TBT on Fighting Cyberbullies and Taking Back Black Music
// Image courtesy of Jonathan Wiggs.
From their Bandcamp biography, “Trap Beat Tranny (aka Despoina, TBT 4 da cissies!) is a Boston-based Black trans trap doll rappin bout what bothers Them in this world.” Their debut album CYBERBULLY, originally released March 25, 2021 is an honest and radical project which contemplates social media culture, the effects of COVID-19, the 2020 presidential election, and transmisogynoir. In her own words, “CYBERBULLY is a digital history of 2020, a reflection on the constant harassment I and other Black maGes [marginalized genders] experience online, and a long-form diss track re: anti Blackness.”
In a world which runs on exploiting Black cultures while discarding Black people, CYBERBULLY is a radically brave intervention that openly critiques multiple forms of anti-Blackness from slurs and digital harassment, to exploiting Black death for profit and digital blackface. The reclamation of power and slurs is also present through TBT’s name itself: “Trap Beat Tranny, TBT for the cissies.” As a nonbinary person who does not suffer from transmisogny, I use TBT to refer to the artist throughout this interview. Trans and nonbinary identities make up a spectrum that is not without hierarchy, power, and privilege. Nonetheless, through her lyrics, samples, and house, trap, glitch hop, and synth pop elements, TBT makes it clear that CYBERBULLY is first and foremost for Black trans people.
The album’s many samples add a unique and contemporary layer, better situating it within the mess that is 2020. I write ‘is’ and not ‘was 2020’ because of my conversation with TBT— the effects of that deeply traumatic year have not ended, we are still living through them.
[Interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity]
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and the history behind your name?
TBT: I am Trap Beat Tranny, TBT for the cissies. I use They/She pronouns. I’m Boston-based at the moment, local artist, rapper, wordsmith, and performer. And I just put up my debut album!
How do you feel now that CYBERBULLY is out? Do you feel relieved? Since it’s been something you’ve been working on most of the pandemic?
TBT: Yeah it’s kind of wild because I have never worked on anything like this consistently and for a whole year. This is kind of the longest period of time I've spent working on an artistic project kind of all at once. I do so many different things artistically: I've done some work in theater, I've done some like more film work, I've done poetry, dance, like all different types of things and I find that the closest I've ever gotten to working on something for as long as this is usually in the theater sphere I find.
My last project, my “true debut,” my mixtape Femmetasy, that process was a six-month long process of writing those songs and working with the producers, and getting it to where it needed to be for release. I wanted to challenge myself to not rush myself, because I found that that's definitely a habit for me artistically. So, I actually yeah, I have a huge like sense of relief, but also just feel very, very gratified.
Because I really think to myself with this project that I can slow down and take the time and really think about what I need to say and how exactly I’m going to say it. And the project only benefits from that. And of course, I knew I had the capacity, but by proving it to myself, by being like “this took a year and I allowed it to take that.”
Yeah, that's really cool. And that's such a radical act to be like “No, I can set the time limits for myself.” It’s really another benefit of being an independent artist.
TBT: Exactly. Because I find that, you know, when I’m not dealing with contracts and stuff with labels, I’m beholden to myself and I can set the pace. So I can do this fun thing where I set fake deadlines—knowing full well that I won’t have it done by that time. But that’s what keeps me going is having a deadline to work towards. And even if it's not real, I think, especially if it's not real because it's a real deadline, then I start to get stressed when I’m working towards it. If it’s fake it’s better just to give me a nice structure to keep going.
How do you feel like CYBERBULLY differs, and builds from Femmetasy?
TBT: I mean so CYBERBULLY is very much an exploration of how Black people of marginalized gender experiences are harassed online, just like really picking apart what it means to not even be able to exist in the online space with a sense of peace.
This builds off the conversation that Femmetasy had because Femmetasy was very much concerned with just wondering what survival looks like for Black gender variant people. I am very wary of using a lot of like representation politics around how I talk about my art and artistry just because I think that there's a lot of ways that that language has been co-opted for an agenda that I’m not interested in being part of. I always of course approach things from my own lens of the specific person that I am.
I’m very, very interested in unpacking the things that stick with me, the things that I can't let go. I think that that's a theme throughout all my artistry. Sometimes I tell people that I just “rap about the ship that bothers me.” Because you know I wrote Femmetasy at a time where I was really just struggling really, really feeling like I was crumbling under the constant pressure that is having to exist as the kind of person that you are, in a world that actively wants to see you not exist for being that kind of person.
And writing from that place of exhaustion, I think it would not have been possible for me to share those experiences if it didn't mean something very, very deep and personal for me in terms of how I'm processing this life itself. I think when you get down to it, a lot of people are trying to process life through art. And I'll speak for myself definitely when I say that I feel the arts have helped me process very specific periods. 2019 was a time where I was fresh out of college, I was like strung out on no job, and then I had a job that wasn’t paying me enough. I was overworked and I was paying too much rent. You know, like just the classic kind of “I’m out of college and I don't know what the hell's going on!” struggle. And then 2020 was 2020…[laughs]. So I tell people, “I picked really interesting years to write about with these two projects.”
