Breaking into the entertainment and fashion industries is a brave and difficult challenge for anyone, but is that experience more difficult if you’re black? Or if you’re LGBTQ?
Meet Derrick Cobb, a New York City Native, and a truly inspiring Rags-to-Riches story. After spending his teenage years homeless on the streets of NYC, Derrick used his music, modeling and dancing to launch himself into a life of art and creation. After moving to Los Angeles, California in 2019, Derrick’s career exploded, and he is now one of the hottest artists on the rise.
The Honey Pop had the chance to get to know Derrick. We were fortunate to have him share his experience as a black, LGBTQ artist, and his thoughts on the ever-changing music industry.
Current Events Check In
First, with everything going on these last few weeks, let’s do a quick check in with Derrick. How are you holding up in these challenging times?
I feel like there’s so much going on, it’s a lot – like – A LOT. This has definitely been a testament of our strength and our courage, for sure. Remember, LAPD is very infamous. They don’t have the best reputation. I think that impounded outrage, the public – we’re talking about the generation seeing Rodney King; it sparks a lot of emotion, you know? I think the public is being very unforgiving with LAPD.
I will say that I think the looting is a bit extreme, because it’s counterproductive, you know? Yeah, like you’re crashing into a business, but businesses haven’t made any money, because we haven’t been open for the last couple of months. So I think that’s a bit extreme, but I think The Cause still stands. At the end of the day, I really want law enforcement to know that they should uphold their oaths when they say they’re going to protect and serve. Literally, if I’m not okay, if I’m not feeling well, your job is to help and protect someone to make sure they’re okay; that’s immediate. That’s the basic job description.
Living in NYC vs Living in LA
You’ve lived on both the East Coast and West coast (NYC and LA) – how do the two compare, and do you have a favorite?
No one has ever asked, this is the first time I’ve been asked publicly. I’m so glad this is the first question. I love and hate both New York and LA. Here me out, hahaha! New York is definitely the town of hustle and bustle. When you’re in New York, and when you’re in the city, the people there – they work hard! New Yorkers take their work very seriously. They’re very about the hustle. I will say on the flip side of that, Californians are very concentrated in their hustle.
Let me explain: In New York, the energy of the culture is you need to be working a full time job, and a part time job; and then if you’re an Artist, then you need to be working a full time job, a part time job, and you need to be gigging. If you are working in corporate America, you need to be a full time worker, and you need to be in grad school, and you need to have a thing on the side. So there’s always that sense of hustle.
The thing I love about both cities is that there’s an initial idea to hustle. Ultimately, I think that New Yorkers have this energy where they’re working themselves beyond exhaustan, but it doesn’t really aquate to anything. If you’re not exhausted at the end of the day, then you didn’t work hard enough. New Yorkers feel that pressure all the time, right? Where in LA, if you spend the day going to auditions, or you spend your entire day getting ready for one big audition, and that’s what you did that day – that is more than enough, and you should be proud of yourself! You know what I mean?
I think that New York gives me the drive to be a successful business person, while LA gives me the drive to be a successful artist. I will say that for Californians, and people in LA specifically, show business is a very serious thing. Everyone takes their work extremely seriously. So when you say in LA that you’re an artist, people hold you to that. They’re very serious about “I’m an artist. I’m an actor. I’m whatever.” People are very serious about it, and if you’re not, then don’t say it. That’s the energy out there.
Derrick’s Musical Inspirations
We’re very impressed with how many followers you have on Spotify as well as Social Media. You can tell people that you’re a musician, and then to have people that actually go and listen to your music is a great accomplishment! We really liked the song ‘Sirens’ – It might be our fave!
