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Drinu : “I chose not to censor myself or my sexuality”

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A queer rapper from Poland, Drinu made a name for himself in 2021 with his first album PROJEKT GEJ x RAP. Described by the media as Poland’s first gay MC, the artist explains why this is a short-sighted formulation, and why he has little love for labels. Drinu also tells us about his passion for country music and Lil’ Kim, his creative process, and his projects.

Can you briefly introduce yourself? Who are you? Where are you from? How do you identify, and which pronouns should we use?

My name is Jędrzej, among friends abroad I go by Andrew, and in music – Drinu. I got this nickname in one of my favorite places on our planet – a lovely island I first visited years ago and have been calling Paradiso ever since.

I was born in Parczew, a small town in the East of Poland. I don’t remember anything of it since my parents immediately moved to Lublin (also Eastern Poland). For studies I moved to Warsaw and spent almost a decade there.

I identify as a gay man, although I’ll be honest with you – I am not a big fan of labels and people’s need for labelling themselves as precise as they tend to do, regardless of how politically incorrect such an answer may be.

How and when did you start rapping? 

In my case, rap was a love child between my passion for writing and the fact that I was drawn to hip hop music since early teenage years. One day what started as a poem, resulted in me trying out to rap it over a free Internet-found beat.

First, I was rapping over a boombox and recording it with my phone. Then I got myself a microphone, made an impromptu studio in the kitchen. And that’s how the cooking of music started. Really step by step, deep dive into the unknown, well into my late 20s.

How would you describe your music and artistic identity?

Let me start by saying that besides hip hop, I’ve always loved country music. And in both genres, one thing matters above all – the truth. I speak my truth over predominantly boombap beats, the ones that are most rooted within me.

Music has never been a means of career building or purchasing success, or money, or honestly – even the sense of accomplishment.  One way or another I had had all of them before I even dared to write my first bars. It’s all about being true to how I am and what I want to share with the world.

What is your creative process? How do you usually write/pick a beat? Do you have any favorite topics or routines? …

My first single – “Tacy sami” (“Equals”) – started as a poem. But that was like a one-night stand, it never really happened in this order later. Most likely when a beat speaks to me, immediately part of the chorus, or a couple of phrases pop in my head. Then it’s leading me into a certain topic and the fun goes on.

I do think I need a little bit more discipline in what I do sometimes. I have fresh, and yet classic beats sitting on my drive and waiting for me to wrap my head around them. But what can I say – it usually either gets me from the start or not at all.

Which song are you most proud of so far and why?

That needs a little bit of a story. My personal gem is “Bądźmy sobą” (“Let’s be ourselves”) which features a fire verse from Gonix, a profoundly talented Polish rapper, producer, songwriter.

Cause you know, circa 2020 I had been her fan already for 7 or 8 years. I made a song called “Nie rusz mnie” (“Don’t touch me”) as my as loud and furious as it could be input into the Women’s Strike in Poland. I recorded it in the kitchen, mixed it myself, my then-boyfriend (now fiancé) made a cover of it, and we uploaded it on YouTube.

I reached out to Gonix, to spread the message and to share my feelings. Her feedback was priceless, and something tempted me to ask her to feature on one of my songs. She said it – “if I feel it, I will do it”. And she did it. I still cannot fully comprehend it, but yeah, that’s the song I’m most proud of I think.

And right after that “Tacy sami” produced by St. Elmo, a very skillful, Warsaw-based guy who never fails to make me feel taken care of in the studio.

The media often present you as “the first gay rapper in Poland”. How do you feel about this expression?

We are in 2023, and it’s a juicy headline for the Polish media, that’s for sure. And that alone speaks volumes about Poland, doesn’t it? I’m not gonna lie, I titled my album PROJEKT GEJ X RAP not for clout, but to provoke certain people, to shake up their bubble. Like a tiny needle stuck into their uptight balloon.

Anyway, I don’t care much for titles or expressions. I’m more than certain we have a whole bunch of gay rappers in Poland that came before me. Whether they were vocal about it or not, that’s a different story.

Hip hop is often pictured as homophobic. Do you agree with that? And why did you feel attracted to this music in the first place?

Hip hop is not free from homophobia or hatred for women, or toxic masculinity. So isn’t our society. In hip hop I see it transforming. Slowly, and painfully, but still – into a good direction. Perhaps it’s not as visible in Poland yet, as I would like it to be, but all changes need time. And voices to support them.

As for my attraction to hip hop – it all started with Lil’ Kim. I heard her on “Lady Marmalade” and then dug into “Hardcore”, her debut album. And I was gone, what a talent, what a flow, what bravery she had and still has. Then I went into Biggie’s catalogue, and then Junior M.A.F.I.A. and well – it just made me feel educated about a then unknown world to me.

In 2021 you released your first album PROJEKT GEJ x RAP, which largely deals with being gay. How was it received by the audience in Poland?

That’s the thing – it’s not about “dealing with being gay”. That’s the perception I often had to dissolve in Polish media. Then okay, I called my album like that – so here we are, right? I’m joking of course, but like in every joke – there’s a little bit of truth here.

PROJEKT GEJ x RAP is not about being gay. It’s about me. And I am gay. It’s an album about love, anger towards society, doubts and hopes about the future. It’s my truth. I just chose not to sugar-coat it and not censor myself or my sexuality.

The reception exceeded my expectations. The homophobic hate wave I got quickly became irrelevant, because I received a lot of personal messages on Instagram or through email. People told me I lifted them up, I made them feel represented, heard. I felt proud, I felt like it was worth it.

This is what I missed a lot when I was a kid or a teenager. Almost nobody was openly gay back then in Poland. There hasn’t been one love song on the radio which would even remotely suggest it was about two men.

Instead we had singers who are openly gay now, but sang their love tunes to imaginary women if you know what I mean (contrary to English, Polish differentiates genders in most verb conjugation etc.). Anyway – the album served its role, that’s how I feel.

Do you consider yourself an activist?

Personally, I know a few people who are true activists – I wouldn’t aspire to such a title. I do what’s in my power to support local communities, and if I see someone who needs help – I will reach out.

But there are heroes out there who literally dedicate most of their life to fighting for a cause. Being called an activist should perhaps be an honor left for them.

Are you connected to other queer Polish rappers? If so, what is their situation on the hip hop scene?

Queer rappers – no. I haven’t heard from or of any of them. I do however have a lovely collaboration with Nick Sinckler, who is gay, but above that – a brilliant singer. And I mean it, he’s unbelievably talented.

We remixed one of my songs – “Snyyy” (“Dreams”) and he gave it such a kick, you have to check it out. You can find it on all streaming platforms or on YouTube, accompanied with an animated video made by Duśka “Zuo” Wacławik.

Now that I think of it, perhaps this remix is right there on my pride list with “Bądźmy sobą”. It’s an ode to man-on-man sex dreams and my homage to Lil’ Kim‘s “Dreams”.

What are your upcoming projects? 

The new chapter of my life I recently started is likely to make me go into music again. I don’t think I’ll go a crazy as with my debut and release another full LP, but who knows! Time will tell, stay tuned. Meanwhile – I dive deeper and deeper into baking, another passion of mine.

What do you think about Madame Rap? What should be changed or improved?

I love what you do! The effort you deliver and the research you conduct, the visibility you give – it’s a real treasure in today’s media world.

Fin Drinu on Instagram and YouTube.

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