An Interview with Coffin Joe – The Non-Binary, Latinx Rapper Who is Advocating for Inclusiveness in the Industry
Known as Coffin Joe in the music world, Eren Fuentes is a non-binary, bisexual, latinx rapper from the DMV who is making strides to creating a more inclusive rap industry. In their music, they highlight the struggles in the LGBT community and encourage a change in how the industry views masculinity and identity. Their music can be described as lo-fi indie rap with a touch of gothic. I was excited to have the opportunity to interview such a unique up and coming artist.
How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it?
“It’s kinda like if Edgar Allan Poe and H.P Lovecraft collaborated together on some literary prose, but while they were high on marijuana and codeine.”
How did you start writing and producing music?
“I’ve been writing poetry and songs for as long as I can remember. I really got into hip-hop when I was about fourteen years old. That’s when it became almost like an obsession. Just the snarly, abrasive and braggadocios nature of it. Not to mention the overwhelming presence of black and latino faces. I’m like ‘Hey, these people look like me!’ I couldn’t start producing back then though because I needed equipment, and equipment costs money, a lot of money actually. So when I was seventeen, I got a job as a dishwasher at this independent barbecue joint. I saved up like 600 bucks, and bought a condenser microphone, some overpriced studio headphones, an audio interface, and then my laptop I got from dumpster diving.”
How has your personal identity contributed to your creative process and music?
“Well, I’ve only come out pretty recently. But really I think it’s just inspired me to speak up more about different issues. Particularly about things like defending the rights of gay and transgender people. I’ve always liked to classify myself as someone who sticks up for their own. So yeah, it really just comes down to the content and writing material. I try to talk more about the LGBT community, the problems within the community, and the problems we face from the outside.”
What sets you apart from other up and coming artists in the music industry?
“I’m not afraid to talk about my sexuality and my identity, or put myself in a position that most people in the industry would consider to be quite emasculating. See, my pops taught me a long time ago that being a man isn’t about thumping your chest or acting all big and shit. It’s about whether or not you’re able to take care of yourself. I don’t get caught up in all that stupid stuff. That’s how hermanos wind up dead in the street.”
What is the biggest struggle you have with the creative process?
“By and large, I think the majority of music has been about grief. Whether it’s about grieving over broken relationships, deceased relatives, or lost friends. So just sitting down and putting the words to paper can be emotionally and somehow even physically taxing. I can have these intense physical reactions in response to my emotions and my own self-expression. Sometimes I cough uncontrollably and my body shakes and trembles.”
How has your music developed since you started until now?
“I feel like now it’s probably more consistent. I mean there’s always a central idea as to how I want something to sound. Things feel a lot less ambitious now, but in a very good way. Almost in a sense where I have more confidence in what I’m doing, I’m not constantly worried about whether or not something is too big of a risk. I have to remind myself sometimes that I don’t have to worry as much anymore about peaking or any type of irritating audio distortion.”
Where do you hope to see your work in the future?
“Hell, I don’t really know. If I can’t do anything with music I’ll probably just be a mortician and funeral director because they make bank!”
What messages do you try to spread with your work? What topics does your music highlight?
“Really I just want people to know that it’s okay to be themselves, or that it’s okay to reinvent themselves as they grow older if they need to. On my latest project I talked a lot about racism, I talked a little bit about the Gay Liberation movement, and the United Farm Workers Union that was established by Cesar Chavez. So I think I’ll try to focus on those things a little more whenever I can.”
Do you think the rap industry needs to change to be more inclusive? If so, how?
“Oh for sure. I think the first thing the rap industry needs to do is really confront itself on its own stupid ass, machismo, toxic masculinity. It’s not really doing anything for us as a culture, and it’s partly the reason why so many black and latino brothers and sisters have died due to street violence. We just won’t let shit go sometimes. But I do think it’s starting to come around. I’m obviously not the first hip-hop artist who happens to be gay or bisexual. You have some really dope artists like Kevin Abstract and Young MA popping out of the woodwork. And there seems to be a lot of acceptance directed towards their part, so I’m pretty optimistic about hip-hop’s growing acceptance of LGBT and female artists.”
Do you see yourself exploring other genres in the future?
“I can’t sing to save my life so probably not.”
What is your most recent project?
“My most recent project is called House of LaBeija. The title is inspired by the dance houses of Harlem, NY from the late seventies and early eighties. So this is where I really started to delve into a lot of social and political issues, and where I started to just not really give a f*ck what I said about myself or my sexual orientation. I just kind of put everything out there in the open. Some of it is metaphorical, but some of it is also literal because I try to get straight to the point and vent out all of my frustration towards the people responsible for the social injustices and inequality in this country. House of LaBeija has a very unapologetic vibe to it, I’ll just leave it at that.”
What is the project or work that you are most proud of?
“My first album, Descendant. I produced it on a shoestring budget when I was going through a very difficult time in my life. It took a really long time to make, and honestly it’s a really long project considering how it was made. I don’t even remember how long it is but if I were to guess, I’d say it’s at least like fifty minutes or so. It’s also one of my darker projects, way less literal than my more recent stuff. It still has the low fidelity, production style to it, but lyrically it has a lot more symbolism.”
Do you have any up and coming work to look out for?
“Yes, I’m working on a new album right now! I don’t know what it’s going to be called yet, but this one is going to be a little bit more melancholy. I also have a stand-up comedy performance that I’m busy writing at the moment.”
Aside from music, what are other things that you’re passionate about?
“Just writing and creating in general. I’m really into comedy and science fiction. I’m actually writing these interconnected short stories. It’s like its own little expanded fictional universe. And I also like to write screenplays as well. I hope to come out with my own movie eventually, but we’ll see I guess.”
Talking to Eren Fuentes was really fun and their unapologetic personality makes for a great interview! Make sure to go and check out their work!
Eren, thank you for your time and best of luck in all of your future endeavors!