Music by VICE

F.Virtue Patiently Figures Himself Out

The New York rapper has come a long way from his Canadian start, but even after 13 studio albums, he’s still got a way to go.

by James Wilt
Jun 3 2015, 1:45pm

This article originally appeared on Noisey CA.

F.Virtue’s about to drop his thirteenth studio album. At least he thinks so. The rapper, real name Will Kowall, admits he’s lost count. It’s one of those things that can happen to a person after a decade of prolific output. His latest effort is titled A Single Green Light in reference to The Great Gatsby and the eye colour of his newly married husband. The project represents a concise, deliberative product wrapped up in a very intentional 22 minutes (he and his husband met on a 22nd and wed on a 22nd). He’s always been an oddball emcee, spitting dense verses over self-made lo-fi beats. Think a downer version of Le1f—who F.Virtue’s incidentally become friends with since moving to New York City from Calgary via Boston.

F.Virtue’s not a gay rapper. Well, he’s gay, but he’s also tangled up in that perpetual question mark of which word comes first—“gay,” or “rapper.” Macklemore infamously dropped “Same Love” in 2012, a song which attracted both admiration and disdain depending on the day. Last year, F.Virtue released We Are Not The Shame, featuring the much better “gay” song “Anita Bryant” and the line “this isn’t gay rap, do gay chefs make gay food?” It’s sort of become his mantra as of late. He’s gay, he’s married, he’s writing for A-Trak’s travel blog. He’s having a great time making music and throwing parties in New York but can’t quite name where his sexual orientation lands in all of that.

A few weeks ago, he went for a stroll with a copy of his new album (which is being released exclusively on custom-made USBs). He unexpectedly bumped into Dev Hynes of Blood Orange. F.Virtue gave him one of the USBs. Later, F.Virtue found out that the store he’d planned to exclusively sell the USBs at was no longer game. His dad, upon finding out, sent him a quote from Hynes about always keeping one’s chin up. The next day, F.Virtue bumped into Hynes again and showed him the text from his dad. That’s New York, he says. A place he can grow, meet fellow artists, and keeping figuring out who he is.

Noisey: Your new album’s out now. How are you feeling about that?
Kowall: I’m really excited. This new album is such a different sound for me yet it’s a very comfortable sound. I feel like it’s the first time I’ve found my voice in a lot of ways.

Was there a defining moment during the recording process that allowed you to find that voice?
It was a slower progression of experiences. For example, when I was growing up in Calgary and went to school in Boston, the music was fitting me for that time and who I thought I was in that moment. Coming to New York, I started going to gay parties for the first time and being exposed to the deep-vogue-ballroom-house vibe. I really felt alive at those parties and loved those scenes. I was kind of like ‘I would love to perform in this scene but my music doesn’t match it.’ It was a weird thing for me to feel like I was a part of a scene but my artistic outlet was part of a completely different scene.

Because I am a producer, I started experimenting with my take on creating those kinds of instruments. I kept the same lyrical concepts and content I’ve always done and finally felt comfortable: I can still be thoughtful and talking about anything but it doesn’t have to be emo beats. It was a long time leading up to this feeling and realizing that it was how I wanted me music to be.

Do you think there’s a better way to talk about rappers who are also gay or queer without boxing them into a niche?
It’s tough. Every artist is different. I really don’t want to be categorized as “gay rap” just because my songs have lots of other content and stories and ideas. But at the same time, there isn’t a way around it yet. It’s obvious I’m gay. My album is dedicated to my husband. It’s really inescapable and you just have to place faith in listeners that they won’t keep those boxes too tight: that they’ll recognize who you are.

Atmosphere retweeted your recent music video. What’s your friendship with Slug like?
For my thirteenth birthday, my dad and I drove to Seattle for an Atmosphere show: it was during the God Loves Ugly release tour. My dad’s the man—all these OG rappers know my dad and love him. We were in Seattle walking around and walked by the venue the show was going to be at later that night and Slug, Murs, Brother Ali, Blueprint and Mr. Dibbs were all loading in their equipment on the street.

I flipped out and was just a little kid. In the years to follow, Atmosphere made a huge fanbase of young kids, but at that time I was the youngest kid they’d ever seen at a show. They were like ‘what the fuck?’ I talked to them outside: I remember playing a game with Murs where we flicked quarters at the wall to see who could get it closest without touching.

We just stayed in touch throughout the years. Even recently, at his last show in Calgary, he hit me up: he had muscle problems so he asked me if I knew a masseuse in Calgary so I sent over my friend to his hotel room. Really funny shit. I emailed him the video and was like “I feel close to you, here’s my marriage, I just want you to see this.” He’s definitely a homie and am super thankful and lucky to have that open door to him. He’s my favourite rapper.

New York’s considered to be the headquarters of “queer rap” or “homohop.” How was moving to the city and finding that niche?
That’s the thing: I still haven’t really found my niche, even though I say I like these certain parties and this is the sound it’s pushed me to make. I’m completely different than Mykki Blanco and Le1f. I don’t sound like the other gay rappers and because of that I can’t really do shows with them. It wouldn’t make sense if me and Mykki Blanco went on tour. Our sounds wouldn’t match.

I don’t know where I fit in yet, but that’s part of the fun and why I’m optimistic about music. There’s a community in New York. Not necessarily the music scene that I’m trying to promote myself to but a community of really great artists that I’m having a lot of fun getting to know and growing with. They’re all doing big things in that scene. I was hanging out with Le1f last night: one of my best friends is also his best friend, so I threw a surprise birthday for this friend and asked Le1f to be the surprise DJ. No one knew. At 1 a.m., Le1f came in and did a secret set for like 20 of us. It was pretty crazy.

Things like that are so New York. That can’t happen anywhere else. I feel like I am part of the scene but more as a friend. We’re just kids finding our way and feeling a sense of community. But I still haven’t found an actual fanbase yet. That’s what I’m trying to figure out now: who do I promote to? When I do something like the wedding video I just put out, it’s almost separate from my album or my music. It’s something I did for people and human interest stories. I want kids to see it, to feel hope. But in terms of a music career, all of those views are people who are interested in the story and human rights aspect. How many are going to be long-term plans, listen to the full record, come see a show?

I really don’t feel like I fit in sometimes, but it’s cool. New York definitely presents the opportunities to find people and places, just because there are every kind of person and thing you could look for. That was important for me.

James Wilt is a writer living in Calgary - @j_morgan_wilt