NATIVE Exclusive: Dope Saint Jude wants everyone to be “Alphas”
"I am just forging a cute, little gay path with my friends and having a good time."
"I am just forging a cute, little gay path with my friends and having a good time."
Catherine (Dope) Saint Jude never thought that her music would find a home in her native South Africa. Her 2018 debut single “Grrrl Like,” has racked up over 3 million streams on Spotify alone, disrupting Africa’s ascendant music scene with honest and open confessionals about existing with all her complexities. “I know that the work is important because we don’t see a lot of representation of queer Africans,” she tells the NATIVE at the end of June.
It’s the beginning of the long summer holidays and pride month, Dope Saint Jude has just released her latest single “Alphas.” Coupled with deep basslines, twinkling keys and a no-holds barred delivery, the new track encapsulates everything the singer has to offer at a time of great innovation for the African music market: a multidimensional artist with a solid vision for her craft and an affinity for empowering women and gender non-conforming audiences.
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If any artist understands the sheer power of hardwork and dedication, it’s Dope Saint Jude. The June uNder alum first made her break as a drag king following a degree in Politics and Public Policy. During her time as a drag entertainer in Cape Town, Catherine fell in love with writing and producing her own original music after growing tired of lip syncs. Soon, she was making her own music which represented her experiences and held a mirror to her thoughts. “I just wanted people to feel empowered. I want people to feel like they’re the shit regardless of where they stand in the world,” she shares.
Tapping into all parts of her identity, Dope Saint Jude returns victorious and triumphant on her latest release “Alphas,” which finds her taking a deep dive into her queer roots. The central theme on the catchy new single is staying true to oneself and delivering a self-determined showcase. “Now I’m a feminist I see your inner beauty/But Ive also seen that ass and let me say that you a cutie,” she chants on the song’s first verse, inviting women, queer people and gender non-conforming individuals to release themselves and step into their alpha identity.
The video for “Alphas” is equally empowering and meaningful. Opening up with interview clips between Catherine and close friends and people in the LGBTQ+ community, the rapper questions what it means to be an alpha in today’s society. It’s clear that the singer takes pride in experimentation and she’s not afraid to present all her paradoxes on wax, allowing listeners to also interrogate their own biases and release their premonitions.
Following the release of “Alphas,” we caught up with Dope Saint Jude to discuss the track’s inspiration, her creative process and working with other queer artists to bring her vision to life.
Our conversation, which follows below, has been lightly edited for clarity.
NATIVE: Hi Catherine, thanks for joining us on the call today. Can you talk a bit about your moniker, Dope Saint Jude? Where did that come from & what it means to you?
Dope Saint Jude: My name is actually Catherine Saint Jude. Saint Jude is the patron saint of loss and hopelessness. My mum named me Saint Jude because she really wanted a daughter after having 4 boys. Then I came along. She was just really praying to have a girl and that’s where that part comes in. Honestly, the Dope part because I thought it sounded cool at the time. I was very young and it just worked. I added two together and there you go, that’s my name.
Looking at South Africa more closely, the country has one of the best music scenes in the world. It’s produced genres like Amapiano, Gqom, Bacardi house, to name a few sounds. What role do you see your music playing against the backdrop of SA’s global sound as a whole?
I’d say I’m doing something in terms of developing the smaller artists in South Africa. South Africa’s music industry is still young. It hasn’t been in existence for the amount of years like the UK or France has. It’s still pretty young and only recently, the industry opened up beyond Africa following the Apartheid. The landscape of music has changed and what tends to happen in South Africa is that a lot of focus is placed on one genre at a time. There was the Gqom wave and now the Amapiano wave. There isn’t a lot of infrastructure to support smaller artists that are outside what the current wave might be. I am part of the group of artists that are trying to create space for artists that don’t fit into what is currently mainstream.
You sing, produce, write your own music and also previously performed as a drag king, how did you decide what passion of yours to focus on?
It kind of happened naturally. I went to university and studied Politics and Public Policy and I wasn’t that into it. I was drawn more towards performing, and I had been exposed to the queer community in Cape Town. I started going to drag bars and performing as a drag king. I had fun with it but I started writing music as a result because I found it a bit boring only lip syncing songs by other people. From creating my own music, I realised that I really loved the process. From there, I taught myself music production and delved into what I’m doing at the moment.
Let’s talk about your recent release “Alphas,” could you talk us through what that song means to you and how it came about?
