Yo Majesty: “Kyptonite Pussy” and God

LaShunda Flowers, a.k.a. Shunda K, is simultaneously black, gay, devoutly Christian, and the writer of songs such as "Kryptonite Pussy" (refrain: "Yo' punanny better make that moneyyyyy!"). And the founder of the Tampa-based electro-rap outfit Yo Majesty is totally, comfortably outspoken about all of these things.

If punk was originally about defying labels, celebrating misfits, creating new sounds, and doing it all on one's own terms, hand-wringers about that genre should open their ears and listen no further. Because by those criteria, Yo Majesty is the most punk fucking rock thing out there right now.

For starters, take the band's how-we-met story. About a decade ago, Shunda was using a variation of the group's name for solo raps. Then she teamed up with fellow MC, Shon B. (who later joined Yo Majesty and then departed).

Around 2001, they met Jwl B, a gospel singer whose pastor grandmother had raised her in the Pentecostal church. "Metallica, Nine Inch Nails, Guns N' Roses. I was listening to Three Doors Down. Alanis Morissette — I was into her very deep," Jwl recalls. "My grandmother would always be praying and pastoring ... and at those times, I would play this music in my headphones." Jwl also liked Tina Turner, Prince, Erykah Badu, and the Isley Brothers, but had little interest in hip-hop. So she rebuffed Shunda's initial advances to join the fledgling group.

"I laughed and said, 'Oh, I don't do anything but gospel.' And [she] laughed at me: 'You're gay and you only do gospel?'" Jwl recalls.

But collaboration on one song and a trial run with the group quickly became a semi-permanent gig for Jwl B. "I was controlled in the church, from the way I dressed, from what I said, from how I walked and talked, my whole demeanor and being. It was like, Hey, I'm branching out, I'm becoming a woman."

Yo Majesty didn't win much popularity at home right away, so the band aligned itself with the only local team of producers and label wannabes who would have it. But then the group was stuck, Shunda recounts, in "some bullshit.... We said, 'Oh, hell no, we are not moving forward with shit!' We said they had to release us."

In the middle of this turmoil, the group dispersed, and the biography gets a little confusing. Shunda says she dabbled in Islam and then returned to a church, where she renounced being gay and married a traveling revivalist preacher, with whom she moved to North Carolina. Two years later, she left him, returned to Florida, reconnected with a girlfriend (now her fiancée), and reconvened Yo Majesty.

How's that for the ultimate in FTW? With a clean slate, and thanks to the Internet, Yo Majesty connected with producers who would create the group's signature sound. London-based punky electro duo HardfeelingsUK produced a pulsing, booming concoction layered with the hip-gyrating swagger of The Dirty Dirty but still sprinkled with dabs of robot electro and funk. Jwl B took up rapping as well as singing — the results sounding like a series of playful taunts, like playground chants inciting crowds into sweaty frenzies and bawdy shout-alongs. Ask a fan of the group's 2006 underground hit "Club Action" to remember the words. That person will come back with the exuberant chorus: "Fuck that shit! Fuck that shit!" Leave the crap behind, the song urges, and "get your ass on the floor."

Yo Majesty was too out there for most hip-hop orthodoxy, and way more sincere than faux-rap novelty acts. But its underlying spirit earned it open-minded audiences, who were spurred on by the group's 2007 tours with acts such as The Gossip and CSS. "At first, [hip-hop fans are] stunned. But then they have to respect it because they hear the hip-hop," says Jwl B. "The alternative world, they hear punk rock, so they respect that."

"Now I see more black people coming to shows," says Shunda. "In the beginning, [even we] weren't open to these tracks you're hearing now. That may be the case for the rest of the black community — they just gotta get used to it."

And as for promoting the music and taking things to the next level, Yo Majesty is as DIY as most bearded, bicycle-riding bands. Of course, there's the guerrilla-style, low-fi video for "Club Action," shot in South Beach and a later Internet sensation. The group literally took to the streets during the congested springtime crush, hollering the track from the back of a pickup truck idling through traffic on Collins and Washington. "People that had boom in their car, other artists — niggas were hating and were coming and trying to drown us out," says Shunda, laughing triumphantly.

The group's albums are released by UK-based Domino Records, but Shunda is not bothered by the label's instructions. Though Jwl B has returned home to deal with personal issues, Shunda is finishing the tour by herself. She's using the Yo Majesty name as a platform to collaborate with other artists. Determined to "not be afraid of music anymore," Shunda has guested on recent tracks by artists such as Peaches. And she also intends to work with several musicians she manages through her company GMEQCA.

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