Tales From The Crip: Wheelchair Sports Camp Comes Legit
Spin Magazine recently ran a comprehensive and funny piece called “The 50 Biggest White Girl Rap Moments Of All Time.” Being a white woman who vehemently loves rap music, best believe I ate that ish up. Some MCs mentioned were genuinely talented (Dessa, Princess Superstar), others... not so much. There is, as the magazine states, a “checkered” history in white girl rap (cough cough Kreayshawn cough cough Fergie). One artist who didn’t make the cut (but certainly will next round) is the one and only Kalyn Heffernan of Denver’s Wheelchair Sports Camp.
Kalyn is many things: a charismatic and lyrically dexterous MC, weed enthusiast, queer disabled provocateur, graffiti artist, social justice advocate, and wearer of hilarious Halloween costumes (see the photo below of her dressed as “Chucky” from Child’s Play and try not to laugh). She packs a lot of swagger into her 3’6” frame, attracting attention from noted rappers like Sage Francis, Raekwon and Salt N’ Pepa. She’s also attracted attention from the popo, not for her clever rhymes but for her many mischievous (and occasionally illegal) antics. After Wheelchair Sports Camp performed their “first successful out of state show ever” in Texas (where every musician is arrested it seems), the band celebrated by attempting to spray-paint some tags around town. Cops arrived on the scene, were unhappy with the graffiti, found weed, and the 5 person crew (excepting Kalyn) was arrested. Kalyn’s longtime girlfriend Jennah, who wasn’t actually painting at the time, took on Kalyn’s vandalism charges, earning her two nights in jail. But this is just another day in the MC’s “crip life,” a favorite expression of the rapper that she had tattooed on her stomach a la Tupac’s notorious “Thug Life” ink.
I was thrilled to interview Kalyn and find out the latest news on Wheelchair Sports Camp. Here’s what the revolutionary rhymer had to say.
Image of Kalyn (above) copyright Jason Roberts.
What was your introduction to hip-hop?
I can remember finding the mainstream hip-hop station while searching on my walkman. Ever since then I’ve been stuck. It was really my thing that had nothing to do with my parents’ influence which made it so much cooler. I was only like 5 when i got into it.
How did the name/group Wheelchair Sports Camp come about? How long have you been rapping?
When I moved back to Denver from Burbank when I was 9/10ish, I was invited to participate in a free weeklong wheelchair sports camp. It was the time of year when my friends and I would go and cause a lil ruckus. I started writing rhymes when I was about 12 yrs old, kept on it and sophomore year of college a middle school friend of mine and I started the group. We started playing with Abi [McGaha Miller, saxophonist/vocalist] and then got her brother [Isaac, drums] on board. Now the rapper that I started the crew with is no longer part of the band.
Who do you cite as influences (musical or otherwise) for Wheelchair Sports Camp?
As a kid I was strictly hip-hop and it was really whatever I could get my hands on as a young white girl from the suburbs. Now I like music from all genres. My favorite band is Radiohead but I like loads of stuff.
What prompted you to get your “Crip Life” tattoo?
I met a guy with my disability in Florida when I was real young. He mentioned he had a "crip life" tattoo and it was a massive handicapped sign on his stomach. Almost since then I had an idea to have “crip life” written in old english across my stomach just like Tupac's “thug life.” I'm a real sarcastic person so it wouldn't leave me until I got the guts to do it.
Do you feel any extra pressure as a disabled woman when you're performing? Seeing crips on stage in a position of power isn't an everyday occurrence, so I could see how you might feel like you have something to prove. Or is that a non-issue for you?
I attribute all that "proving yourself" idea to hip-hop. I don't think you're making a dent in the scene unless you think you're better than the majority of the cats rhyming so the proving deal just comes kinda territorial. I guess subconsciously being a female, crippled rapper gives me even more of a reason to be better, but it's not something I really think about besides "I have to come legit." There's so much hip-hop going on all the damn time, it's like you have to come out of the box if you want someone to notice.
What are some of the craziest moments you've had on tour?
Watching 5 folks get arrested for some real dumb shit in Texas was probably the craziest, but there was also a time that just Isaac (drums) and I played this crazy club party in downtown LA. After only playing a few tracks, the party was broken up by LAPD for some owner foul play. That shit was pretty crazy too. I’ve actually never been arrested on the road yet. I did happen to get a big group of folks arrested once on tour but that only happened once....
What music are you listening to right now?
I've been working on producing a bunch of tracks for these rappers in Haiti which has been consuming my life. As far as me personally, I've been writing to a lot of beats from outside producers which has been awesome and refreshing. But outside of me I really am still into the B.Dolan mixtape House of Bees Vol.2, along with Killer Mike and El-P's R.A.P. Music. Also the new Gaslamp Killer and Flying Lotus is dope. Still pretty into Tune-Yards as well, but really i'm all over the place
What's the latest news for Wheelchair Sports Camp? Tour plans?
WSC is hoping to play more outside markets soon. Would love to hit the west coast eventually along with getting across to the UK. Also hoping to write some new material together and start cranking out an LP. Until then just perfecting the craft, staying outside the box, and really pushing ourselves to come out of our comfort zones.
Check out Wheelchair Sports Camp's website here, and watch Kalyn "haven't grown an inch since I was six and I'm just fine" Heffernan drive around in a kids motorized jeep in the video for "Where We All Live" below.
The bottom photo in this post is courtesy of Chris Bagley.
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