Nestled on Qweendom, the boundary-pushing 2016 ballroom compilation from the estimable Qween Beat collective, was a track called “Qween Bitch” that was markedly different than the rest. Scene stalwart MikeQ and the comp’s itinerant experimentalists—like Byrell the Great, LSDXOXO, and Skyshaker—each offered their own vibrant takes on the slivered samples and chattery percussion that mark the style, but something about the track, credited to Beek and Commentator Buddah, felt a little different. Crawling along at a slightly slower pace, and with its kick drums tuned to sternum-rumbling extremes—a voice intones a simple, vacant chant: “I feel like a lady, I feel like royalty, I feel like a queen bitch.” It was unsettling as it was ecstatic.
While that was my introduction to the Gulfport, Mississippi-based producer now known as BE3K, it’s become clear in the time since that “Qween Bitch” is a relatively less extreme version of the uncompromising take on club music that he’s been making over the last few years. Last year’s self-released record Confessions At 5AM roils with the thunder of ballroom tracks and R&B playing back at 16 rpms, dancefloor bliss slowed down so you can hear the breaths, gasps, and hesitations that live between the beats.
“I’m deeply inspired by 90s R&B,” he says via email of this strange blend of sounds. “Before I got into club music I would write sappy love songs in my notepad. Once I started producing and falling into the club scene I naturally started fusing the two together. It came naturally. I took my moody mindset and mixed in hard drum patterns. At this point, I’m pretty sure I invented the downtempo vogue beat.”
Today, he’s back with the news that in addition to his Qween Beat affiliation, he’s signed on with Fade to Mind, the Los Angeles label that’s had a hand in issuing some of the best club scene mutations over the last half decade, for an EP called Exoneration, out April 20, that continues his twisted take on familiar sounds. “My Kitty Kat,” debuting here, is one of the short release’s standouts—finding BE3K dizzily rapping and stuttering over a delirious flurry of asymmetrical kick programming and the industrial clatter of ballroom’s go-to sample palette. Its sorta a microcosm for the rest of the EP, a low-and-slow dancefloor destroyer, the effect of which is something like driving a bulldozer through an empty club.
BE3K says he grew up in a family far more geared toward sports than toward his nascent interests in theater, art club, and choir. “I’d usually have to walk to my events alone in the evenings because my family didn’t really see anything meaningful in these things,” he says. “Of course if my brother needed them at his football games they’d be there suited up!” But as kids do, he eventually found a crowd of friends he could make and trade music with who’d become a support group that was something like a family.
He says his path into club music was sparked by fortuitous YouTube hole, in which he stumbled upon voguing. “I was sooo fascinated with ballroom culture and it’s music that it took over me” he says. “I started doing my homework, reaching out to people and seeing how I could get involved.”
Though there wasn’t much a scene where he lived, he started reaching out to people that helped him get involved and through his friend B. Ames, eventually landed his productions in the ears of MikeQ, who invited him into the Qween Beat family. Over the years, balancing his natural predilection for emotive songwriting with the heaviness of the vogue sounds he fell in love with he’s ended up with a sound that’s unique even among that wildly talented crew, which is a feat in its own right.
He readily admits that Gulfport doesn’t have much of a scene, there’s only three gay bars in town. But there’s enough local talent and vibrancy that he chides me a bit when I ask (“Whenever I get questions about Mississippi it never actually seems like a question. It’s almost as if I’m being told how shitty my home is and the asker just wants reassurance that they’re right,” he says.) Point is, he says, “the girls come out,” and sometimes that’s enough. It seems like its at least enough to allow BE3K to do what he does, woodshedding, making tracks in heady, heavy ecstasy. He ultimately offers a summation of his town that extends to his music, one that’s not true enough of other tracks and other places: “There’s life here, trust.”
BE3K’s Exoneration is out April 20 on Fade to Mind and Qween Beat, it's available for pre-order now.