Image & Video by Jan-Willem Dikkers
“No matter what I’m writing specifically about, at the root of that
is the transition and being in this whole new world.
Basically seeing the world and being like, “Wow. I’m awake. I’m awake.”
— Uncle Meg
Originally from West Virginia, Uncle Meg is a transgender rapper based in Brooklyn. He released his debut album, Bug, in 2016 followed by his most recent album, Can’t Stay the Same (2017).
Uncle Meg is all about getting his music out there. The Brooklyn-based rapper just released his second full-length album, Can’t Stay the Same (2017) both for free and for download via Soundcloud. Having recently gone through a massive change from her to him, the album is a freeform project revolving around themes of growth, as well as death and subsequent renewal. Uncle Meg, known to family and friends as Max, discusses making the album with co-creator John Debt and how his personal experience informs his burgeoning career.
Where are you originally from?
Charleston, West Virginia. I moved to Brooklyn when I was 17 to go to art school, and I stayed ever since.
When did you start making music?
As a kid, I did piano, I was in the marching band and I played guitar. Then for a while I focused more on visual art. I got back into music in 2012 in the form of hip-hop. I was in a group called Hand Job Academy with two girls, and that was my first time rapping.
Who did you listen to growing up?
I listened to all types of music. I went through an emo phase in ninth grade where I listened to Taking Back Sunday and shit like that. I liked Lil Bow Wow in high school. I used to be more of a rock person, but after high school hip hop started to be a huge influence, and I’ve kind of just traveled with it.
Hand Job Academy
Hand Job Academy was a Brooklyn-based rap trio comprised of artists Claire Beaudreault (Claire Bizna$$), Meg Skaff (formerly Lil T, now known as Uncle Meg), and Ashley (Ash Wednesday). Together the group released one album, #IkeaMonkey (2014).
How did you get started?
I had just graduated college and was looking to do music videos for independent artists in North Brooklyn. I did a video for the girls of Hand Job Academy, and just for fun, I spit a verse. They were like, “You’re in.” I was like, “Oh really, me?” They’re like, “Yeah, you’re in.” That’s how I got into that scene. It was a great form of self-expression, and that’s why I continue to do it today.
“I want to make more songs that can empower because I like to try to use my struggles as an inspiration. I don’t like to sit in my shit.”
— Uncle Meg
How did you decide that this is what you’re going to do?
It just felt right. It helped me to be myself and express myself, especially as someone with a trans identity. It helps me put myself out there and own who I am and be proud of it. Even performing, it’s uncomfortable for me sing and rap in front of people, but it has pushed me outside of my comfort zone completely and I’m glad every time I do it.
What’s the story behind the name Uncle Meg?
I’m transgender, female to male, and my old name was Meg. In my old band, I started out as “Little T.” I don’t know where the “T” comes from. I’d like to say it was “Little Trans” or something, but we weren’t going to say that word necessarily. They called me Little T until I just started niece and nephew-ing everybody’s children, dogs, everything. My friend had this little chihuahua, and I was her Uncle Meg, and it stuck. Post-transition, people asked, “Are you going to change your name to Uncle Max?” But for some reason, I just decided to keep Uncle Meg. If you’re with me in person I prefer Max, and if you’re referring to me as a performer, that is Uncle Meg. They are two different people in my opinion.
John Debt is a rapper and musical artist who has worked in New York and Berlin. A recent project of his includes co-creating rapper Uncle Meg’s new album, Can’t Stay the Same (2017).
You recently released Can’t Stay The Same. What can you tell me about this album and the choice to release it as a free download on SoundCloud?
Can’t Stay the Same is a 10 track album I made with my very good friend, John Debt. We wrote it in my basement as we were both going through a lot of changes. I was early in my transition, which was cathartic and weird, like a movie. John was homeless at the time and looking to move to Berlin, as he couldn’t afford to live in New York as an artist anymore. So the whole album has a theme of change, growth, and death as well. Death is like a metaphor of starting fresh, starting new.
