Featuring a group of nearly naked dancers getting wet and soapy at a car wash, the video for Big Dipper’s new rap single “Lookin” might not sound unusual—until you understand that all the dancers are men. And not just any men. “They’re big fat dudes,” said the rapper, whose real name is Dan Stermer. And he’s one of them, dancing in skimpy shorts before stripping down to a leopard-print thong, baring his hairy chest and back for the world to see.
He describes “Lookin”—the first single off his debut album Late Bloomer, due later this summer on his own label, Jelly Records—as a “body-positive anthem,” with lyrics like: “jiggle, jiggle, it’s a party in the middle.”
“I’m chubby, I have a belly. Sometimes I call myself thick, sometimes I call myself fat,” said Stermer. “But I know what my body looks like.” That only makes it more important for him to show a lot of skin, he says: “At my live shows, I start fully clothed and strip all the way down to a jockstrap. That’s part of my identity as a performer. It’s important for an audience to see all types of bodies.”
Stermer identifies as a bear, part of a community for big, hairy gay men and their admirers. In his early 20s, he recalled, “I never knew where I stood [in the gay scene] until I looked around and realized that not only did a certain group of people find me attractive, but the feeling was mutual, and that was the bear community. I was able to find a place where I felt confident and sexy and comfortable, and that was reflected back to me.”
But his look, he admits, makes him unusual among rappers. “I’m a white, gay, chubby, Jewish bear,” he said. “That doesn’t scream ‘rapper.’”
Stermer, 33, grew up in Evanston, Illinois. His parents—a Jewish mother and a Christian father—raised him in a Jewish household and sent him to Sunday school at a Reform temple. But he’d leave after the first hour of religious education, missing the Hebrew language lessons that came in the second hour. “When it came time for my peers to study for their bar and bat mitzvahs, I said, ‘Wait, I’m not doing that? I want to do that!’” So he hired a private Hebrew tutor and had his bar mitzvah in eighth grade, a year after his classmates. (“I’ve been a late bloomer all my life,” he said, explaining where he got his album title.) Then he devoted more time to his Jewish studies, getting confirmed in 10th grade, and continuing to take classes at his synagogue through his senior year of high school. “The last two years I took art classes and did cool art projects based on stories from the Torah,” he said.
He’d gotten a taste for performing from the time he played the lion in The Wizard of Oz at a children’s theater when he was 8 or 9. He tried his hand at a string of musical instruments—cello, piano, trumpet, tuba, drums—but soon realized he preferred being in plays. “That stuff got me attention and reaction. If you’re in the concert band and you play trumpet in the fourth row, what is that?”
Stermer had grown up listening to hip hop and had always been a fan of rap, writing “little raps” when he was about 9 years old. “I always knew I wanted to write like that, but I never had an opportunity,” he said. “It took me a long time to look at music as a viable option of expression.” He didn’t write his first song until he was 25 or 26—again, a late bloomer.
Adopting the name Big Dipper (“it’s a constellation that is part of Ursa Major, the big bear in the sky”), he debuted with “Drip Drop,” a fairly filthy parody of a Disney-type song about cruising for sex. (“You in the corner, doe eyes like Bambi/you can call me Thumper/let’s start with a handy”) It was supposed to be a one-off, but instead he started performing in clubs and continued writing songs and releasing videos, known for their frank sexuality and tongue-in-cheek humor. (Think of SNL’s Lonely Island but queer and X-rated.) There was the playful “Summertime Realness,” the sillier “LaCroix Boi,” and the racy “Skank,” whose video pays brief homage to Lonely Island’s “Dick in a Box.” Then there was “Meat Quotient,” whose video opens with two bears in drag playing Joyce and Judy Rosenblatt, who send Big Dipper to the butcher to pick up a brisket—and then things get dirty. (In one of the song’s non-X-rated moments, he raps: “did I mention I’m a pig?/need a spit and a roaster/when it comes to circumcision, you know I keeps it kosher.”)
Sex continues to be a recurring theme on his forthcoming album. He raps about oral sex as a political act in “Cut Up” and jokes about fisting in “Pressed,” while his track called “That Nut” is about exactly what you think it’s about. Even in a year when gay performers like Troye Sivan and Fischerspooner have been forthright about queer sex in their music, Big Dipper stands out for his explicitness.
But Stermer bristles at the notion that his music is “raunchy.”
“Rap music has always been raunchy,” he said. “The moment I do it in a funny, interesting, creative way—and it’s gay—everyone says, ‘You’re so raunchy!’ Look, I’m not a mainstream artist. We already know I’m not performing at the Super Bowl, so I might as well just say what I want to say.”
In addition to his music, Stermer also co-hosts a podcast called Unbearable, about the bear community. (His co-host is Meatball, “a drag queen who’s also a bear.”) On one episode last December, the hosts did a live Hanukkah show, where Stermer made latkes from scratch for the mostly non-Jewish audience, and then rapped about being Jewish in a parody of the Run-DMC track “It’s Tricky.” (“We eat bagels, dill pickles, and hamantaschen/rabbis lead the congregation, ain’t nobody stop ’em.”)
The L.A.-based performer has a string of club dates lined up this summer, with the lead single and video for “Lookin” out in time for Pride—a word he takes seriously. “Pride is no longer about putting a TD Ameritrade float in the parade,” said Stermer. “Pride is how I live my life every day. It’s about visibility and being true to yourself and not apologizing to the world. That’s the mission statement with most of my creative output. Pride is about celebrating that.”
Wayne Hoffman is executive editor of Tablet Magazine.