“Let me just say, this song will slap so hard in the clubs,” Black Peppa says, as their plane lands in Melbourne, Australia – the first leg of their upcoming tour. The drag queen-turned-musician isn’t your usual former Drag Race UK contestant who decided to do a segue into the music world… To start off with, rarely are the sporadic singles that follow the show actually, genuinely, good – the kind you might listen to more than once, or even be willing to tell other people about. Secondly, it’s all about the genre, the mood, the unexpected tunes from one of the show’s finalists that eclipse any preconceptions you may have about drag’s forays into Spotify. There’s nothing bing bang bong about the music that this performer is putting out to the world.
And Peppa’s right, their new release, ‘Money,’ probably will slap hard in the clubs. It’s a heavy house track with a compulsive hook. “Where is my coin / where is my money / where is my bag of sterling, hunty?” the song projects like a loan shark, if loan sharks wore heels, modelled at London Fashion week, and were told by Mel B that they look sexy dressed as Lil Nas X. It’s a song inspired by the struggles creatives face when trying to get the money they’re owed, and as Peppa says, a reminder of who they were before Drag Race. “This song gives a better understanding of my work ethic prior to drag race, when I was doing two to three gigs almost every day in the week and hustling to survive.”
As an artist with a voice that people listen to, it’s not just calling out bookers for not paying up that Peppa’s focussed on. Right now, drag is in the spotlight, and the art is being chipped away at by bigotry bubbling up in the US, which is slowly making its way across the pond. It has become a vessel for mind-numbing conversations about ‘what children should be exposed to’ and what schools are teaching their kids.
“I have always been a firm believer that it’s no one’s business to dictate to people how to live their lives,” says Peppa. “They are saying that young children should not be exposed to drag performers as we defy traditional gender patterns. I believe it’s entirely up to parents whether or not they want to take their kids to drag shows. It’s fair for them to decide how and when their kids engage with gender identity queries. As a drag performer I have brought so much joy and happiness to every age including kids who have been inspired by my art.”
Before they jetted off down under, photographer Joseph Clarkson shot Peppa at the Mandrake Hotel, London, and we caught up with the drag artist to find out more about ‘Money’, what Drag Race UK did for their career, and how to keep drag well and truly alive…
HUNGER: Hey Peppa! Where in the world are you right now?
Black Peppa: Just landed in Melbourne, AUSTRALIA!
How is it there?
Just stepped out of the airport and I’m in absolute awe. To be honest, I’ve always had Melbourne on my bucket list so I am quite familiar with its architectural beauty. It’s such a beautiful city.
We’ll talk about your music in a second, but we wanted to ask, to what degree would you put your success down to being a contestant on Drag Race?
Being on Drag Race UK has honestly catapulted my career beyond imagination. Absolutely nothing could prepare you for the immense change that you will experience (a full 180, I’d say). I’m making music that’s doing amazing on Spotify, gracing magazine covers, attending prestigious awards and fashion events, and currently performing all over the world, which has always been a dream of mine. All of this while looking and feeling beautiful! I couldn’t ask for more.
What do you think set you apart from the other contestants in season 4?
Well I am a “Dutch Caribbean gyal born and raised”. And if that doesn’t single me out from the crowd I don’t know what will. I feel like I bring such a creative take on drag coming from the Caribbean and having picked up various cultural influences throughout my life through travelling.
Any favourite moments? On screen or off?
On screen would definitely be winning the first challenge in Episode 1 and feeling so fulfilled that I… 1) made it on Drag Race UK season 4 and met Rupaul [Andre] Charles, 2) recovered beautifully from my Cadbury chocolate headpiece falling, and 3) it then finally hit me that my parents would watch this and finally understand me and so many others when I share my story. Off screen I’d say my favourite moment was Scary Spice herself, Mel B, telling me that regardless of how bad I did on Snatch Game, I looked sexy as Lil Nas X.
Why did you decide to do a segue into music – has it been something that you’ve been focussed on since you were young?
To be quite honest, I never really considered myself to be one of the queens on the show who would move into the music world only, because vocally I never considered myself a singer. It was only until after the show I thought, ‘maybe I should give it a go!’ My manager Simon Jones saw something there and I put my trust in him in the first single, “Why is She Calling?” which has surpassed my expectations. So many people worldwide love it and enjoy the unique sound I have.
Who were your big musical inspirations growing up?
Without a shadow of a doubt Beyoncé was and is still my lord and saviour, and [she] played such an integral part in my development as an artist. Her work ethic is unmatched, she knows how to put on a show and entertain the masses while having the voice of an angel. Oh, and how can I forget we are both Virgos! Other musical inspirations for me growing up and now are Whitney Houston, Grace Jones, Michael and Janet Jackson, Lady Gaga and FKA Twigs.
How did they tie into your drag?
