Why You Need To Listen To Dexter Lammar Right Now

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A man by multiple names breaks boundaries in the entertainment industry. Whether you know him as filmmaker Derrick L. Middleton or singer-songwriter Dexter Lammar, he’s certainly a force to look out for. Derrick has created major waves in both film and music (read a piece from SOULE on Derrick’s film “Shape Up: Gay in the Black Barbershop”) while continuing to remain humble and true to his identity. His perfect balance between vulnerability and limitlessness gives Derrick the flexibility to do and be just about anything. Anyone who claims to “create for [his] own survival” is proving that he has so much more to share with the world. So, whichever name you wish to call him, know that you are speaking into greatness. 
At SOULE, we were first introduced to you as a filmmaker, and now we see that there’s so much more. How would you answer the ambivalent question: What do you do?
I’m a black queer artist who uses different mediums of art to deconstruct toxic stereotypes of black masculinity. Music was my first love, but life can be cruel and somewhere along the way I lost my confidence to sing.  I majored in acting at the famed Fiorello LaGuardia High School for Performing Arts and studied musical theater for a while after during my collegiate studies. So I always knew I’d make music, it was just a matter of building the confidence and courage to follow through on that dream. Acting and filmmaking come easier for me because I can navigate those mediums more so using my intellect.  Music requires me to be vulnerable in a way that makes me uncomfortable, but art shouldn’t always feel comfortable, it should force you to dig deeper and that’s what music does for me, it exposes me. I feel naked when I sing, which was part of the inspiration for the artwork for my new single “Traction”.
Tell us a little about your inspiration to make music?
I grew up mimicking Patti LaBelle performances. I was a 5-year-old boy who knew every word to Patti LaBelle’s songs. My mom’s godmother Norma Harris has been Patti’s hairstylist since way back when she was in the group LaBelle. All of those big amazing hair styles that Patti wore, that would later inspire artists like Lady Gaga and so many others were created by Norma. So when I was younger whenever Patti came to town I’d get to see her live. I’m actually in her music video for “Somebody Loves You Baby” which was shot at her Live concert at the Apollo. I was about 5 or 6 years old and gave her a flower and a coffee mug on stage and she kissed me on the lips. That footage got used for her music video and will forever be my claim to fame lol! From then on I knew I wanted to perform and make music.
Where does your musical alias come from?
In junior high I had a friend whose father always called me Dexter instead of Derrick, so that kinda stuck.  Then my middle name is Lammar.  I’m also a Gemini so I regard my musical persona as another side of myself.  The actor/filmmaker side of me is the introvert governed more so by my intellect and the musical side of me is the extrovert, more unpredictable and ruled by emotion. Dexter Lammar is a character I’ve created that allows me to express the more flamboyant side of myself that Derrick is way too humble and shy to express.
How has working in different creative mediums helped you establish your mark as a queer millennial?
It has allowed me to view my creativity without limits or boundaries. I truly believe that I can do anything in this day and age not only because I was blessed with the talent but also because there are so many outlets available now, namely social media. However I find social media to be one of my greatest challenges because I’m a very private person by nature and as an artist my work is inspired mostly by the real life that I live offline. Social media tends to blur reality in preference of images of perfect lives. I fear ever being seen as perfect because I’m a deeply flawed and complicated person, and I think the people who my art resonates with get that.

What has been the most rewarding aspect of your much-earned notoriety?
When my directorial debut “Shape Up: Gay in the Black Barbershop“ premiered at President Obama’s White House last year that was a major accomplishment for me.  There I was, this boy from Harlem who had created a film born out of my life experiences of being gay and intimidated in the hetero-dominant space that is the black barbershop, and it was being screened in The White House. That wasn’t even something that was on my bucket list, because I never imagined it possible.  For a film not only about black people, but about black gay males to take up that particular space was truly monumental.  I’m a college drop-out but that day with all of my family present truly felt like the graduation I never had.  I’ve got to thank the “March on Washington Film Festival” for making that possible.
Who inspires you to create?
So many artists have paved the way for me and influenced my work. Prince inspired me to expand the view of how I saw myself as a black male outside of the stereotypes that were so often placed on me even within the gay community. James Baldwin inspired me to be a thinker and to question the world around me as a writer through my own critical lens as a black queer male.  
What is something you wish your younger self could’ve known back when?
I wish my younger self knew that the only person I was obligated to make proud was me. For years my growth and creativity was stifled by my need to convince certain people to believe in me, because I wanted to make them proud.  The moment I stopped caring about what they thought of my art my creativity soared.
Surely you’ve got some haters. Despite the backlash, what keeps you going?
What keeps me going is that I create for my own survival and need to free myself.  If no one was watching or listening I’d still be creating because it’s my creative instinct to turn pain into art, that frees me.  It’s how I cope.  It’s how I confront and conquer my fears. Inspiring others is just a spiritual by-product of me being honest through my work and people being able to relate to it.  That’s the spiritual connection between the artist and the consumer. But true artists keep going simply because we need to.
Ten years ago, what did you dream of doing?
Ten years ago I dreamed I’d be doing an interview like this one talking about the artistic legacy I was building.  So I thank you and SOULE for making this dream come true.
Ten years from now, what do you dream of doing?
Ten years from now I hope to have my own production company so that I can create whenever and whatever my heart desires and be able to empower others to do so as well. 
 Dexter Lammar’s new single “Traction” is available NOW on iTunes and Spotify.  “Shape Up: Gay in the Black Barbershop” will be making its west-coast debut in LA at the 25th Pan African Film Festival this February. Follow Dexter on Instagram @dexter_lammar or on Facebook @ Derrick L. Middleton.

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