Thank you! That’s so funny, because that’s also one of my favorite songs that I’ve done. It’s a very Prince inspired record. It reminds me of the 80s. It gives that energy; that was the idea behind the record. I love 80s and 90s music. I’m a huge Prince fan! I love Beyonce, I love Nicki, Demi, Janet…You know, I love the Pop Divas, I do! I love all the current girls, trust me! I’m a gay man. I have to love my current pop, that’s what we do. The gay community, we elect the current Pop Divas. We’re the ones who elect the next Pop Divas. We always do that, you know!?
I love Queen. I love Prince, George Michael, REM – I love that sound, because I feel like back then, artists really had to go out of their way to really prove their artistic capability. This is the time before technology, you know what I mean? Those instruments were PLAYED! There wasn’t a programmer and a computer. These artists were playing those instruments. I’m always inspired by that level of discipline, and that’s what inspired that record for ‘Sirens.’
Wow – you actually just answered our next question for us, which was who your inspirations are for your unique sound. You just answered that on your own – it’s like we’re both connected!
Are there some particular artists that you would love to collaborate with?
Janet Jackson – for sure! Number ONE. I’m saying this because she is the first pop artist to become very socially conscious. When you hear records like ‘What Have You Done for Me Lately?’ talking about women standing up to men who are trying to hit on them, and you talk about records like ‘Rhythm Nation’ – we bring it up to ‘98-’99 when she’s talking about AIDS, and child abuse. She’s a very social conscious person. I would love to work with someone who has that a sense of “I make popular records, but in my music there’s something to take away from it.” There’s a syllabus of learning involved in this particular record.
I would LOVE to work with Cardi B. She is a ball of energy, but she’s also open. Cardi is a rare artist, because she’s connected to her generation. She’s very connected – I think that in Cardi’s mind, if she can be rich and successful, but still hang with us, and just like, come to the spot, and chill and smoke, she would do that on a regular basis. She can do both, you know? She constantly wants to go to the record studio after an album, but she also wants to win her grammy, and then come back to the hood, and be like, “It’s me, let’s talk shit to each other.” That’s her attitude.
I would also love to work with Kanye West. Musically, he is a genius. He has really understood the balance of meshing pop, hip hop and R&B into a thing, by making it a musical feeling. As a hip hop artist, Kanye West really pushes himself constantly with his sound. He’s not afraid to try something. If the idea hits him, he’s like, “I’m gonna do it.” Whether you agree with him or not, he’s adamant about executing it – and it usually works for him.
As a singer, I would have loved, I would love, love, love, love, loooooove to work with Rihanna. Her voice is just on a different level. Because she is Caribbean, she has a different approach to the way she sings her records. I would love to work with her to really understand how she approaches her record in the studio. I would love to see her in the studio, in that environment. We always see her as a fashion icon, the pop star, and it’s amazing, because she ultimately dishes out these great records – but we never see her in process to making those things happen. Whether or not she chooses to use me or not, I would love to just be in that space with her. To see what that feels like creatively.
We read about your experience being a homeless youth in NYC due to your orientation – What a true rags to riches story! We were wondering if you could share a little bit about this experience, and how music, dancing, modeling, and art has helped you get work through it all?
Just to make a long story short, my step-father was a Jehovah’s Witness, so they’re very anti-homosexual. As I got older, I think he started to realize, and I was starting to come more into my own as a person, and it wasn’t really best for us to stay in the same environment. So as much as he was petitioning for me to leave the house, at the same time you’re kinda ready to go.
I think a lot of queer people go through that phase when they’re young. You’re old enough to make your own decisions legally; you want to go out in the world, and create something for yourself. That’s a big thing. Unfortunately, at the time I didn’t know who I was, and what this would mean: a period of time when I was out on the street with no sense of experience to really be out there handling myself. You just kinda do the best you can.
I think that being an artist does something to you a little different, because it kinda gives you something to hold on to. When you’re creative, you start to see visions. You see things that people might not necessarily see. So I think what was helping at that time was, “Okay, if I can just go to school, and finish, then I can go to this school, and be in theater production. Then I can go on to this thing,” and that’s what gives you that sense of hope. In your mind, you see that there’s a way better world out there, than what society tells you were “fortunate” to have.
