YawnyBlew and Amir.: Centering Black, Queer, & Plus-Sized Bodies

Image via Ryan C Hamilton

YawnyBlew and amir. (Tarik Carroll) are two multidisciplinary creatives and activists who share a mutual love of music and passion for representation. The pair first connected last year on a series of remixes for YawnyBlew’s single “R.I.P,” and they have bonded over their shared experience of being queer plus-sized men of color.

Fueled by their desire to center Black queer voices and plus-sized bodies, YawnyBlew and amir. have been collaborating on a series of releases with a focus on their respective journeys through gender, sexuality, and body image. With these releases, the duo plan to create inclusive conversations with other creatives at their various intersections to spotlight those not often showcased in the mainstream media. This includes fellow artists, models, activists, entrepreneurs, and more.

Their first original offering, “Can’t Compete,” dropped in November, and their next singles, “Damn Disconnected” and “Dope Bo! Flesh,” will release on January 2. Their debut EP DREAMBIIG will arrive in the Spring.

Instinct caught up with YawnyBlew and amir. to talk more about their music and activism.

Thank you for taking some time to chat with me! Can you begin by telling us more about how this series of collaborations started and the inspiration behind them?

amir.: A lot of people know me as Tarik, and I’ve been a photographer now for around 13 years. Over the pandemic, I was trying to find a medium of expression to be able to kind of escape from the chaos that was going on. I got into music and songwriting, and I started connecting with different creatives. Through my work with the EveryMan Project, Yawny found me on Instagram, and we connected that way.

We first started off by working on two remixes for his song “R.I.P,” a project he put out earlier this year, and I personally had a good time creating new sounds and music and being in a space that felt different from me. That felt different from the records I was working on. Yawny gave me the creative range to do whatever the hell I wanted, and I went ahead and just had fun. That then started multiple conversations and exchanges of ideas.

Now, here we are working on a bunch of new music, which is really us coming from being behind the scenes and being the underdog. Yawny being a singer-songwriter working for other artists, and me being a photographer, who has shot and worked with a bunch of musicians. I was always drawn to working with musicians because they were my favorite clients, and I’ve always loved helping them build a world around their music. I didn’t realize how much I wanted to be the artist myself.

So, the driving force behind this music is us as two plus-sized queer men stepping into the forefront and taking up space in genres where you typically don’t see people who look like us playing around with different sounds. We just finished the EP, and we’ve been dismissed by record execs before. They would say, oh, these songs would be great for women. No, these songs are for us, and this project is really jam packed with songs for the kids who grew up between TRL and 106 & Park.

Image via Ryan C Hamilton

YawnyBlew: Me, personally, I moved to LA to pursue songwriting, and after six years, I kept realizing that none of the artists looked like me. They didn’t sound like me, and I didn’t relate to a lot of them. I kept seeing a lot of the same things and realized that people who didn’t look like the star kept getting shoved to the back. I’ve met some incredible female songwriters, but because of their complexion or size, they’ve been told, okay, record the song, then you can leave. We’ll find somebody else.

I fell into that a lot of times, too. As I started making music throughout the pandemic, it was very important for me to center other queer voices and other people from different walks of life that we don’t normally see in pop music. Tarik and I did start an alternative R&B space, but we are both fans of artists like Britney Spears and Madonna. We were like, hey, let’s just go for it. Let’s make some aggressive music as two plus-sized men of color and see how people receive it.

And how has your music been received?

YawnyBlew: There has been such an outpouring of love. When Tarik and I did the remixes for “R.I.P,” it kind of took on a life of its own. We did what was supposed to be a small shoot that evolved, and we realized, what better way to introduce ourselves than with this extension of my work and his work? There’s been a lot of love, and it’s been very cool to see people rally behind us and support us.

I love that you are showcasing Black queer voices and plus-sized bodies. Has that always been an important aspect to you as an artist?

YawnyBlew: It’s fairly new to me. I, quote unquote, played the game for a long time. I took on the signals of the world and kind of understood that I needed to play the background. I didn’t understand why I was okay with just being a songwriter or an engineer, but for a long time, I didn’t acknowledge it. It got to a point where I felt very alone in a lot of the rooms and situations that I was in. Meeting people like Tarik and other collaborators I’ve been working with, I started to understand why my voice is important. My story is important. It’s been about a year now that I’ve been focusing on that, and it’s changed my life.

amir.: For me, I’ve been in the space of body positivity and fat liberation for the past five years. I started a conversation/movement called the EveryMan Project in 2017, and it started off with the concept of reimagining 90s fashion ads with real-sized men, showcasing a spectrum of masculinity and pushing back at very dated ideals of what it means to be a man. We did one photoshoot that was inspired by a 90s Calvin Klein ad, and it blew up. It changed the whole trajectory of my career, and I’ve been able to do a lot of awesome things.

