By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Teamed with Wady and three other friends, Kitchen starts slowly. She's obviously not in optimum shape and she's mildly uncomfortable with the large size of the basketball, which is more inflated for the men's game. She's the shortest player and the only female on the court, but she conveys a casual sense of leadership at all times.
Throughout the four games her team plays, she talks more than any other player, either admonishing herself for a bad play, shouting encouragement to her team, or offering a bit of friendly advice. When a teammate makes the mistake of firing a waist-high pass at her, which is intercepted, she calmly instructs him to throw a bounce pass next time.
By her fourth, and final, game of the night, Kitchen has got her groove back. She suddenly makes her talented teammates and opponents look like supporting players in her private showcase. She nails shots from outside the three-point arc, fakes her defender off his feet for an open jumper and at one point grabs a rebound and takes the ball coast-to-coast, slicing between two taller opponents for a slick, reverse lay-up. All in all, she scores her team's last five buckets. Breathing hard as she slowly walks off the court, she turns to Wady with a smile and says, "I told you. It takes me three or four games to get warmed up."
Wady can only shake his head in admiration. He contends that the competitive fires that Kitchen developed on the court at a young age have translated perfectly to the world of hip-hop. It might explain why, with practically no performing experience before coming to Arizona, she managed to make a name for herself instantly on the local scene.
"You can see her get in that zone before she goes onstage, especially if one of the other MCs says something about her," Wady says. "She won't say anything, but she'll have her head down with her eyes closed. She's getting ready."
However much the media want to make Eminem the whipping boy for sexual intolerance, the fact remains that he's working firmly within an established musical tradition. No musical genre has ever demonstrated as much consistent hostility toward homosexuality as hip-hop.
From its earliest days as a form of street competition, the most devastating insult one MC could hurl at another was to call him a "faggot." And, over the years, even many of hip-hop's smartest, most enlightened artists have been guilty of gay baiting. Consider DMX's "Dogs for Life": "I will do for my niggas as they would do for me/Bust a faggot like you for free." Or Brand Nubian's "Punks Jump Up to Get Down": "I can freak, fly, flow, fuck up a faggot/Don't understand their ways, I ain't down with gays."
Even the politically revolutionary Public Enemy, in its 1990 warning shot about AIDS, "Meet the G That Killed Me," stooped to anti-gay propaganda: "Man to man, I don't know how they did it/From what I know the parts don't fit."
What's amazing about Kitchen's local success is that her blatant homosexuality seems to escape this equation. She and Coulson make no attempt to hide their relationship, kissing and hugging in nightclubs, in full view of Kitchen's fans. At a recent Big Fish Pub showcase, they even did a suggestive onstage bump-and-grind during Kitchen's performance of her forthcoming single, "Clubheads." But it's almost as if, by shoving her gayness in people's faces, Kitchen has defused the issue completely, and rendered it a moot point to the hip-hop crowd.
"I'm definitely more out than anybody, probably in the whole state of Arizona," Kitchen says with a laugh. "Everywhere -- school, coaches know, and everything.
"In hip-hop, you're battling people, and you've got people saying, 'You're gay,' but I'm so gay that it doesn't even matter. People are like, 'Tell us something about Kitch that we don't know. What's your point?' People that know that, it doesn't come up."
Kitchen says she knew at a young age that she was a lesbian, and -- as with most of the positives in her life -- credits her grandmother for unconditionally accepting her sexuality, and creating an environment where the entire family was comfortable with it.
"I've never been deliberately discriminated upon," she says. "I kind of overpower that when I'm making music. I think it's coming from a female with that kind of aggressive side to it, so guys could buy the music and girls could buy the music. So it's something that doesn't have a very harsh gender gap to it."
She even argues that it could work to her commercial advantage, saying: "Lesbians don't buy a lot of hip-hop music, but I guarantee you they'll buy mine."
Part of Kitchen's ability to neutralize hip-hop homophobia also has to do with her personal charm. Because she's so direct and unaffected, she manages the trick of making people like her, no matter how extravagantly she brags about herself. It's a talent she shares with icons like Muhammad Ali -- arguably the spiritual father of the hip-hop aesthetic -- and Jay Z -- her rap idol, and the artist with whom she's most often compared.