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Katey Red: A Most Unlikely Star

NEW ORLEANS -- OUTSIDE a concert by Katey Red at the Factory, a teenage club in East New Orleans, fellow musicians are raving. "A lot of things wouldn't be going on in this town without her," said Mankind, a producer. "She's hot right now."

A rapper known as Tiger added, "She gets the crowd jumping."

The strange thing is that Katey Red is not a she at all. Born Kenyon Carter, Katey Red is one of the first openly homosexual rap and bounce-music artists to earn respect in this notoriously homophobic world. Add to that Katey Red's chronic stutter, and you have a most unlikely regional star, even in a city with a rich culture of cross-dressing.

In the fast-dancing world of bounce, cuts by Katey Red dominate, with parties shaking to singles like "Melpomene Block Party," which makes explicit references to homosexuality and oral sex. At the Factory, his short, salacious performance had even gangsta-looking fans in Fubu gear and bandannas careening through the club, either lifting up their shirts or placing their fists under their shirts to imitate a breast-shaking dance. Katey Red's success (the stutter mysteriously disappears when he gets on the microphone) has prompted even those who were skeptical at first to respect his wish to be referred to as 'she."

"She's 6-2 and wears a size-14 shoe," said Earl Mackie, who signed Katey Red to his label, Take Fo' Records. "I always tell her, 'Man, you could have been a basketball star.' "

Standing with one of his female dancers in the parking lot outside the Factory, Katey Red recalled: "When I first started rapping, I was scared. I was worried somebody would come up on the stage and stab me up. But I'm not scared no more."

Katey Red first realized that he wasn't like his friends at age 5, when he put on his mother's fingernail polish. "My mom, she gave me a whupping and told me I'm not supposed to do that," he said. "Then, while my cousins played football, I started playing with baby dolls."

At 13, he first had sex with a girl. "I didn't get nothing out of it," he said. "I was always thinking about boys. So I had sex with a man when I was 15. Then, when I made 16, I had sex with a girl again to make sure I really didn't want it."

At parties, girlfriends continually urged him to get on the microphone, insisting that he had a knack for heating up a room. At one of those dances, he met a disc jockey who worked for Take Fo' Records. "He said, 'I'm going to put some money on you because I know you can get somewhere with your rap.' And I'm like: 'Boy, why you want to sign a homosexual rapper? That don't look cute!' "

DJ Jubilee, one of bounce's biggest stars, recalled that as soon as he heard Katey Red's demo, he saw gold. "I said, 'Look at how many homosexuals are going to buy it. And women are going to think she's a woman, so they're going to buy it too.' Everybody is going to be biting her stuff. It's so good."

Many people say that one reason Katey Red has succeeded where an openly homosexual gangsta rapper might not is because in the world of bounce, women tend to control the market.

"The guys come by because they want to see the girls bend over and shake their behinds," Katey Red said. "And the girls come by just so they can shake their behinds. So as long as the girls are shaking, the boys are going to be buying. The boys will be in a car and passing a bunch of girls on the corner, and they'll be playing my song and the girls will turn toward them and bend over and start dancing."

Mr. Mackie said that the only problem the label has encountered so far is that outside New Orleans, "D.J.'s refused to play her single because they thought that people were going to think that they were gay for playing it."

Last week, Katey Red released his first full-length album, "Y2Katey." In the coming months, he plans to move out of the home of his mother (who still insists on calling him by his birth name) and to begin female hormone treatments. "I'm the first homosexual rapper, and when I'm out in the public I have to make sure I look good," he explained emphatically. "I have to make sure I have no hair on my face, I have to have my hair fixed, and I have to be presentable and not looking like a man. And I'm going to take care of all that."