As of this writing, Fifty Grand's Twitter profile pic is a cartoon rendering of a giant, snaggle-toothed blade. The music of the Connecticut-born, Hollywood-based producer, aka Elliott Onofrio, has a similarly hair-raising quality, contrasting eerie piano flourishes and churchly choir swells with trap's bowel-shaking boom-bap. Its horror movie-like extremes have made Fifty Grand something of a cult favorite among the millennial SoundCloud producer set, earning him hundreds of thousands of plays as well as membership with Team Sesh, the collective/label helmed by the equally sinister-sounding Los Angeles rapper Bones.
The emotional turbulence of Fifty Grand's music has something of a foundation in real life, as is often the case. Until the summer of 2014, Elliott Onofrio was known by his friends, family, and fans as Emily, although he says he knew he wasn't a female from a very early age. Here, Onofrio speaks candidly about life as a trans man, and why he feels it's so important for him to do so.
ELLIOTT ONOFRIO: I am a survivor. Because I have survived, I look at my face in the small mirror above my steering wheel each morning before I drive to work, when the light is harsh and leaves nothing to the imagination.
There are about 10 small hairs on my chin now. They are not yet coarse, but one month ago, they did not exist. I am a 23-year-old male, and I am fiercely monitoring my very first traces of facial hair.
In my car, I also sing. Lately, it feels as though a small serpent is coiled around my larynx, constricting the muscle as I reach for the high notes. When I laugh, I imagine I sound something like your preteen brother, fluxing in and out of the soft voice I'm ashamed of and the deepness I once coveted in secrecy. Since I'm a musician, my vocal range was perhaps my earliest consideration when I took the steps to transition from female to male, beginning months of gender therapy before finally getting the green light for the testosterone shots I will now receive for the rest of my life.
"After years of sporadic depression and anger, I began to chip away at the artificial exterior society helped me build: a false appearance, a false gender identity, a false sense of self."
After years of sporadic depression and anger, I began to chip away at the artificial exterior society helped me build: a false appearance, a false gender identity, a false sense of self. The deeper I went, the worse I felt, until I stopped being able to look in the mirror. But the more I chipped away, the more my path became obvious. I knew I had two choices: I could die, or I could start taking hormones, aligning my body and my mind for the first time.
Once or twice I've seen people take to Twitter to discuss me. Generally it starts with, "Is Fifty Grand a boy or a girl?," followed by something along the lines of, "She/he wanted to be a he, so she/he got surgery, and now it's a he." This is what comes with being a member of what is perhaps the most overlooked group in the realm of LGBTQ. We sometimes find that our lives are reduced to what's between our legs, our humanity minimized by pronouns like "it," words the English language uses to describe inanimate objects. Sometimes it seems that society focuses on the genitalia of transgender people more than we do, limiting our experiences to what they think is true of transition—that surgery is the be all and end all. Though it is only one facet of the physical transition, I wouldn't expect many people to know that. I've realized that without my help, the music scene I call my home will probably never understand. It has to start with me.
Here's the thing: I am not a woman. And although I was assigned female at birth, the essence of my soul will never align with that. No outside source can deny me the fundamental human right to define myself, though for many of us, it is a struggle to simply be. I am reminded of this every day as I turn off my street onto Melrose Avenue. Last week, less than a mile away, a trans woman was shot in the head in what police refer to as a "botched robbery," even though security footage shows the killers taunting and harassing her before gunning her down at close range. That woman's voice was stolen from her, and in that void, it is my responsibility to call out loudly and show people that we are here.
My singing voice is currently unreliable. I'm supposed to write a song with Bones for a show we're doing soon, but I'm not sure my vocals will sound the same as they do now. That said, I believe my voice as a trans man is about to crescendo. I am lucky to have come this far, and I am lucky to have a voice, and I'm lucky that there is still time to change the world. A study from 2014 reports that a staggering 41% of transgender Americans have attempted to take their own lives. My journey has been long, but it still feels like the beginning. Even on my darkest mornings, there are 10 small hairs on my chin. In a few months, there will be more. I am lucky and alive.