Kevin Aviance is no stranger to the limelight. The dance-music diva’s “Din Da Da” and “Cunty” have become standards in the ballroom world; he’s worked with Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, and appeared in a Madonna music video; and he’s been written about by scholars like José Estaban Muñoz, who, in his book Cruising Utopia, called Aviance “something of a deity in the cosmology of gay nightlife,” and “a beacon that displays and channels worlds of queer pain and pleasure.” Well, now Aviance has one more thing to add to his illustrious resume: Beyoncé has sampled him.
Bey’s “Pure/Honey,” off her new album Renaissance, includes a snippet of his track “Cunty,” alongside samples by ballroom DJ Mikeq and “Miss Honey,” by Aviance’s late friend Moi Renee. To hear him tell it, “Pure/Honey” is a song that builds on what Aviance does best — create music for the Black queer community. In an interview with Vulture, Aviance says Beyoncé is not “experimenting” with ballroom, she’s serving.
How did you hear about the sample to begin with?
Someone sent me a track listing.
You didn’t know before the credits came out?
No, I did not.
Do you own the mastering to the song?
That I can’t talk about right now.
So what was your response then, when you saw you were credited on a Beyoncé song?
I didn’t understand it. My friend Nita Aviance sent it to me and I was like, “What is this?” And she goes, “Girl, you’re on track 15. That’s your sample.” I said “For who?” She goes, “Beyoncé, queen.” I said, “Girl, stop messing with me, okay.” I just didn’t want to hear it. And then the phone started going crazy, and I was like, What is going on?
What was your response when you finally heard the song?
Overwhelmed. I was crying. Listen, it’s like someone heard me. That’s the only way I can explain it.
So what do you think of the song itself, “Pure/Honey”?
I love it. I love how it has this fun thing in the beginning of it. She’s setting things up with the “Cunty, cunty, honey.” Now, she’s Beyoncé, you know what I mean? Her vocals are incredible. And my girlfriend’s on the end of it, who’s no longer with us, Moi Renee, who I knew very personally. I looked up to the queen so much. I just knew she would be like, “You’re in the beginning, and I’m at the end, and that’s the way it should be.” I can see her. I can see her face right now. She would’ve been so happy to be here for this moment.
It is a love letter. It’s a love letter to my community, the Black gay community. And the gay community too, but I’m not going to be pussyfooting. I’m trying not to call people out or anything like that. All I’m saying is that it’s a bit different [being] Black and gay in America. When someone like Beyoncé [sees you] … it’s incredible. There’s so many kids that have a hard time. I’m very lucky. I have a beautiful mom, a beautiful dad, and they love me, I love them. But there are a lot of kids who don’t have that and are kicked out of their homes. So if someone like Beyoncé can make their day better because she is embracing all of that and a bag of chips, Miss Thing, and just carrying and looking ovuh and amazing, very confident about it and not wish-washing, then that’s beautiful.
How does it feel to have “Cunty,” specifically, which was one of your earliest tracks, brought into the modern era?
Well, it never left me. I still perform it to this day. I’m going to perform it tonight actually. For the new people that are just listening to this: It’s not what you think it’s about. It’s not about that. And so don’t take it there. Ask your questions and make sure you know exactly what it’s about.
So, what is “Cunty” about?
“Cunty” is about an anointment. It’s about an expression of feeling. It’s a verb, it’s a noun, it’s an expression. When someone says Oh, she’s cunty, she’s something that you have never really seen before. Back in the day, I called everybody “she.” And it’s she, the song, “Cunty.”
It’s about feeling like a daisy, feeling like a lily, feeling like a rose, feeling like an orchid. Those are beautiful flowers, but the orchid, honey, that is like hello. And when you feel like an orchid, darling, you have just had some water, you’re thin, you’re gorgeous, and your flower is absolutely pressed.
Have you been reminiscing on the origin of “Cunty” at all since this news broke?
Yeah, I have been. It was amazing. We were in my friend’s apartment, Jerel Black, who’s the other producer. He wrote the music, and then I brought the lyrics. I was in his kitchen when we recorded it.
The track has been re-interpreted before, and has been remixed by people like DJ Mikeq, who’s actually on “Pure/Honey” with you. What’s different about Beyoncé’s version?
Well, first of all, they use my vocal performance. Usually they just use the one part of it — “cun-ty.” But they use I think three different ones; it is not the same “cunty.” It doesn’t just repeat, it crescendos. It’s a statement. When she does it, it sets up the song. It gives you the bass, the foundation of what the song is about, and that’s what I live for. It’s like Work, bitch. And then she uses another one, where she’s like “feeling the ’mones.” And that’s exactly what it’s about. Feeling those ’mones, feeling those hormones inside of you.
How much does it mean to you to see a ballroom song having a mainstream moment?
Before, when Madonna was doing the voguing and everything, it was good, don’t get me wrong, it was really beautiful. I loved it and everything was great, but it wasn’t a good representation of what ballroom was about, of where it came from. We were also dealing with people dying [during the height of AIDS crisis]. It was really kind of a rough time.
Now, with what ballroom is today, you have to understand something. It’s different when somebody tries to steal something. I am so lucky because they’ve accepted two of my songs to be ballroom classics. That was not the plan at all. “Cunty” was used for femme vogue, and “Din Da Da” was used for hand performance. So I have two songs that are classic mainstays. That was one of my first joys of life, to have those songs inducted into the ballroom world. I got chopped at the balls! Those songs mean everything to me. I’m part of something that people may not know of, but it means everything to me.
As you said, your friend, the queer nightlife legend Moi Renee, was also sampled on “Pure/Honey.” What’s it like appearing on this track with her?
Moi Renee worked with Junior Vasquez too. And she was fierce. This bitch, when I tell you, she walked down the street and she would make her outfits as she went. She used to come into the club with an umbrella, as if it was raining in the club. She would walk around all night long with an umbrella. When The World opened up, she performed with a globe in her hand. I was gagging for her. Gagging. She would go “I have the world in the palm of my hand!” And then she would go, “And now you!” and she threw it out into the audience. Then they threw it back at her and she went “And I still have the world in the palm of my hand!”
Then, when she did “Miss Honey,” that was before my song. I remember thinking a bitch track is it. I looked up to her. For her to be on that track with me is just beautiful. It’s perfect.
What do you hope that people take away from “Pure/Honey”?
If anybody is like me, they’re gonna go research and find out exactly who’s singing and what’s going on with the song. Once you do that research, you’ll find me, you’ll find Mikeq, you’ll find Moi Renee, and you’ll find our whole world. You will see how much beauty and incredible talent is in this world. There’s a whole section of beautiful ethnic kids that are turning it out. They are great entertainers. You’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain from it. You’ll get to see my new single called “I’m Back.” If I can touch somebody that’s like me out in the boonies and make them feel safe? Then my job is done, honey.
This interview has been edited and condensed.