Queer Rap: Power in Intersectional Identities
Rooted in hyper masculinity, male dominance and a heteronormative sensibility, rap music does not exactly greet the LGBT community with open arms. Boasting a “no homo” attitude and tough exterior to boot, it is not uncommon to be completely unaware that queer rappers even exist. The discourse around the topic was addressed when rapper and honorary Kardashian Kanye West sounded off on the issue of gayness in hip-hop arguing, “Matter of fact, the exact opposite word of hip-hop, I think is gay.”
However, in the past year there has been an emergence of queer rappers into the mainstream, helping raise the question if queerness can be a part of the rap genre and to what extent. Whether it be Cakes Da Killa with NYLON, Mykki Blanco with MTV or even the release of Le1f’s underrated “Riot Boi,” these queer artists have become more visible in the music industry. As society becomes increasingly more comfortable with formerly taboo subjects and more understanding of LGBT issues and rights, it provides the opportunity for these artists who were once considered “underground” to have mainstream success.
At first glance these queer artists follow a similar formula of major rappers—showcasing their proficiency in wordplay and embodying a certain degree of cockiness to prove they can stand strong up against their straight counterparts. Yet any nod to “down low culture,” celebration of queerness or practicing a vibrant homosexuality lifestyle sets them apart from the rest. While rap typically nests itself in a heteronormative lens, queer artists introduce new narratives and varying identities into the conversation that creates the ability to innovate and transform discourse around rap and hip-hop in a pivotal time in understanding of LGBT+ rights and Black rights.
Understanding that queer rappers present a challenge and disruption to the discourse around rap music, it only makes it so much more delicious when visual and auditory elements work in tandem to display themes uncommon to the everyday eye. Mykki Blanco, an American rapper, performance artist, poet and activist tells the tale of a non-linear Romeo and Juliet-style story in which race, gender and sexuality are tied into a complicated narrative that is easily relatable in it’s nature.
Mykki’s “High School Never Ends” offers a softer, pop-ier, more accessible version of rap, but innately rap and hip-hop as genres are often bold, showy and immodest—giving a voice that is aware of it’s own embellishments in a quest to amplify confidence and give hope for better days. Statistically, the black population is significantly less likely to seek mental health services, making rap music an important alternative to therapy. It could be argued that these rappers use their confidant wordplay and aggressive attitude to act as a guise for a pain that stems from a stinging intersectional identity. For instance, acknowledging the racism in the gay community, rapper Le1f pauses from highlighting his attributes and success to air out the grief and struggles stemming from the blatant racism he faces both by society and the gay community in “Taxi,” highlighting how he has experienced being invisible due to the color of his skin both in the streets and in the gay community.
Not allowing any hate to influence their state of mind, these artists flip the script with personal empowerment as a clap back to the voices and opinions who may ridicule. Even if you can’t identify with the themes of this genre, it is easy to fall into a tough trance where the mood and beats transport the listener to world of realization and empowerment.