QUEER HIP HOP NATION
By Edward Jonas
Coleman and Jackson Vrana make up the controversial band, Elephant – the only white, twin brother, queer rappers on the music scene today.
Originally from Oklahoma, they came out when they were 14 and were bullied and harassed every day until they finally left home at 18. Coleman fled to New York while Jackson went to London. They reunited in Los Angeles where they formed their band and grew a following with their provocative gay-activist lyrics and in-your-face performances.
They caught the attention of 80’s pop icon, Josie Cotton – who invited the duo to collaborate on the 2010 remake of her cult classic Johnny Are You Queer? – and were quickly signed to her record label. Now the dynamic duo aim to make some noise on a national level and that’s exactly what they’re doing with their debut release, Queer Nation.
How do you describe “Queer Nation”?
Coleman Vrana: It’s an in-your-face track that turns hip hop on its head and confronts homophobia with a lot of filthy language.
Did you intend for it to be controversial?
Absolutely. We intentionally pushed the limit with all four of the tracks on the Queer Nation EP.
So it’s representative of the rest of your upcoming album?
Definitely, but we go to some pretty unexpected places and our political interests and aims extend beyond LGBT-related issues.
When did you and Jackson first realize you had musical talent?
We grew up performing in angsty punk bands as teenagers. There was never an instrument we didn’t want to learn our way around in some kinda way growing up.
When did you boys come out?
At 14. After that, we were huge targets in middle and high school.
Those bullying years seem to play a big part in your music today.
Most of our songs were written with the angst-ridden motivation we got from those days. We connect with a ton of teenagers who are exactly like we were a few years ago.
What lessons have you learned as openly gay artists?
As artists, we constantly have to prove ourselves to everyone. As gay artists who intend to be taken completely seriously, we’ve learned the struggle is tenfold. People expect us to represent them so specifically that we often have to take a step back and remember what got us here in the first place: our voices, our attitudes and our ideas.
How do you feel about celebrities who won’t come out of the closet?
It’s hard to imagine staying closeted because our personal artistry comes from our need to express ourselves honestly. Maybe some people are okay with keeping their personal lives private, but we can’t imagine expressing ourselves on stage or in the studio like that.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Josie Cotton told us that showcasing who you are with your own individual voice is the only way to be successful as an artist. Anybody with talent can be a musician or a performer, but only you can be you.
What’s the worst cliche about the gay scene?
The notion that gay men are somehow weak-willed or inordinately delicate people is insane. Fighting to be yourself to an intolerant society your entire life most definitely creates more strength in a person than frailty.
That we are a severely tight community that embraces everyone with open arms. I think it’s true.
Finish the sentence: A good night out starts with…
A fat blunt.
It ends with…
A fat blunt. Shunda K from Yo! Majesty (a lesbian hip hop group) taught me how to roll em’ the best.
What comes first for you – sex or love?
Sex. Usually, emotions that stick around don’t come into play until later.
What’s the best thing ever invented?
Over-sized colonial dolls.
When the phone rings, who do you hope is calling?
Mary Tyler Moore—to tell us she’s our real mother.
What’s next for Elephant?
We’re working on a really exciting project: a gay vs. lesbian rap battle extraordinaire.
You’re not kidding about creating a Queer Nation.
Fists are getting tighter. A backlash is on the way. We can feel it.