just like, 'Wrong station!'.
He would. Hmm, that's a good fucking question! Would he actually turn the shit off? Oh, he might. He would turn the shit off!
I think he would like my more upcoming music, which is why this music is dedicated. The next batch of music is dedicated to him because he this is the type of music he would love.
But my first two EPs, he would like some stuff he would love "Boys Like Me". He would probably just cry to "Boys Like Me" because he'd be like, 'Someone wrote about me!' And he would love he would love the videos more so than anything.
So yeah. But he loves Pop culture. He loved everything. Pop culture.
So my music now or the music I've released in the past, it's been Pop with like hints of like Soul and stuff like some other stuff in there too.
But he'll probably be like, ‘What's this old guy here that's like this dirty old guy like my my parents-‘.
Talking about loooooove! What do OLD PEOPLE know about love?!
Talking about love! What do old people know about love? He would listen to "Mutual" and be like, like this is such a jazzy stuff, like the stuff a dad would listen to.
Like he would definitely go probably turn the station!
Which is so weird to say because I'm like I think I've created like I'm trying to like, you know, like not relive but like connect, reconnect to my inner child by making art and making music. Like this is stuff. This is for you, kid. This is for you.
And like I even have a picture on my wall of like me as a child, like smiling. I'm like, you're my reason why. And other little boys like you that make music for you.
Oh, Ty, that's lovely. Yeah, that's really lovely.
But now he would turn the station!
Could you suggest a good gateway song into your catalogue, a good song that will be a seductive way of reeling people in?
So I would have to say the song of choice to get you into the Ty McKinnie world would be "Mutual". "Mutual" is my favourite song that I've put out to this day.
It was it's literally the song I feel like that's changed me sonically. It was the first song that I ever put "he" pronouns into it. So I was really asserting my Gayness and Queerness into my music.
And it's my most beloved song actually, looking at streaming stuff and with my, you know, not the fans, but the people who like what I do. They love that song and they love the video-.
Call them fans! Own it!
OK, my fans, my fans really like "Mutual". That's that song keeps kicking in. I love playing it. If it feels good, it's just it's such a good song and, you know, I think you like it.
So, yeah. "Mutual"'s that song.
Song Clip. Mutual 27.07
If you don’t feel the same way
Tell me to my face
Oh I ‘cause I just wanna know
I just gotta know
Is this mutual? Is this mutual?
Oh, I just wanna know…
Ty, thank you so much for coming on In the Key of Q. It's been wonderful to have you.
Thank you for having me, Dan. This is so cool.
You've been listening to "In the Key of Q".
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This episode is produced by me Dan Hall for Pup Media Consultancy.
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See you next Quesday!
Song Clip. Mutual 28.13
If you don’t feel the same way
Tell me to my face
Oh I ‘cause I just wanna know
Is this mutual…
PROGRAMME ENDSTranscription. ©: