Going Deep with Sevndeep

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by Jaiden van Bork

American audiences have always struggled to confront their own sexuality in the media–from the 2001 boycott of Britney Spears’ “I’m a Slave 4 U” over its sexual lyrics, to the new backlash faced by artists like Cardi B and Lil Nas X, who are more unapologetically open and honest than ever. But pop culture is changing rapidly and a new wave of performers are exploring sex and gender in bold ways, challenging the status quo. For Virginia-born hip-hop artist and dancer Sevndeep (“Sevn” for short), that means keeping it “as nasty as possible.”

Growing up in Richmond, Sevn had a truly diverse childhood, adopted as the oldest of eleven siblings. His father, a barber, encouraged him to pursue theater and dance from a young age, and spending time in his father’s shop, Sevn would see video after video from MTV playing on the television. Missy Elliot, Busta Rhymes, Britney Spears, Madonna, and Janet Jackson saturated the performer’s youth with their elaborate choreography, flashy outfits, and personal lyrics. In the turn of the 21st century, the idea of the popstar was changing in new ways, and with the spread of music videos and the internet, image was now truly everything. Steeped like a teabag in the glamour of the late 90s and early 2000s, Sevndeep fell in love with stardom.

Now in his thirties, Sevn has traveled around the country, moving from place to place before finally landing in his new home of New York City. Sevn has come to recognize the importance of his environment, saying, “It’s hard for a creative like me who writes about certain things or creates certain things to just create from inside of the house. I have to be out. I have to look at things.”

Moving from D.C. to L.A. to New York, Sevndeep has repeatedly found himself in the center of flourishing metropolises, monuments to the utter complexity of the human experience. And in his music, Sevn does not refrain from putting all elements of that experienceon the table.

As a queer teenager in the South, the boldness of artists like Lil’ Kim in expressing their sexuality inspired Sevn at a young age. “That’s how I feel,” the artist says. “They want to put queer people in a box so bad, [but] I’m gonna make it as bold… as possible, because that’s the music I grew up on.” And the titles of his top songs—“Hips,” “Turn Me On,” “Maneater,” and “Break My Back”—say it all: Sevndeep refuses to hold back, confidently dubbing himself “the man eater, the p–ssy pleaser” on one track.

However, Sevndeep is by no means limited to superficiality in his willingness to explore what some might call “vulgar” topics. His latest EP, Does It Come in Black? depicts love, sex, hatred, jealousy, and betrayal from a wide range of angles, with bragadocious, uptempo tracks like “Aries Energy” juxtaposed with soulful heartbreak anthems like “Waste My Time” and sensual love songs like “Down on Me.” The EP is visceral and transparent on all levels, with Sevn’s witty and poetic lyrics grasping at themes of desire and connection, bitterness and loss, placed over a diverse range of instrumentals that keep the project consistently fresh and interesting.

This multifaceted sense of intimacy, physicality, and raw emotion that Sevndeep creates is a phenomenon he has mastered, but it’s no surprise given the rapper’s deep connection to the powerful art form of dance, which was his first love growing up. “People can feel dance,” he says. “People might not feel [the] music, but they can feel you when you’re dancing.” That’s why Sevndeep’s lively, theatrical shows are more than just about the music. Aided by lights, backup dancers, and impeccable choreography, Sevn immerses audiences into a world of sensation and drama. “I love storytelling,” he says, “I love putting people in a trance.”

The outfits are key, too, he says. “To me, music and fashion go hand-in-hand.” Always dressed to a tee, Sevndeep finds in his style another vehicle for endless experimentation. And more than anything else, his fashion demonstrates his willingness to push boundaries of gender and identity, rocking skirts and heels just as well as a muscle shirt and jeans. “No one knows what they’re going to get when I’m on stage,” he says, “‘Is he gonna be more masculine or feminine or both?’ It all just depends, you know what I mean?”

Visiting Provincetown for the first time this Men of Color Weekend, Sevndeep is excited to represent his community. “It’s funny,” he says, “when I first came out, I didn’t want to be called a queer rapper or a gay rapper, [but] I do think that queer [people of color]—­­men especially—need representation. It’s important… for them to see that it’s okay [and that] you don’t have to pick a box.”

“I am a vessel,” the rapper says simply. “Whatever I feel that day is what I’m gonna do.” When asked about potential backlash he might receive because of the way he presents himself, Sevn simply laughs, saying, “Happy hoes ain’t hatin’… and hatin’ hoes ain’t happy.” It’s clear it will take the haters a lot to get under this rising star’s skin.

Sevndeep will perform at Men of Color Weekend’s Freaknik dance party at the Crown & Anchor, 247 Commercial St., Provincetown, on Saturday, June 18, 9 p.m. – 1 a.m. with Shantoni and Riley Knoxx.

For tickets menofmelaninmagic.com/frolic.