I say this to all the queer kids out there, and who are super young, I always tell them, “you absolutely deserve to be in the room. You DESERVE that. You have the talent, and the credentials, you should be able to walk into any meeting with any creative director, with any art director, really express your vision at any given time. To not fear that.” I always encourage the younger youth to really embrace your creativity. That’s what makes you special. You being queer makes you special, because you look at the world from a different set of lenses, and the world needs to see how you see the world. I think that’s so important.
So I think that art, music, modeling, fashion, it really gave me a sense of pride, almost, you know? Like, “What?! I really do have things in the world to live for!” There are places where being black, and being queer – there are places in this world where that’s celebrated, and appreciated. That always really rings in the back of my head. I can go in that space, and really show people, “I’m more than just this. So much more to me than that.”
What it’s Like being Black and LGBTQ in the Industry
Do you think that being LGBTQ has made it harder for you to succeed in the music industry?
Without a question, yes. I’ve heard rumors of things that were said about me, but ultimately those things get confirmed in people’s actions. I think that because it’s such a risky business that most of the people who are influential have the power; they have the ability to make certain things happen or not happen. I think they have to worry about, “if I take on a person that’s black or gay, I have to deal with all the connotations that come with that.” For them to keep up worth, they’d rather just have someone that’s super cookie cutter, someone that is super marketable, someone that’s straight edge/no cursing, so it’s easier to deal with.
So there are definitely times where I feel I’ve seen first hand myself, and was blatantly told that since I was LGBTQ that there was no place for me in this industry. To be honest with you, the reason I’m working with Atlantic Records, is because the producer I work with is a black LGBTQ Woman herself, and that’s the only reason. Ultimately I’m connecting with someone who’s in the industry who is representing the same things I’m representing.
Do you think being black has also compounded your ability to succeed in the music industry?
YES, of course! I honestly feel like I do have to work a little harder than my peers. I didn’t realize it until I did Fashion Week last year, when I was working with a friend who is a Caucasian male model. We’re good friends, I’ve known him since the 10th grade. Before he got all tall and super hot, I remember that; he was a chunky kid, and became this GLAMAZON. When he came to me, and said, “Hey Derrick, I saw the contracts, and they offered me more than you. What should we do?”
When someone who has the privilege can recognize that something is not right, that says a lot. You know what I mean? That’s one of the reasons why I ended up getting a bigger contract on that modeling job, because he was like, “Bro, this makes no sense, we’re doing the same job.” What’s the difference? That definitely plays a part.
I think ultimately, you know, we have to be mindful that all of the people who are currently in power politically are the offspring of the people who were protesting against black people in the 60s who wanted fair rights. The people who were partitioning to get Martin Luther King killed. You know? They’re offsprings of that when we see the Trumps, Mike Pence, and all these people in our current administration. They have to be mindful that their grandparents, and their great-grandparents and their parents are probably racist.
I think that as far as the music industry is concerned – I’ll say this: The fact that Ariana Grande can do the same show that Beyonce does, and offered the bigger salary says something. When you can sit there as an investor, and say, “I’ll give Beyonce $4 million, let’s give Ariana Grande $8 million.” That should say a lot! That should say A LOT! If that decision was based on merit and talent, we’re talking about Beyonce: a woman with a more solid resume. We’re talking about going from a little girl from Houston, to be a lead singer in one of the biggest girl groups of all time, to become one of the biggest solo entertainers of all time. So what part of the resume has not been adequate? What part are you not satisfied with? I think that says a lot.
Even when I’m doing shows in LA, I’ve seen budget sheets…I’m not making as much as a lot of what the other artists are making. I’m really not! I think that being queer especially, we’re always taught “just be glad you’re in the room. Be happy you’re in the room.” Well, if I’m in the room, and I don’t fight for what’s right, then it discourages other artists who look up to me; an artist who is young and who looks like me, who walks like me, and talks like me, and they are expecting me to show them a better way. I won’t fail to do that.