I think what I really love about them is not being afraid to talk about 2020 and like how shit it was. I see tweets that are like “I don't want to see any movies about the pandemic and wearing masks,” but this was also like a very traumatic time for people so like understandably it’s going to require a response to it.
TBT: Exactly, and I think that it's important to especially just like 2020 specifically, I think we have to process it. I think that denial of what happened only makes the issues that we're having with dealing with it worse. This idea is very present throughout CYBERBULLY. I'm just like, “Everything that I’m talking about in the context of this year applies outside of this year, because this is an always thing.” I'm choosing to be very, very specific and then that gives you, as the audience, the freedom to connect it to wherever else you want to connect it, and that's the point.
But yeah you can't be shy about that. I think there's a lot of like deniability politics, a lot of pretending that nothing is going on, and if you just don't look at it, then it'll go away. This album was a wholesale rejection of that. [Laughing] Like let's look at exactly what you did last year.
Right like “Run it back—let’s talk about those black squares. Let’s unpack that!”
TBT: Right let’s talk about that! Because I ain’t finished yet.
I feel like this is linked to “Digital Blackface (Emulator)” and the ways in which white and nonblack Stan Twitter will be like “That word isn’t trendy anymore!” And it’s a word that has been used since the 70’s, what do you mean it isn’t trendy?
TBT: Like it doesn't make sense. You don't get to define what the barometer for cultural relevance is with vocabulary that's not even your world. I think a lot about where I chose to place that track, especially because I released that track before the album came out, I just think that things are so…things have just gotten so out of hand. The genealogy and history of minstrelsy and how it has evolved in so many different ways in the context of this nation, and how it evolves throughout the context of a whole world of the result…Because nobody wants to be Black when it comes down to it, Everybody will speak that way, and know full well at the end of the day, that’s not who they actually are.
Going back to CYBERBULLY, do you have any favorite samples or interludes you would like to share?
TBT: Favorite interlude, I’m going to give it to the third one “Shadowbannished.” The poetry bits there at the end feel the most resonant: “If you deify, crucify, and consume me and mines, are we not Christ? A sacrifice to absolve you of vice. I pray when you eat of me, you Choke.” THAT’S BARS! For real like everything is consumption with these folks and it’s like nah I don’t want to share this with y’all. I don’t want you to eat me!
[As for favorite tracks and samples], the producers on this project are what made this project like I want to be super clear about that. And I think the way it is super clear…like the way the beats are in conversation with the theme couldn’t be possible if it weren't for the producers, having a strong understanding of what the direction was, as I did. Like “Apt. 404” for example, I think the whole sample situation that is the most interesting like it’s the least in your face. . . It has this moment where it switches up and we get a new part of the song. And then we go into the chorus and take it home. And then there’s a moment where we get a new melody out of nowhere. That’s actually me sampling from A Revolutionary Girl Utena. . . Everybody has their anime and magna take, but especially as a rapper you gotta have that ready. But I feel like no one was gonna go for that. . .
I remember I said to you on Twitter that when I was listening it felt like I was dancing harder to every song, and you said wait until the end (referencing “Apt. 404”).
TBT: It’s a celebration, but it’s also like there’s something different, a melancholy running under it like damn, all things do have to die for new things to be born, and that is hard sometimes. But sometimes we can welcome that transformation and that can be beautiful, can’t it?
That’s what makes CYBERBULLY beautiful as well! Lastly, as this piece will be published during Pride month, do you have anything you want to add regarding the white/cop-washing of its radical roots?
TBT: As far as Pride is concerned, I actually have some info to share: I’ll be performing at Trans Resistance MA’s March and Vigil on June 12th! There’s been no contact with the cops in advance of this event and Trans Resistance MA has devised a minimal if any engagement protocol for any and all potential cop interactions that might occur during. So I’m very much looking forward to performing for a space very intentionally focused on trans joy, trans community, trans rage, and trans remembrance.
My comment on Pride itself is that if we don’t center our experience of Pride in its original radical tradition, I personally see no purpose or cause for celebration, not when there’s so much work to be done. Non Black gays don’t get to “kiki” and have pointlessly circular discourse about “kink at Pride” while we’re constantly in the trenches fighting for basic survival. As always, less talk, more action. The only discourse I wanna hear re: Pride is the sound of Black trans folks Venmo’s ringing.
For more information on TBT’s free Pride performance in Boston June 12, you can visit Trans Resistance MA’s event page here. You can purchase CYBERBULLY and Femmetasy on her Bandcamp, where 50% of proceeds from the album will go to survival funds and GoFundMe’s for other Black trans people.
// valo is a Staff Writer and DJ for The Darker Side. They currently spin songs during their show “LA SONIDOS” every Monday night from 12-2 am.