December 6, 2010

Fighting Injustice, Wheelchair Sports Camp-Style

Photo by Adrian Diubaldo of PhotoRoadies.com

One of the loudest voices in the Denver hip-hop scene is coming from a very unlikely source: Kalyn Heffernan—the small, intelligent, and outspoken frontwoman from Wheelchair Sports Camp. She raps a steady, impressive stream against a funky backdrop of saxophone, drums, and plenty of mixing. The resulting songs vary from mellow and poignant to quirky and biting, such as “Party and Bullshit.” Yet it’s not all about the music for this band: they are taking a stand against violence, fighting for civil rights, and forcing listeners to pay attention from coast to coast.

CMB: Are You From Denver?
Heffernan: Originally born in Denver in ‘87, then moved to Burbank, California when I was six months [old]…and moved back to Denver in ‘97. I consider Denver home.

CMB: How did you get into rapping? How old were you?
Heffernan: I started listening to hip-hop when I was living in California at about 5 or 6 years old. I was going through radio stations on my walkman, and made my dad turn to the station I [had] found. He immediately told me, “Turn that shit off.” Ever since then, I couldn’t help but love it. TLC was the first hip-hop group I remember being obsessed with. I didn’t start rapping myself ‘til I was 12 years old…I remember beat-boxing over a tape and rapping to it for a talent show.

CMB: How has your rapping style or content changed since you first began?
Heffernan: My lyrics are much better, thank God! As far as content, I feel like I’m much more aware and focused. When I first started, I rapped about what everyone else rapped about. Now, I try to rap about real things, having a good time, and social inequalities without being a Debbie Downer. I find humor to be my most favorite expression and, without it, life would not be worth living.

CMB: Tell me about your band. How and when did you meet?
Heffernan: The band started in 2007 with just me and a middle-school friend, Patrick. I started making my own beats in high school and they were finally good enough to rap over. We [collaborated] more with outside musicians, but had a nasty breakup shortly after. At the time, I was going to school at University of Colorado at Denver for Music Production, when I met Abi (saxophones; also of Abi and the Blue Language) in a record label class. We [started] collaborating and have been close friends since. She’s such an amazing musician and adds ten stars to every show we play with her.

Through her, I met her brother, Isaac (drums), who is just as great of a person as her. We had a few classes together and shared a lot of the same music interests. He’s been another great friend of mine. Just recently, I was looking for a DJ to play at an Abby’s Voice benefit walk and met DJ B*money. Coincidentally, he was already familiar with Wheelchair Sports Camp and I knew of him as one of the five Colorado DMC (national DJ competition) finalists. We share a lot of the same interests in music, graffiti, and recreational activities. He DJs full-time so we play with him as much as we can.

CMB: What national and local rappers (or bands) do you like?
Heffernan: I really dig on Shad K and Busdriver right now. I also listen to a lot of Radiohead, Erykah Badu, and Portugal. The Man. As far as local, I get down with my good friend 3Two a lot, along with Mute Man’s Microphone, Mane Rok, and S.T.O.I.C. I really enjoy the Hi-Tops, both Babah Fly and Panama Soweto, along with Acezi and Xperiment, of course.

CMB: How do you feel about the Denver rap/hip-hop scene?
Heffernan: I’ve always had a sore spot in my heart for Denver’s local hip-hop scene, because it’s so easy to be a hater. But the more involved I become, the more I realize how many great hip-hoppers Denver has. I feel like hip-hop all over could be a little more positive and use more work, but I thnk Denver is a unique place with a lot of great people.

CMB: What is Krip-Hop?
Heffernan: Krip-Hop (KripHop.com) is a global movement started by Leroy Moore, a disabled artist/activist. It is a collection of disabled hip-hop artists from all across the world. I was lucky enough to be a part of a Krip-Hop event last month at NYU in Manhattan. I was part of a discussion panel with Rob Da Noize Temple (DJ of Sugarhill Gang), who is also disabled. I [also] played a small performance. It was such an honor for me to be a part of it, and [I] had no idea how many other handicapped hip-hoppers there were in the game. [Moore] found me on Myspace when I first started doing the rap thing semi-seriously.

CMB: As a rapper with a disability, how do you feel you are treated within the hip-hop community?
Heffernan: Luckily, I don’t get treated differently because of my disability very often. I do my best to go out of my way to make myself known as a fully independent person with or without your acceptance. I don’t waste time [worrying] about what people think of me. Love it or leave it. I’ve also been lucky to have a great group of friends who always have my back and always support my ambitions. The hardest time I’ve had with my disability as an artist has been the lack of accessibility at venues. I usually gather about five of my cousins, friends, or strangers before every show to help lift my wheelchair on stage.

CMB: As a female rapper, how have you been received in the hip-hop community?
Heffernan: Again, I don’t notice being treated any differently, but I have to go out of my way to make sure that won’t happen. I also feel that, because I’m a disabled woman, I have to go the extra mile to make sure that I’m holding my own with my beats and rhymes. I feel like I have to be twice as fresh or people will just dismiss me as another local.

CMB: Do you have any advice for other women who want to rap?
Heffernan: Please do and more often! There [are] really not enough female emcees…and it’s a shame.

CMB: You play a lot of benefit shows and fight for a variety of causes. Do you have a cause or charity that is particularly meaningful to you?
Heffernan: The Abby’s Voice Foundation is, by far, the closest to my heart. My best friend from college (Abigail Robertson) was brutally murdered [by her ex-boyfriend] the day after her 21st birthday. It has been the most life-changing experience I’ve ever had to deal with. I was at her birthday party the night before, celebrating with her, and [I] had no idea it would be the last time I saw her. I just finished attending the two-and-a-half week trial, which ended on [November 17th].

Since this has happened, I hear of domestic and dating violence all too often. I help Abby’s mother (who founded the non-profit) by playing or booking shows, making flyers, and [helping] with any of the events, however I can.

CMB: What do you enjoy the most and least about performing for others?
Heffernan: I always enjoy playing with major headliners, because the crowd is always bigger... Plus it’s great to say I’ve shared the stage with so many of my favorites. It is hard, though, to compete with all the other local hip-hoppers for a spot on the bill; that’s what I like the least. It’s all politics to get on a big show, and I hate politics.

CMB: Any plans for upcoming tours?
Heffernan: Our biggest plan now is to play in Austin for South By Southwest (SXSW) in March, but yes, we are looking for the right headliner to follow on tour. Hopefully by next year…

Look for the upcoming, follow-up album to 2008’s “The Best of the All-Time Unreleased Greatest Hits Vol. 303 ½”. Meanwhile, check out Wheelchair Sports Camp, playing on December 23rd at The Old Curtis. And of course, stay tuned for the SXSW roster in March.

Myspace.com/WheelchairSportsCamp

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