This is one of the most unique stories I’ve heard on how sports and hip hop have collided together to influence someone’s life. Kalyn Heffernan is a woman, disabled and a lesbian. She’s the leader of a Denver, Colorado based group called Wheelchair Sports Camp. “There was always something about hip hop that I just couldn’t shy away from. I do my music because I’m passionate about it enough that it’s all I can see myself doing,” says Heffernan.
As any fan knows, hip hop can be homophobic, but in my opinion for Heffernan to also be disabled and choose hip hop as a means to express herself is brave. She could face extreme backlash. Despite the risk, Heffernan has no qualms about either and in this article seemingly embraces both as badges of honor. “I can honestly say I’m treated with respect for the most part.”
Peep her story. – Nicole Allen
Kalyn Heffernan is emcee of one of Denver’s hottest rising hip-hop groups, Wheelchair Sports Camp. She deftly writes politically charged raps as well as fun party jams over cool, jazzy beats filled with piano keys and horn blasts with a flow and wordplay that is all her own.
Heffernan is a female rapper and a lesbian in a genre that has been historically dominated by males. She is bringing a fresh voice to modern hip-hop as she raps frankly about social change, politics and having a disability as part of the band Wheelchair Sports Camp with sax player Abi Miller and drummer Isaac Miller.
Heffernan recently chatted with The Huffington Post to talk about her path to arriving at hip-hop, involvement with Occupy Denver and life in Mile High City.
How long have you been in Denver?
I was born here in Denver, but my dad is a union ironworker. So there was more work for him in Los Angeles at the time, and my mom is originally from L.A. so we moved when I was only 6 months old. We lived in Burbank until we came back to Denver when I was about 9 years old. Denver was always home, and the L.A. lifestyle was getting the best of my mom, so we had to change it up.
What got you into hip-hop?
The only thing I’m good at is hip-hop, but luckily I have a pair of siblings in my band [Abi and Isaac] who know a whole lot more about musicianship across the board. I started performing [when I was] around 7 years old when I did a talent show and played TLC’s “Waterfalls.” I didn’t start writing my own rhymes until I was 12; it was for another talent show at school. From there I messed around until I started making my own beats in high school and then finally got to college with a much better view on things, switched my mainstream gears and started digging in the classics.
What inspired the name Wheelchair Sports Camp?
Well, after moving back from Burbank, I was invited to attend a free, weeklong Rocky Mountain Junior Wheelchair Sports Camp for kids ages 6 to 18. I went for years and would always bring a big group of my able-bodied friends to “volunteer.” We were always too cool for school and would just run amok with all the rebels of the camp. Instead of going to get in trouble, I decided I would stop being a camper and just volunteer as soon as I could drive.
I’ve been volunteering as a peer counselor on the tennis courts since. I don’t think I’ve missed a year. It’s a really great camp that’s all nonprofit and is celebrating its 29th anniversary in 2012. They bus in kids from all across the city, provide lunch and have medical staff and volunteers galore. There’s usually a good few hundred wheelchair kids in attendance and so many of them look forward to it all year starting the day after camp ends.
The name was perfect and we ran, rolled with it.
What got you first turned on to hip-hop?