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

It's 7 p.m. In less than 60 minutes, they're supposed to perform in New York City for the first time. This is, officially, the reason they've flown more than 1,800 miles, solicited more than a $1,000 in donations, paid for a room in New Jersey. "Oh, well, the show's canceled," Jennah jokes. No one laughs.

A frantic iPhone powwow ensues, everyone searching for a nearby Radio Shack. Kalyn and Jennah roll off an 11th-hour pilgrimage in a city where they don't live, to a street they've never been, to a retailer who might or might not be open, to find a cord that might or might not be in stock.

Abi and Isaac shrug. It's all they can do, really. "You'd think we'd be freaking out, like, 'Oh, my God! She lost a cord!'" Abi says, seated next to her brother in front of the sound booth. "But I feel like it's pretty typical."

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.

This is Kalyn's modus operandi. It isn't that she's scatterbrained; it's that she prefers grandiose thinking to the banality and boundaries of logistics. The definition of disability is limitation—and if a young woman who can't walk focused on practicality, she wouldn't be making vagina jokes in front of audiences, fronting a band, and flying by the seat of her child-size pants. Mechanics have failed her from the start—why let them dictate any other aspect of her life? Despite the occasional hiccup, this outlook has served her magnificently.

"It's weird to me, having been in so many other bands," Isaac says. His other longest-term projects were Whelk, a prog-rock trio that lasted about five years, and Lungs They Burn, a blues/experimental band formed with a college buddy and a rotating cast of bassists. "We really cared about little shit. Like, 'Make sure all your equipment's at the show! Show up to the show in time! Don't get in trouble!' That stuff Kalyn doesn't give much of a fuck about." Then again, none of his other bands ever played CMJ or SXSW. Lungs They Burn actually applied to both, but didn't make the cut. (Isaac actually spent six weeks earlier this year living in Brooklyn, trying to sell a novel he wrote, and scoping out his long-term prospects. But then SXSW happened and they met Riggs. "Add to that the whole mess with the arrest; it was a pretty easy decision to come back to Colorado and give WSC a real shot.")

"Like with this gig today," Abi says. "Last night, she was asking us if we would do [Public Enemy's] 'Fight the Power.' None of us have done it all together, she barely knows the words, and we're like, 'Not for CMJ.' Our gigs at home? All the sudden, we're doing a cover that we didn't even know about."

It's 7:22. "OK, now is when I get concerned," Abi says, shifting.

It's 7:25. Still no sign of Kalyn. The room is otherwise empty.

It's 7:28. Tick . . . tick.

It's 7:29. Kalyn and Jennah roll in, hooting. "We got it!"

It's 8 p.m. Kalyn begins the set with the beatboxed blues number, "Harmonica Jones." At first, besides the Voice, there's only one other girl seated in the room and snapping along. Kalyn, outfitted in a "FREE MUMIA ABU-JAMAL" tee underneath a Boy Scout uniform shirt, barely notices—she's laser-focused on her laptop. A male companion comes with beers to join the woman in the back.

They blow through "Cans" from WSC's 2010 release Mainstream Cannot Spearhead Change, a smooth-jazz soul-hop song in which Kalyn turns the short-man chorus of 1995 Skee-Lo hit "I Wish" into a personal queer jam: "I wish I was a little bit taller/I wish I was a baller/I wish I had a girl/Oh, I do/I should call her." They do the J. Dilla–driven "Cold Steel," in which she twists Big Pun's "You Ain't A Killer" into a self-referential nod ("I ain't a killa tho/I'm still learning how to walk") and "Party Song," a wiggly groove anthem that samples Notorious B.I.G.'s "Party & Bullshit" and functions as Kalyn's unofficial mission statement ("The party starts when I arrive") and beckons "Rock with the midget."

Over the course of their 45-minute set, bemused gawkers in the front of Kenny's drift back curiously but apprehensively—like cats sniffing out a new kitten. At the 37-minute mark, a couple starts dancing wildly stage right. When Kalyn introduces "Still Night," a track about graffiti, the self-professed trash-talker gets a little sentimental. "We've traveled 1,800 billion light-years to be here," she proclaims. "I love New York. So fucking much. Because it's where graffiti started. And it's where hip-hop started. And it's where everything great started. We're really honored to be here."

A guy in the back of the bar keeps standing up between tunes and serenading Kalyn with a standing ovation. "You don't have to stand up," she insists. He claps even louder. "Thank you. I appreciate it." He's still standing. "OK, now you're just rubbing it in. That I can't stand up." He sits down quickly.

"I'm so rude," Kalyn says, somewhat proudly.

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