This album is really different from my other stuff. It’s for weirdo art people. I was so loose writing the whole thing, and it felt really good to have so much fun and take a lot of the seriousness out of it. Just kind of make fun of life.
I have been releasing most of my stuff for free just because it’s more important right now for people to listen to my music versus buying it. I’m not concerned about making money on iTunes. I want it to be accessible and for people to genuinely be interested and listen. If it takes a free download, I want people to have that.
“It was a huge creative release for me – not only was it fun, but it helped me to be myself and express myself, especially as someone with a trans identity. It helps me to put myself out there and own who I am and be proud of it.”
— Uncle Meg
What impact would you say that being Max has or will have on your music?
Most of these songs have to do with internal dialogue. No matter what I’m writing specifically about, at the root of it is the transition and being in this whole new world. Basically being like, “Wow. I’m awake.” I see reality for the first time, whether that looks shitty or beautiful. There’s also a lot of darker subject matter. A lot of questioning myself and feeling like I have been brainwashed my whole life. I feel like I had to go through a darker process in order to want to write happier songs.
Are there specific things you’d like to address through your music?
I like to use my struggles as an inspiration. I don’t like to sit in my shit. I want to make some stuff that empowers people.
Also, I want to do more songs that are tongue-in-cheek and poke fun at the world or myself. I want to do more typical, braggy hip hop stuff—owning yourself.
Young Lean, known to family and friends as Jonatan Håstad, is a Swedish rapper, producer and founding member of cloud rap collective Sad Boys. He has released a total of three albums, including his successful debut Unknown Memory (2014) and last year’s Stranger (2017). Lean is also the vocalist of punk band Död Mark and has collaborated with artists such as Frank Ocean.
Who would you most like to collaborate with and why?
Yung Lean because he’s my favorite rapper and a huge inspiration to me. His beats, lyrics and just everything aesthetically about him speaks to me. He’s a dark weirdo but funny, and nobody has his style.
“It’s for weirdo art people. I don’t think a lot of people really understood it but I love this album. I think that it’s more like a freestyle. I was so loose writing the whole thing and it felt really good just to have fun and take a lot of the seriousness out of it.”
— Uncle Meg
What are your interests and passions outside of music?
I love cats. I just did a TNR project, which stands for trap, neuter, return. Where I live in Bushwick Brooklyn, there’s an overpopulation of cats breeding. You get certified by the ASPCA, and you get these crazy looking traps, trap the animals, and take them to the ASPCA to get spayed and neutered for free. They ear tip them so part of their ear is flipped off so people see, “Oh, don’t bother this cat.” Then we put them right back outside, unless they’re friendly, then we try to get them a home. But a lot of these cats are feral. Last weekend, I got eight cats total.
Besides cats, I like weed and chilling. I have a weed bakery that me and my partner do, and we are just killing the game. I like riding my bike too.
What’s your favorite book, film, and music right now?
My favorite music is right now is Yung Lean’s new album, Stranger. I also like ASAP Ferg’s album Still Striving. It’s very New York.
For films, I like anything quirky and weird with a bit of darkness. I love Requiem for a Dream, Fight Club, shit like that. I like this film Kaboom that has very tongue-in-cheek humor.
I just read The Handmaid’s Tale, and that shit was fucking crazy. I watched the television show first. I don’t know which one I like better.
Erika Lust (born Erika Hallqvist) is a Swedish erotic film director, screenwriter and producer. She studied at the University of Lund, specialized in Human Rights and Feminism, and graduated with a Degree in Political Science. Alongside others such as Petra Joy and Anna Span, Lust has been instrumental in promoting the aims of the feminist pornography movement.
I’m going to just keep moving along and doing me. I’m doing some demos and I’m having these music videos shot so hopefully I can release another single the next couple months. I’m shooting a porno in June for Erika Lust. It’s a transgender pornography film. I’m really excited to be able to educate people on how trans-people have sex basically, which nobody really knows. It’s going to be high-quality erotic Cinema. So, I’m excited.