By Anthony Costello, February 2018 Issue.
At 9 years old, an only child who grew up attending performing arts academies in Kansas City, Mo., was watching the movie Heart Angel, in which Lisa Bonet stars as Epiphany Proudfoot. That was the day she decided she wanted to be her, and she adopted the name Epiphany without knowing the irony of the word.
Throughout the years ahead, Epiphany Mattel’s intuitive grasp of reality through each event, both simple and striking, defined her. She came out to her parents as transgender in her teens, which led to a “dysfunctional setting” in the home and, ultimately, her running away to live her truth.
Photo by Scotty Kirby.
“Leaving home was hard, but I came to the point, the realization, that it was the best thing for me, it was what I needed to do to survive,” she said. “Staying with other runaways didn’t compare to the dangers I was constantly subjected to at my parents’ [home].”
A father figure of Mattel’s was dating Desiree DeMornay at the time and he introduced the two and asked the trans queen to take the teen under her wing.
“Whenever I ran away from home, I’d run to Desiree’s house,” Mattel recalled. “She took great care of me and met with my mother to let her know where I was staying and [they] came to a spoken agreement of guardianship … where I didn’t have to live by their rules.. Even though my mother didn’t agree with my life, she felt comfortable knowing I was with a good person instead of out on the street.”
In DeMornay, Mattel found a mother figure and home between ages 14 and 18.
“I’d seek refuge at clubs. As long as you had a wig, they would let you into the bar as opposed to ripping and running out in the street,” she said. “[Desiree] allowed me to explore LGBT[Q] life with boundaries... She got me into performing and doing shows. I love being on the stage.”
While her experiences as a young trans woman in Kansas City weren’t good, Mattel estimates that they weren’t that bad either.
“I was considered passable, so my experience wasn’t as bad as [it was for] some of my peers,” she said.
It’s these real-life experiences that molded Mattel and fueled her passion for writing. But it wasn’t until after she completed her cosmetology license in Boston that she would have the opportunity to combine these aspects of her life into a new platform for speaking her mind.
Enter Latrice Royale.
“I met Latrice through a mutual friend named Chelsea Page … a good girlfriend of hers [who] saw my blogging and parody songs,” she recalled. “Latrice was on ‘[RuPaul’s] Drag Race’ at the time and released a single with Manila Luzon (“The Chop” in 2012) after being on the show,” she explained. “Chelsea brought the idea of a collaboration to Latrice as she was looking to release her own single.”
Mattel met Royale’s producer, Michael, and they began working on the single together.
“She sent me the track to submit my verses,” Mattel said. “The actual single doesn’t have all my verses but the video version remix with the video we shot had all my lyrics because I had rewrote the song for fun and I wanted to provide enough material they could use in different ways.”
Mattel’s work ethic – something she’s proud of – paid off. The song, “Weight” was released in January 2014 and subsequently hit No. 13 Billboard’s United States Comedy Digital Songs chart. (Watch the "Weight video here.)
“It did extremely well,” Mattel said. “Once we met face to face, [Latrice] told me, ‘there’s a voice missing in hip-hop, and I’d like to manage you.’ So, of course, I said yes and the rest was history.”
Photo by Scotty Kirby.
Fast forward two and a half years to the release of Mattel’s debut single, “Fix Yo Face,” the world’s formal introduction to the in-your-face lyricist. And, much like her perspective on the LGBTQ community, she’s not concerned with putting genre-defining labels on her work. (Watch the "Fix Yo Face" video here.)
“I’m still a work in progress, and I couldn’t exactly tell you what my style is,” she said. “I just write what I feel, I’m not thinking in the genre when I do … When I really write from my situation in life, which is what most artists do, I’m not concerned what style people want to box me in. It’s about my lyrics and message. As long as you receive the message, categorize it what you want.”
While she’s been told she raps like Trina or Nicki, she just attributes that to her brashness, adding that Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, K. Michelle and Common are among the artists she listens to.
“I’m drawn to lyricists more than rappers,” she explained. “People who tell stories, rather than ‘Look at my Rolls Royce’ or ‘Rolex this, I’ve got hoes.’ People like Jay-Z tell stories, paint pictures with their music. Erykah Badu is very into consciousness, with herself and the universe and it’s something I identify with. If I had to be compared to anybody right now it would be K. Michelle. She knows how to use her words, people may think it’s aggressive, but she grabs your attention with it.”
As far as the subject matter addressed in Mattel’s music, it’s a collection of topics she feels strongly about or situations she has delt with firsthand. Her inspiratrion for “Fix Yo Face,” for example, is directed toward pretty people who look unattractive because of their attitudes.
“The song is all about people just muggin’ and scowling at people having a good time,” she said. “They’re just so insecure about who’s looking at them .. [their] sense of entitlement comes from insecurity, pointing out other people’s flaws, lookin’ at people crazy [because] they’re having a good time. It’s a gut punch to the mean girls. You’re creating your own situation, and not allowing yourself to have a good time … stop acting so serious.”
The song “Switch Hittaz,” Mattel explained, is about the experience of being a trans woman and getting involved with down low men who live a double life.
“[DL men are] using their wives as beards over here, but spending the majority of [their] time with me, but in a closet,” she said. “If you can’t love me in the open, then I’m not going to stick around for that. I’m not going to be your secret.”
Using the same formula, and an approach she describes as “riding the beat,” Mattel is currently working on new music.
“I am in the process of writing my EP … I’m thinking about six tracks for it,” she teased. “Does Not Play Well With Others is the name of that, which falls into the whole doll thing, playing in the sandbox concept. The EP is going along with that sassiness, shoot from the cuff, playing with words based on all different subjects. I have some other things in my notebook I’m pulling together, but I have three songs officially lined up for it.”