I’ve done seminars with Hearst Magazines, and I’ve spoken with editors at Esquire talking about the importance of showcasing a wide spectrum of body types and trying to motivate them to do it in a way that’s not performative. We know what’s real and we know what’s not. So, I’ve been in this space for quite some time, but getting to that space has been a journey of really uncovering layers of myself and learning how to love myself. In doing that and wanting to find resources for men from that perspective, there wasn’t anything out there.

At that point, I had been doing a lot of work as a fashion photographer, and I was really depressed by the work that I was doing. Being in an industry where I didn’t, at that time, see anyone that looked like me thriving and helping skinny white models get million-dollar campaigns, it didn’t feel fulfilling. I always knew I had the skills to create high quality photography, but what if I were to take that and create it for marginalized body types and showcase them in a way that feels like royalty? Transitioning into music, it makes sense to still be in that space because that is who I am. That is my purpose.

Image via Ryan C Hamilton

Ultimately, what do you hope listeners take away from your music?

amir.: For me, I want them to take away a feeling of empowerment. Feeling like a bad bitch, owning who you are, and feeling comfortable in your own skin. Push back at what society tells you, because you should truly embrace your authenticity, no matter what size you are.

YawnyBlew: Tarik’s work with the EveryMan project is very inspirational to me, and like he said, that’s how we initially connected. Again, as a professional songwriter, I saw the best of the best, the most beautiful and talented, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I just wasn’t seeing myself. I saw his work, and I was super inspired. I wrote verses, and I was like, what would the soundtrack of these men just being themselves in their bodies sound like? So, the biggest takeaway, like Tarik said, I hope listeners feel empowered. Anybody can be the star or the main character.

What do you enjoy the most about working with each other?

YawnyBlew: I’ve had to learn over the years how to collaborate with people that I didn’t always get along with. As a songwriter, you meet a lot of personalities and a lot of artists who decide who they are before they know how they are. With Tarik, I can truthfully say that collaborating with him has been all fun, all love, and I made a real friend. From the moment we connected, we had a lot in common. Of course, we don’t always have the same ideas, but we compromise, and it’s been the most refreshing creative experience for me.

amir.: Honestly, I feel the same. This has been the most harmonious working dynamic I’ve ever been in. I have also been in spaces where I had to collaborate and work with people that I didn’t always get along with or agree with, and I’m always the type of artist where whenever I go into a collaboration, I leave ego at the door.

When you do that, I believe you can create the best work, and it’s been refreshing working with someone who speaks the same language as me. It hasn’t been as much of a fight for my ideas to be heard or understood. Yawny gets it, and we’ve been building this great friendship as well. I look forward to seeing this go further.

What can we expect next?

amir.: We have a lot of releases that we’re planning and getting excited for, including “Damn Disconnected” and “Dope Bo! Flesh.” They will both release on January 2. We’re also preparing panel discussions for each song. Each track tackles different issues from sexuality to expression to rejections. We really want to create different access points for the listener to get to know us and to really get into the music more, as well as understand our process behind the writing and what inspired us to write the songs.

Image via Ryan C Hamilton

What are some other goals you hope to accomplish with your respective careers and platforms?

YawnyBlew: It has become a passion of mine to continue uplifting queer, marginalized voices. I want to keep working in that space and create cool stuff that empowers people. I think everybody deserves a chance at the microphone, and we’ve got to pass it around a little bit more. Empower everybody to live in their greatness and know that they have something incredible to offer.

amir.: Absolutely. I feel a lot of my goals as a musician is to continue pushing towards mastery of my craft and to continue making music and taking up spaces where you don’t see plus-sized queer men. Creating that type of music, and then on top of that, just having fun. That’s really the intention of it. Have fun and make music that will make people believe that anything is possible for them. They need to see that within themselves.

Before we wrap up, are there any other upcoming projects or anything else either one of you would like to mention or plug?

YawnyBlew: I guess another big takeaway for me is, we’re really trying to inspire community and brotherhood with these panels and releases. So, for anyone who is inspired and wants to reach out to us, I encourage them to do so. We are always looking for collaborators. We want to keep building this incredible collective. We started this remotely, so reach out to us wherever you are. Let’s connect and keep building this community.

Connect with YawnyBlew: Instagram | Spotify | Website

Connect with amir.: Instagram | Spotify | Website


 

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