I was recording a bunch of singles when I was in London and “Alphas” was one of them. I was trying to make music that reflects my reality. Back then, I was spending a lot of time on TikTok and I saw a lot of alpha male rhetoric which I found funny and hilarious. I just thought it was bullshit. I’m a woman who is attracted to women and I actually like a baddie or a woman who is self-possessed and powerful because that’s what I value in myself too. I value owning my identity. So, I made a song saying ‘we can both be alphas’ in a way to subtly poke fun at the alpha male movement and comment at the time about nothing being wrong with a powerful woman.
The track is a powerful anthem exploring themes of sexuality, power, relationships, feminism, becoming & more. How do these themes allow you to express yourself as an individual and as a musician?
It just helps me to make sense of my world. I think the point of art and music is to reflect the world around us. I was taking in all of this information and remixing it in my artistic way. I was providing my spin on it. I was just trying to make sense of my reality and make sense of my world. It helps me know here I stand as a person within society, but at the same time have fun with it. I am kind of past that point in my life where I get angry and fight with faceless people on the internet. I wanted to make a song that’s playful and funny but still saying its piece.
How important is exploring your raw emotions when you are working on music?
It is pretty important for me to explore what I’m feeling, but also to reflect what’s happening around me. I do focus on what I’m thinking and feeling, but I also try to think of what else is happening outside my little bubble. “Alphas” is a mixture of what I’m feeling and what a lot of other people are thinking about.
The visuals for “Alphas” is equally powerful with images of queer Africans celebrated on the screen. How much creative input did you have in the entire process?
I pretty much had full creative control of that. The process of shooting it was so fun. I put out a call for queer people to appear in the music video and we ended up having the best time. We became best friends and we’ve been hanging out a lot since then. We meet up at some other events and meet more new people. We’ve been able to build and grow the community even further which I deem really important. Art that is fresh and reflective of a community is the priority.
What was the most memorable moment of collaborating with different queer cast members from different backgrounds?
They’re all just fantastic people and learning about them was interesting. I had been away in London for five years and being back, and collaborating with the new generation of queer artists in the art scene was amazing. It was cool to see what everyone was up to, so the highlight was just the good vibes. Amazing people to be around and work with.
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“Alphas” arrived during Pride month last June, serving as the honest queer African presentation we deserve. How do you feel about such expectations from your audience?
I was making the song and it kind of happened that the release was around pride month. I would’ve made and released it anyway, I was just lucky it was during pride month. I don’t feel pressure but I also know that the work is important because we don’t see a lot of representation of queer Africans. We’re also lucky in South Africa regarding our queer laws and it’s not something we should gloss over. I think it’s good that we recognise these. Of course, people are dealing with homophobia in some parts of South Africa but there’s definitely a lot of privilege to the work we put out. We don’t take it lightly and I understand how great it is that I can say something with this. I don’t take it lightly.
How has your journey been for you, especially as a young queer woman in a notoriously male-dominated space?
I grew up with 4 brothers, so I think I’ve always had that fighter spirit. I’ve dealt with a lot of discrimination but I don’t focus on it because when you do, it can get you down. I have the tendency to look at the positives and go in the direction of people that want to be around and elevate me. People say that the Hip-Hop industry is male dominated but I’m not concerned. I am just forging a cute, little gay path with my friends and having a good time. People are either down with it or they’re but that’s not my problem. You may not be down with what I’m doing but I’m here to build community.
With your new release “Alphas” would you say there was any message or feeling or thought you wanted audiences to take away?
I just wanted people to feel empowered. I want people to feel like they’re the shit regardless of where they stand in the world. I know I often need to hear that. I need to listen to music that empowers me. I get those days where I listen to music to pump me up because I don’t feel like dealing with my emotions. I want to make people feel loved and deserving of all the good this world has to offer.
Music has such a steep history but most times the Black pioneers are written out of the story. As an artist, how do you honour your SA heritage but still make room for your own originality and expression?
I try to be as authentic as possible but often, in a lot of my music I have many South African sounds. I use a lot of chanting sounds that reference South African culture. At the same time, we are living in a globalised society. I’m also making Hip-Hop music so I can’t deny the fact that I’m affected by everything I’ve consumed over the years which is like American/British music. I also try to keep my authentic self when I’m making music videos. Even the words, I often use South African colloquialisms. I try to mix it all together but I won’t say that my music is purely South African because what even is that? We are all so influenced by each other from all over the place.
Are there any topics you want to explore in your music in future?
Nothing that I can think of but when it comes up, I won’t be afraid to talk about it. I feel very comfortable talking about whatever’s on my mind. When something comes up, you’d hear it in the music.
Listen to “Alphas” here.
Featured Image Credits/Dope Saint Jude & The NATIVE