The Start of the Queer Legacy in Hip-Hop

The evolution of a historically homophobic genre

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Trigger warning: This article makes references to violence against the LGBTQIA+ community and contains sexually explicit language.

For a music genre most commonly regarded as the least LGBTQIA+ friendly, mainstream and underground hip-hop is making a progressive shift in its subculture by accepting the LGBTQIA+ community. This change is making it easier for young Black artists to find a safe space in their community without having to conform to the hypermasculinity plaguing (mostly male) artists’ tracks.

Illustration by Lizzy Choi

Most of the current acceptance and representation of the LGBTQIA+ community can be attributed to Frank Ocean, who in 2012 came out as bisexual through an open letter on Tumblr detailing the love he had for another man when Ocean was 19. Although Ocean’s coming out wasn’t the only factor to the increase of LGBTQIA+ representation, gay rappers have since become more comfortable expressing and embracing their sexuality in their music.

Rapper Kevin Abstract of the boy band Brockhampton, for example, cited Frank Ocean as one of his inspirations, an influence that can be seen in his sophomore album, “American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story.” “American Boyfriend” is a concept album about Abstract’s personal boyhood, growing up homosexual and finding solidarity in a world filled with hate.

Beside openly gay male rappers, artists like “dirty rap” superstar CupcakKe push boundaries with unapologetically graphic language in their music, offering intensely sexual wordplay like, “Come get you a sample, lick between the camel / Pussy taste sweet ‘cause I ate my pineapple.” By using such playful yet sexually explicit lyrics, CupcakKe rejects typical male hypermasculinity found in rap music and invites hip-hop listeners
to rethink gender roles and male dominance they’ve grown accustomed to. Despite being borderline obscene, these artists never seek to hurt or offend but rather seek to empower an oppressed demographic within hip-hop.

Unfortunately, homophobia is still present in modern hip-hop. On his latest album, “Issa,” 21 Savage drops a few offensive rhymes about his discomfort with homosexuality. On its biggest hit to date, “Bad and Boujee,” Migos, specifically Quavo, doubles down on the offensive language by including sexist and discriminatory lyrics, usually toward lesbian women.

This type of explicit bigotry isn’t exclusive to artists’ studio projects either. When Chief Keef performed at The Catalyst last October, he described his distaste for the current era of new school hip-hop in a rant during the middle of his concert. Although a majority of his anger targeted new school rappers’ colorful hair styles, the Chicago rapper found it necessary to fire obscenities into a crowded venue, including shouting the (other) f-word multiple times.

This is still an improvement in relation to the violent homophobia from hip-hop’s past, particularly in 90s hardcore rap. Since a majority of the appeal behind hardcore rap was based on obtaining street credibility in the Black social hierarchy of the time, anyone who didn’t overtly present their masculinity was unfortunately attacked.

The track “Stay Out of Bars” by East Coast rapper GZA details his anger when talking to a transgender woman at a bar. The song ultimately ends with its protagonist shooting her to death with a nine millimeter handgun. This intolerance of LGBTQIA+ folks can be attributed to a lack of understanding of queerness, which is associated with an absence of queer presence in rap.

Although not exclusive to the hip-hop scene, there hasn’t been much gender diversity outside the typical binary. Pansexual and agender rapper Angel Haze is not only an exception to this rule, they actively speak out about their mission for queer representation, commenting on how queer acceptance led to their current evolution. Following the foundation laid out by traditional queer theory, the Detroit rapper believes accepting queerness equates to a more loving society.

I’m glad there’s an actual [person] of color representing queerness and pansexuality, someone […] like me in the spotlight. You don’t want to have so many goddamned people who are exactly the same that people who are inherently different aren’t connected to anything,” Haze said in an interview with Out Magazine.

Fortunately, there is a dedicated group within hip-hop striving for the same values Haze shares. Like Haze, other LGBTQIA+ artists like Cakes da Killa, iLoveMakonnen and Big Freedia aim to not only advocate for queerness but they also aspire to make hip- hop a more welcoming environment for all. Even with many of the problematic aspects of current hip-hop, the mere presence of LGBTQIA+ artists in the mainstream hivemind is cause for continual motivation for a more inclusive genre

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