Pop Culture

Meet the Ballroom Legend Who Became the MVP of Beyoncé’s Renaissance Tour

Beyoncé described Kevin JZ Prodigy as the “heartbeat” of her world tour. Here, the artist talks about bringing his influence to the masses via Renaissance.

Meet the Ballroom Legend Who Became the MVP of Beyonc's Renaissance Tour

Photographs: Getty Images; Collage: Gabe Conte

About midway through the Renaissance World Tour show, Philly ballroom commentator and artist Kevin JZ Prodigy reintroduces Beyoncé during a robotic rebirth sequence: “Everyone! Welcome to Mother’s Mind!” Throughout the tour, Beyoncé has been jubilant and braggadocious, and Kevin’s contribution to the show has been a major factor. Not only is he the narrator but also, according to Beyoncé herself, the “heartbeat” of the world tour—guiding Queen Bey and millions of stadium attendees through a thrillingly maximalist show.

Though he has just been thrust into the mainstream, ask anyone in the ballroom scene, and they’ll tell you that Kevin is a legend. He stumbled upon the craft by accident. Accompanying some friends to the club in 1997, Kevin became enamored with three iconic voguers: Aamina, Dee Dee, and Niambi. His friends Dennis and Lloyd introduced him to Aamina and all three taught him to vogue. Kevin eventually found a support system in the House of Movado, a premier ballroom collective in Philadelphia, where he became the force he is now.

“Nobody had a sound like him—that is like a lion roaring,” Alvernian Prestige Du’Mure, president of the Philadelphia Ballroom Alliance, told the Philadelphia Inquirer about Kevin. He has performed at balls across the world. Recently, BET tapped him for a live segment at the 2022 Awards show, and Mugler requested his vocal presence for a runways show and 2022 campaign starring Chloë Sevigny, Adut Akech, Megan Thee Stallion, and Bella Hadid, among others.

At a time when queer people are constantly under attack, both from the government and in the real world, Kevin has provided much-needed respite through his oration. He’s been releasing live and studio recordings of his chants via YouTube and DK Records for the past couple of decades, but his digital reach catapulted these past few years. TikTokers have been eating up viral snippets from his frenetic tracks “Here comes the Hurricane Legendary Katrina” (feat. Legendary Katrina Ebony), “This is What I Wanna See,” and “Bam Bam Shawam.” His RWT tour interludes are no exception, becoming the official soundtrack for robots everywhere. The Beyhive is now demanding a live version of the Renaissance album, featuring Kevin whose addictive lyrics are already featured throughout “Pure/Honey.”

Kevin spoke to GQ about the language of cunt, performing at the Atlanta tour show, and his tribute to his late friend O’Shae Sibley—a 28-year-old Black gay man who was tragically murdered by bigots this July for voguing to Renaissance with some friends— ahead of commenting at the inaugural Equality Ball hosted by Beyoncé’s foundation, BeyGOOD.

GQ: Where were you when you found out you were on the album?

Kevin JZ Prodigy: Her people reached out. I said give [the sample] to her. Fuck that! That’s Beyoncé. You don’t tell Beyoncé no. Yous a fool!

During one of the tour interludes you say something like “There’s no right way. There’s no wrong way. There’s the Renaissance Way.” How would you define the Renaissance Way?

The Renaissance Way is a movement. It is coming into your own. It’s about acceptance. You be yourself. You go out there and you be unapologetic to whatever it is that you want to do, you know. Look at the people on the tour. There are so many different people from so many different backgrounds, walks of life, all shapes, sizes, colors, avenues, styles, looks, and they’re beautiful. They are wonderful and she brought that to life to show the people that she is aware of who her fans are. Beyoncé is very aware. She’s a businesswoman. She’s a mother, she’s a friend, she’s a sister, she’s an aunt. People need to understand that she works hard.

What was it like to perform live with her in Atlanta?