What advice could you give to young LGBTQ and/or black artists who are also facing similar struggles?
To all my queers and LGBTQ youth who are are currently going through a crisis, the best advice I can ever give them is to one: embrace yourself; know that you are worth it. You deserve a fair chance at life just like anybody else. One. Secondly, is to always embrace your imagination. Build a relationship with it! Don’t be afraid of being creative or what society will say, “you’re extra, you’re too much.” No, that’s what makes you who you are, and you should express that. Be BIG, be LOUD, be BOLD, be SEEN and be HEARD – and when people pay attention, make sure that you rise to the occasion.
Never be afraid of who you are, that’s what makes you creative. That’s what makes your voice special. That’s what makes you a great person. That’s what makes you a great artist. I was watching a documentary about Andy Worhal, and I was like, “Oh my god, this guy is a f**king genius!” Andy was so connected to his imagination; he wasn’t afraid. He embraced his weirdness! They took that, and turned it into love and connection. Andy Worhal is the first artist who really got gay and straight people to be in the same room at the same time, for his shows, and his work. That’s why I think it’s important for young artists – you have topics to really really set the tone for how people should view the LGBTQ community.
Derrick’s Thoughts on the Ever-Changing Music Industry
I always like to ask young artists about the future of music – what are some music trends you see rising, and where do you think the future of music is heading?
That is such a great question. To be honest, I can’t say where I think it’s going, but I can say that I’m excited that I don’t know where it’s going. I say that because I love how, example: there’s Tekashi, who’s one of the biggest rappers out there right now, right? But there’s also the kid in his basement in the middle of Wisconsin who has a song that he might put on Soundcloud tomorrow, and he’ll let his friends know he put a single out, and that song could be just as big as Tekashi’s song – who’s one of the biggest rappers in the world. When that’s an immediate thing, it’s hard to say where it can go.
The people now get to elect who they choose to listen to. Before, you were kinda forced as an artist. They were attached to a bigger machine. But now, people can say, “Actually, you know what? I’m not gonna stream that, I want to go listen to her on Soundcloud. Oh, she’s performing in Bushwick? Let me go see her.” The people are getting to decide what they consume, and what they want to spend their time and their money on. I don’t know where the sound is going, but as far as marketability? The ball is in anyone’s court. It can be anyone’s game at any given time. From the legends to the new artists – for the first time in music history – a lot of artists are on equal level playing fields.
What are some music trends you think are dying and going out of style?
You know, I hate that boy bands and girl bands are not a thing anymore. That really bothers me. Unless you listen to K-pop. I love BTS, I really do. They’re so cute. They’re so young and so sweet. I do love K-pop – but I hate that the trend of bands is dying now. I think artistic groups are so important. Some of the biggest acts in the world have been groups.
I think that it’s something about it being people coming together; bringing their individual solo talent, and understanding that we’re better together. That says a lot about people’s character, when they’re able to embrace another person’s talent and their gifts, and genuinely be excited about it. I wish the trend of groups and bands wasn’t dying….groups like Limp Bizkit, Blink 182, and Backstreet Boys. I really do miss that!
Are there things about the music industry that you would like to see change?
Yes! If I had to pick one thing specifically, I would want the industry to invest more in mental health services for the artists that they choose to sign. I feel like when you deal with a creative person in the creative industry that comes with a burden of emotions. That should already be a flag. Artists are always going to be a little more sensitive to things. Things are going to touch them in a different way. So I think that record labels, or managers, or agents should really give their artists in their creative community access to that incase they need it before it becomes a thing.
