'With my own internalised anti-blackness I steered myself away from rap because that was what was taught to me'
Oliver Corrigan
10:55 19th May 2021

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“I’m just doing a stupid image - this just came to me this morning. I don’t even know what I’m doing…” I find the Virginia-based rapper McKinley Dixon occupied mid-meme creation one fine Thursday afternoon over Zoom. “To be honest, I was procrastinating until this meeting”, Dixon admits, fixating upon the minutiae that goes into constructing a meme ahead of his record label debut release, For My Mama and Anyone Who Look Like Her, just the following day.

My fears over lack of concentration or focus to this interview are quickly allayed as we surge straight into the first generic question rife within every interview, conversation, and small talk these days: “How’s the pandemic been for you?”. On the surface, it’s easy to say that Dixon has kept himself occupied through his upcoming LP release, yet he provides a more personal caveat within this: admitting not only an ability to decelerate in life but also find his own sense of confidence. Undoubtedly, we see this streak of confidence radiate amongst the many pre-released singles taken from tomorrow’s LP, in particular ‘Chain Soooo Heavy’ and ‘Make a Poet Black’.

But for the Richmond rapper, who spent much of his youth oscillating between Maryland and New York, rap was a genre not instilled in him at a young age, and, in fact, was something he turned away from. “With my own internalised anti-blackness I steered myself away from rap because that was what was taught to me”, Dixon explains, remembering finding the genre “loud and abrasive” as he was instead steered further towards the angelic, holistic themes of Gospel music. However, it becomes crystal clear to both of us during our discussion, nitpicking the classified tropes of these genres as we are, that both sets of music have particular traits which are harnessed to their own marketable benefit.

Nevertheless, Dixon aspired to find his own tastes and influences in his youth - My Chemical Romance became one of them. Dixon elaborates: “They could dress up however they wanted, they could do and talk about whatever they wanted, it’s theatrical, it's so dramatic...pushing gender identity”. Dixon eventually concedes that he became torn between this confident genre caked in whiteness and a rap genre grounded in blackness yet tied to an older generation at the time. Eventually, he garnered his own voice and style from a pertinent trilogy of elements he recites as “Expression, confidence and language”, which is something he continues to evolve to this very day.

Tussling with his own challenging experiences of the past, Dixon critiques hip-hop's current breed of rappers within this era of mass marketing on a highly sought-after genre. “Trauma is so easy to market because it’s very easy for a rapper to think 'I want to talk so much about this trauma all the time', when in actuality it’s a bigger cycle that’s going on and there should be ways for you to get out of that sadness.” The breadth of Dixon’s knowledge and personal wisdom proves impressive for such a young artist utilising this very notion within the recording of his latest album which took place over the past three years. Whilst we poke fun at the stagnant heights of Drake, he openly prides himself on offering deeper, admirable alternatives to the genre within his repertoire. “What I’m doing is nothing new but it adds to the certain myth that rappers are just stoic: they’re vulnerable and comedic and they can lie in different lanes.”

More than anything, however, Dixon is pining after a Queen Latifah verse to his music. “If anyone wants me to stop rapping forever, give me a Queen Latifah verse and I will be done” he says, referencing the voracious fandom of the singer/rapper/actress/producer by Dixon's mother - a collaboration with Queen Latifah would make her beyond proud if this ever transpired. Beyond this, Dixon is looking to “exist, live and survive” as we head towards a post-pandemic world with many fruitful opportunities at his doorstep, particularly for a young and emerging rapper looking to spread the good word of his latest record grounded in such knowledge, wisdom, pertinence, and humour.

“That’s perfect timing because I just finished this ridiculous image." Just like that we magically conclude our discussion concurrent with the birth of Dixon’s glorified meme, one which suitably embodies his comical side but also sheds light on the important moment happening just the following day: the start of a new musical chapter for McKinley Dixon.
McKinley Dixon's record label debut LP, For My Mama and Anyone Who Look Like Her, is out now on Spacebomb and can be found here.

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Photo: Press