It was out of this world. Words can’t describe performing next to such a monumental artist like her. Beyoncé is music. The show was Michael Jackson-level. For us who experienced the rise of Janet and Madonna, Beyoncé is a continuation of that legacy. God gave her this incredible gift so that she could share it with us.

I saw that you met her mother and Michelle [Williams].

Baby, her mother is a breath of fresh air. Tina Knowles is extremely beautiful. Michelle Williams makes you feel good. She just has this calming energy around her. I can’t wait to meet Kelly. Jay-Z is cool as hell. I met Jermaine Dupri. I met Kandi Burruss. When I met Jermaine Dupri, I was like, [deepening voice] “Yo, you.” I got a dap from Jay-Z. I was like, [deepening voice] “Yo, what’s up?” Parkwood made me feel at home.

I’m sure meeting Madonna was also a cathartic and emotional moment.

Madonna has been a part of my life since I was a child. I’ve loved Madonna since I first seen her go “strike a pose.” It’s emotional when I talk about Madonna and Janet. I love those women so much to the point where I have to thank them. When I met Madonna and told her how I felt, I burst into tears because she has gotten me out of some of the darkest places in my life. I listen to [her and Janet] when I’m sad or when I feel like I can’t do it no more. They both saved me.

In one of your songs, “I’m a Woman,” you ask, “Do you understand the language of Cunt?” That word has been all over the place lately. In the past, it’s been kind of a controversial term, but artists like you have helped popularize it amongst people who would usually clutch their pearls at that word.

Cunt is a feeling, cunt is a mood, cunt is not a read. If you feel cunt, you feel soft, you feel feminine. You feel really good. I feel cunt right now. Do you feel cunt?

I’m gonna be real with you, I’m looking kinda raggedy right now, but I always feel cunt when I hear your voice on the intro of “Pure/Honey.”

Cunt to the feminine, what! Exactly. You have to feel it. You feel cunt walking into your place. You work, you feel cunt with it. But bring the cunt! It’s an embodiment. It’s a formula. Kevin Aviance started that, and I took and ran with it.

What was it like to see the show live with Kevin Aviance in Philadelphia, your hometown? I saw a video of a really tender moment of you two hugging.

It was everything. Kevin is as crazy as I am. Because we are here, they see us, we’re visual. We’ve lived through so much and now we’re here with artists like Beyoncé, it’s like what more could you ask for? And I went up to him, “I said yes bitch, we’re here!” And he was like, “Cunt. I’m Cunt to the feminine what!” We got to own it and I’m here to own it. I ain’t scared of shit.

You’ve brought ballroom to millions of people.

You can find a connection from my voice because I mean it. Because I mean it and it comes from the heart. And it’s fun to watch, but when you hear me, you know I mean it, you can feel it.

I really loved your song to commemorate O’Shea Sibley. I thought it was very touching and such a great tribute.

He was like a little brother to me, we just talked, we vogued. It was a regular friendship. It was so easy to make the song because I was already hurt. I had funerals. I used to hang with him constantly. It’s hard to talk about, but he’s wonderful, and making a song is absolute, it’s a piece of cake to me. I have so many rhythms and rhymes in my head, but when it came to him, I just needed to do it. I’m actually making an album right now, but I don’t know when it’s coming out.

You’ve become an inspiring figurehead to a lot of Queer people like me. What would you say to young Queer people who are coming into their own in such a tumultuous time?

Fight back. Don’t be scared. Fight back with all you have and don’t let them shut you down. I used to be afraid, but you attack me, you getting attacked back and I’m coming with it. Fight back, fight smart. Do something, but just know there is a time and place for everything, but just—you’ll know when—but stand up for yourself.

I’m so looking forward to your new album and, I know you said not too much about Beyoncé, but I hope to see you in the visuals whenever they come out.

Baby, you better leave Beyoncé alone. I’m a very protective person. I don’t want her to cuss me out.

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