We’re talking about people that live their lives in the public on a day to day basis; who can’t go through things like a normal person goes through, because what they deal with is displayed in front of the world. You see these people, they work, you know? It’s a job! If they had access to those services, they could utilize them mostly before the issues become a problem. There should be a system in place, or just access to, “Hey, we’re in Boston, great. Let me talk to a therapist out here, and deal with the issue while I’m here in Boston.” That should be in place. That’s my biggest thing I could ever hope for.
Derrick Connects with his Rock Stars
Have you started becoming recognized on the street? Do you have any stories you’d like to share?
Oh my god, I was with my friend one time, and we were somewhere in Manhattan. We were leaving a rehearsal, like a dance rehearsal, right? And some boy came up to me, and was like, “I just bought your song!” I was like, “…what?” I asked him, “What do you mean?” He was like, “no no no! I really just bought your song!” He was jumping up and down, and I’m just sitting there like, “Should I call 911?” It was like…Bro like…just calm down. He was showing me his iPhone, trying to show me that he bought it on iTunes. He’s, like, showing me the receipt, like he really wanted to prove to me that he really bought the song. I’m like, “that’s so sweet!” I didn’t know how to respond to it – it was like, “oh my god, that’s really cool.” It was kinda nice, you know?
BUT – at that moment it was also important that he knew that I really appreciated his efforts, and him taking the time out. It only takes 5 minutes, two seconds to download the song, and then a couple minutes to listen to the music – but I appreciated that he put time out of his life and his day to really, you know, support. That made me feel really good. I also wanted him to know that “if I’m ever doing a show, and you want to be around, hit me up. You’re more than welcome to hang out with us backstage, or meet the dancers, or whatever.”
I don’t like the word “fan.” I think that it creates a sense of hierarchy. Whereas, if you support my music, then I want to be able for you understand that I connect and appreciate you. I always call my fans my Rock Stars, because they ROCK for supporting me. Their support is what makes me so good. As awesome as you can be, you’re choosing to be awesome with me. So you know like, When you see me out there – you are my PEOPLE! I love ya’ll! Come through. If you see me on the street, come give me a f**king hug, please! Hug me! I might need it at that moment!
Derrick’s Dreams and Goals
All artists have dreams and goals – We always like to ask artists if they have a dream venue they’d like to perform in – a once in a lifetime performance, sold out – where is it???
Citi Field! I mean a sold out stadium would be…listen, when you sell out your hometown, in the biggest venue, you’ve made it. That means that you’ve made it. Because as an artist, when you’re from a town people know you. They’re like, “Boy, you’ve been singing that song since you were a kid, like, we know you can do that!” When it’s your hometown, nobody’s impressed by that, because you’ve been doing it since you were a child…but to be able to sell out a venue in your hometown, I think it’s like, just…the creme dela creme of what artists dream of. You know? What artists would want. Also, I think another thing is that at home you’re your best. That would be the only thing I could ever ask for.
AND – to meet Beyonce. I’m just gonna put that out there. If you want to send this to her camp, please do. I wouldn’t care, I hope you do. Come say Hi to me. She could just say, “Der” the first three letters of my name, and that would drive me crazy.
Of all the compliments or accomplishments or whatever I’ve got to do, I’ve always wanted a kid to say to me that I’ve inspired them. That’s what I strive for. Period.
Anything else to tell the world?
I want to say to the world, “Love leads the way, always.” Please, when you’re approaching the world, when approaching each other, lead with love. If someone is misinformed of that, if someone is being unkind, or racist or sexist or homophobic or sour, you have to educate them with love. It has to come from a place of love. Love is the answer, always, always, always! Love yourself, love your neighbors, love your friends – ALWAYS!
Derrick, you’ve inspired us. Thank you so much for sharing your story, and for all the words of encouragement you’ve given! We wish you the best of luck as your career keeps progressing!
Are you also a black and/or LGBTQ artist? Please feel free to share your experience with us by tweeting us @TheHoneyPop
Featured Image Source: Derrick Cobb via Instagram