Wheelchair Sports Camp's Crip Life

If there were ever a moment for a queer, disabled rapper with a love for pot, jokes, and revolution to be a star, the moment is now

This isn't bullshit. Having received co-credit for signing 50 Cent along with a litany of other rap-music achievements, Riggs occupies an enviable place in the talent-scout pantheon. Somehow, miraculously, he stumbled upon Wheelchair Sports Camp when they played this year's South by Southwest. "I hear the sax, over, like, boom-bap beats—that really attracted my ear," he explains after we plop down in comfy chairs underneath a framed copy of 50 Cent's 2002 Rolling Stone cover and a reverent painting of a much scrawnier Slim Shady. "Then I hear somebody rapping; I just can't see who it is. I'm like, 'Oh, shit, I'm not familiar,' but I thought 'This is cool.' Finally when the [crowd] split, I'm like, 'Oh, shit, that's her!'" You can imagine his surprise. "It was a mixture of me doing my job, but also, I was personally interested in what the hell was going on: When you hear a boom-bap and a sax—that's not common. I'm a big fan of the sax. And then the voice."

Again, that voice. It's so high, so childlike that someone on Facebook recently accused her of pitch-shifting the vocals. When her parents moved her to Burbank as a child, strangers approached her for voiceover work on Sesame Street and Bobby's World. You can easily imagine someone trying to conjure the eerie gloom of Jay-Z's "Hard Knock Life" for the new millennium and looping Kalyn's voice into the chorus.

Even as a sidekick, the contrast is entirely plausible. "I got onstage with Obie Trice once," as Kalyn tells Riggs. "I knew every word to every song: Cheers was like my album of high school. His bodyguard scoped me. And they're like, 'Hey, this girl over here knows all the words!' So he came over. . . . They literally picked me up, put me on this stool, and I rapped the chorus of 'Cheers' with him. I still have people recognize me from that." After the show, she went backstage to hang out.

Wheelchair Sports Camp is saxophonist/vocalist Abi McGaha Miller, lyricist Kalyn Heffernan, and Abi’s brother, drummer Isaac.
PhotoRoadies.com; Adrian DiUbaldo, Ryan Martin
Wheelchair Sports Camp is saxophonist/vocalist Abi McGaha Miller, lyricist Kalyn Heffernan, and Abi’s brother, drummer Isaac.
One of the last times Wheelchair Sports Camp toured, everyone but Kalyn ended up in jail.
Photo Roadies
One of the last times Wheelchair Sports Camp toured, everyone but Kalyn ended up in jail.

"That's cool that people fuck with you like that," Riggs says.

"It's the wheelchair, man," Kalyn says.

Riggs pauses hard. "That's the thing. . . ." he stops. Rap music isn't known for exalting the weak. "Fine, it's the wheelchair. But you have a really cool thing. I can kick it with you guys."

Kalyn hands over her iPhone to play him the demo of "Justicesntright," a scathing radical indictment of the prison system, Obama, and the September execution of death-row inmate Troy Davis. The track begins with a shrill elephantine trumpet squeal that leads into a creeping bass-line attack that builds momentum like a chopped-and-screwed robo-apocalyptic Jaws Theme. There's something off with the sequencing—a xylophone tone floats into the mix, barging in like a doorbell; a sample of Neil Diamond bidding "play it now" from "Cracklin' Rosie" pops up like a Whac-a-Mole head—and Kalyn explains sheepishly that the track's mix isn't finished. But Riggs keeps listening as Kalyn's recorded voice rattles off breathless references to oppression, tyrants, courts, Wall Street investors, and corporations (Target, Microsoft, Macy's, Motorola). Her phone craps out right after Hewlett-Packard.

"There's an enormous amount of potential in what you guys are doing," Riggs offers. "What you guys are doing is really fucking special. The entire setup: the sound, all the way down to the looks." It should be noted that Isaac is wearing calf-length shorts, a Green Hornet T-shirt, and a Jets hat, while Jennah has on red pants. "It is a process; it's not going to happen overnight. You've already come a long way from SXSW—SXSW led to this. Pretty interesting."

Riggs pauses. "I'd like to take a crack at producing something for you guys," he says. But he clarifies, gently, that he'd like to experiment with something more accessible, more deliberate than the patchwork of samples and underground tics they've been playing with, something more, to put it bluntly, radio-friendly. "It's finding that left-fieldness, but in some ways—I hate to say this—dumbing it down to a point where people can get it for a second."

Riggs has gotta dig through his stack for the right beats. "Today's generation? They need something different. It takes a lot to get their attention." In other words, if there were ever a time for a queer, disabled girl with a love for pot, rap, and revolution, it just might be now.

The next day, on the way to Kenny's Castaways, the Bleecker Street bar Wheelchair Sports Camp was chosen to play for CMJ, someone mentions Halloween. "I'm running out of midgets to be," Kalyn declares blithely. No one blinks. In 2010, she explains, Jennah dressed up as Dr. Evil, and Kalyn was Mini-Me; Jennah carried Kalyn in a tailored backpack strapped to her front. Over the years, they've been Yoda and Chewbacca, R2-D2 and C-3PO. Kalyn has also separately dressed up like Pebbles from The Flintstones, Chucky, the murderous doll from slasher-film series Child's Play, and Timmy Burch, the handicapped fourth-grader from South Park.

We arrive at the West Village venue two hours before sound check. "Wheelchair Sports Camp" is scrawled outside on the chalkboard, and Kalyn takes a photo. We settle in the back by the stage. Jennah unpacks T-shirts to sell. Eventually, the soundman arrives. Kalyn pulls out her equipment and suddenly realizes that she has forgotten an essential cord.

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