The EP, which is due out later this year, will include “Switch Hittaz,” as well as “Drink Manny,” a song about a breakup.
In the meantime, fans can look for Mattel’s writing on Latrice’s forthcoming single, “Excuse the Beauty,” which is set for a February release.
The song is currently in post-production and, according to Royale, fans should stay tuned to around the timeframe of RuPaul’s DragCon LA, which is set for May 11 to 13. But that’s just the first of Mattel’s 2018 accomplishments.
“LRI [Entertainment] is focusing on putting my tour together. You will start to see Epiphany out in your favorite clubs, performing music for you to love,” she said. “We can write about me all day, but until I perform I won’t achieve that connection with people. So, 2018 is about debuting and exposing my music.”
Photo by Scotty Kirby.
Beyond the Music
Epiphany Mattel talks community, common misconceptions and what she plans to conquer in 2018
Photo by Martin P. Asselin.
Echo:You’ve been in Phoenix for about 13 years, what brought you here?
Mattel: I moved here, moved away and then came back, that type of thing. My family lives here: one of my ‘children’ who needed help getting off crystal meth and my cousin lived here and I didn’t want to leave her by herself. So I ended up staying. This is my last year here though, I’m moving to Atlanta. It’s a business decision. Phoenix has been nothing but good to me, but I’ve outgrown it. I came here after a long-term relationship ended and here is where I found my independence, who you’re seeing today. But, in terms of business resources, Phoenix doesn’t have that for me. I want to be able to jump up and get into a studio when I need to. In LA and NYC, I’d just be a starving artist, but Atlanta is an entertainment hub and the cost of living is comparable.
Echo:We’ll be sorry to see you go. In the meantime, do you feel “Fix Yo Face” applies to the Phoenix club scene?
Mattel: Kind of, I really don’t go to a lot of the gay bars here. And that’s just because they don’t play the music I groove to. I do Scottsdale with the hip-hop clubs, and the girls [there] are just so concerned about who’s seeing them and look so unpleasant. You’re beautiful, but you look so unpleasant.
Echo:You work closely with drag artists, but have made it clear you’re not a drag queen. To what do you attribute people automatically assigning you labels without knowing?
Mattel: I think the saying goes ‘ignorance is bliss,’ and a lot of people just don’t know. Most of the LGBT[Q] community knows the subcultures within our culture, but cis people and heterosexual people think it’s one of two: you’re either straight or gay … [And] they don’t recognize what drag means, all they know from that is, ‘Oh, you’re a drag queen.’
They don’t realize with trans people, it’s who we are, it’s not a facade. I don’t take Epiphany Mattel off at the end of the day. I don’t say ‘That was just me at the club.’ I am a trans woman and this is what I live, it’s not connected to a job. This is my life, it’s not a choice. Even with gay people in general, they think we actually choose this. I didn’t wake up on a Wednesday saying, ‘It’s 86 degrees and I’m going to be trans today.’ Who would choose a life of adversity, where they would subject themselves to abuse and discrimination? I identify as a heterosexual woman, but get mistaken for transexual … I’m just me and it’s my mission to correct that. As soon as people stop judging [others] for situations beyond their control, when people stop that, things will be much better.
Echo:It’s sad to say, but transphobia exists in the LGBTQ community. How do you confront it?
Mattel: People don’t take the time to understand something … There are plenty of people who follow and perpetuate stereotypes, with big followings, so people end up saying ‘Oh, they’re this and this presenting themselves this way, so everyone must be this way.’ There’s good and bad straight people, gay and trans people. We just all put each other in a box. If you’re not taking the time to get to know a person, please don’t slap a label on [someone before you] take the time to get to know someone.
Photo by Martin P. Asselin.
Echo:What kind of impact do you hope your music has on hip-hop and the current cultural climate?
Mattel: That transwomen have a voice also, and we speak from our experience, but I want my music to come across and say ‘we’re people too.’ There’s not a big LGBT[Q] presence in hip-hop, it’s always underground. Young M.A. hit it big as a butch lesbian, which is funny because people are quicker to accept a masculine personality than a gay man or trans person. Hopefully my presence will penetrate the mainstream and my lyrics are relatable to anyone. At the end of the day we go through the same bullshit. Rapping about a man keeping me secret is no different than rapping about being a cisgender side chick. I just want people to know transwomen and alt[ernative] lifestyle people are not as different as you make us out to be. Everyone just wants to point out the differences, but we all just want to be loved and seen.
Echo:While we’re on the subject, what’s one misconception about you that you want to get straight with your audience?
Mattel: That’s a difficult question for me to answer. I don’t think I’ve become known enough to have people have an opinion about me. I just don’t want people to feel I’m intentionally mean; I’m a bitch, but with a heart. A lot of people, when you speak your mind, they take it the wrong way. I’m a girl who came from a middle-upper class family, but I put myself in the streets and in that mentality and what I’ve learned is people will accept a lie faster than a truth. If you tell it like it is, it’s like you’re doing more harm than good. I just speak my mind, and don’t sugarcoat things. Me speaking my mind is not bashing you, my opinion comes from a place of love and people have a hard time accepting that. You never know how people will receive your message, but you’ll never please everyone. I’m just speaking from my view. I don’t come from a place of malice or hate, I’m just speaking my truth.
Echo:I see you’ve described yourself as a lyricist, MC, model, stylist and blogger. What do you want to conquer next?
Mattel: I’m a firm believer [that] we speak our experiences into existence. I’ve been running around telling people I’m the first transwoman on the “Empire” label (laughs). My next big channel is getting into TV. Latrice is like, ‘That’s not even a real label,’ and I’m like ‘I’m going for it!’ Doors are being opened and I want to get in on that.