I pulled so many inspirations from each and every single one of them. With Beyoncé, it’s the work ethic and performance formula. Lady Gaga, it’s the fashion and freedom of expression. With FKA, it’s her conceptual interpretation through art and music. For Michael and Janet, it’s definitely the dancing aspect. Whitney and Grace were just in a league of their own and I really enjoyed the boss energy they gave off being such beautiful and strong women of colour embracing their features and bodies.
Let’s talk about your latest release, ‘Money’. Give us a lowdown about the inspiration behind writing the track…
This track was meant to be from the jump, as James and I decided we needed to collaborate ages ago. On the day of recording, on my way to the studio, I wrote some lyrics that included “bloodclaat money”, and when James arrived at the studio he kept saying “where is my coin, where is my bag of sterling, hunty?” It was at that moment we realised it was no coincidence and was meant to be. We wanted to express that sometimes as freelance artists it’s a hassle to be paid, and that’s unacceptable. We recorded this track in one studio session with the talented producer Parx, and since that day we have been playing it non-stop.
In what ways do you think that the track develops your sound further since ‘Why is She Calling’?
I think this song gives a better understanding of my work ethic prior to drag race, when I was doing two to three gigs almost every day in the week and hustling to survive. Unlike my previous song which is very house vibes, this experiments with a mixture of underground club raves, like those in Berlin. And, of course, a touch of sass from both James and I, going in and out of my Jamaican patois.
Why did you want to work with James Indigo specifically for the release?
Let me just start off by saying that James Indigo is one of the most musically talented queer artists I have the privilege of knowing. We are both fellow Brummies; partied on nights out together in clubs and I have been a huge fan of his music for years. I remember even wanting to backup dance for them a few years ago when he released their single Cxntour.
After my first single I had in mind a few collaborations I wanted to do for 2023 and James was at the top of my list. Recording this single with him was such a remarkable experience and I cannot wait for everyone to hear our voices mesh together. Let me just say, this song will slap so hard in the clubs.
Any whispers of an album you can tell us about…?
Do you think I’d really tell you if I had an album coming?
Fair enough! It’s a subject that’s hard to ignore at the moment, so we want to ask you a few questions about the importance of drag, specifically in the US. Do you have many drag queen / king friends in America – what have they been saying about the situation?
Being a contestant on the show, I have created many friendships with other girls working the same franchise all over the world, specifically the US. It’s truly devastating and appalling what’s been going on recently with Tennessee being the first state to ban drag. Many drag performers that I know have been affected by this and it’s honestly quite scary the direction things are going at the moment because this may carry on to additional states in the future.
The current laws in Tennessee are banning drag performers and the bills are continuously spreading throughout the US. We will hopefully never have the same laws here, but there are bursts of similar ideologies on social media / in the news – What should the U.K. and the U.S. remember about the importance of drag?
I believe drag is so important as a form of self-expression and, for me personally, it saved my life. Due to growing up in the church, I have always been a firm believer that it’s no one’s business to dictate to people how to live their lives. They are saying that young children should not be exposed to drag performers as we defy traditional gender patterns. I believe it’s entirely up to parents whether or not they want to take their kids to drag shows. It’s fair for them to decide how and when their kids engage with gender identity queries. As a drag performer I have brought so much joy and happiness to every age including kids who have been inspired by my art. A perfect example of this was at the recent Dragcon in London so many kids and their parents were in attendance. All of whom were expressing their gratitude with us for sharing our stories and experiences on the show and they enjoy our elaborate costumes.
It takes a lot of courage to put some makeup on and go out there into an already homophobic world to do drag shows/brunches and entertain crowds. And now you’re telling me we are a problem. If we never felt unsafe before we sure will now, and what’s worse is that these laws directly threaten transgender and non-binary individuals such as myself.
Do you have any concerns for the future of drag following these legislations?
My main concern is that due to these legislations people will forget that drag has been around for years; it’s written in history and there is a fear that this history is being forgotten. As well as the obvious, if more and more states in the USA begin to ban drag I’m afraid the jobs of many drag performers will diminish; the thought of that is scary.
What do you hope to see moving forward, and how can people support the drag community in these times?
We need to use our voices more than ever, and THERE IS POWER IN NUMBERS. This is a time when we need the support of our allies who come to our shows, who enjoy what we do to help us communicate our frustration/hardship.
How do you keep your work a positive celebration of the LGBTQIA+ community?
Every single time I hit a stage now after performing I make it my priority to remind the audience the importance of drag and its importance in the celebration of queer history.
My numbers are always about feeling fearless and powerful, and this to me is such a positive way to manoeuvre through life: YOU being authentically YOURSELF and just existing!
Thanks, Peppa. Enjoy your time down under!
Listen to Black Peppa’s new single ‘Money’ here.