Image: Under The Gun
by Adrian Saenz
Homosexuality in hip-hop has long been taboo. Why aren’t there any mainstream gay rappers? Is mainstream hip-hop based on your sexuality and not your skill?
Hip-hop is typically seen as uber-masculine. It’s a male dominated industry with little room for femininity. There seems to be only room for the straight guy that’s down. But shouldn’t a musical genre and culture reflect the diversity of its audience?
Earlier this year, when Larry King asked popular rapper Wale if he thought a gay rapper would be accepted, the Maybach Music rapper responded positively, saying that “2015 is another world compared to 1995.” He also went on to say that it used to be taboo to be gay in hip-hop and now it’s taboo to speak badly against gays.
There are many others that support Wale’s inclusive views. Nicki Minaj, one of biggest rappers out now, male or female, has always had a big LGBT following. In 2011, a paparazzi videographer asked Minaj what she thought it would take for a LGBT hip-hop artist to go big. Her response? “I am a gay rapper, you got one.” While her comments could be seen as playful, even her willingness to engage the topic head-on shows a culture change.
A$AP Rocky, another rapper that resonates with youth today, in a sit-down with Interview magazine in 2013 addressed anti-gay sentiment in hip-hop when he said: “[O]ne big issue in hip-hop is the gay thing…it makes me upset that this topic even matters when it comes to hip-hop, because it makes it seem like everybody in hip-hop is small-minded or stupid—and that’s not the case. I treat everybody equal, and so I want to be sure that my listeners and my followers do the same if they’re gonna represent me.”
Atlanta’s Young Thug, one of the rising rappers of today, is pushing gender nonconformity into the mainstream of hip-hop. The lyricist is known for wearing woman’s clothing and using lingo like “babe” and “lover” to refer to his friends. Still, when pushed to self-identify Thug has never called himself queer or gay.
It’s important to remember that hip-hop started as a voice for the voiceless. Alonso Westbrook’s Hip-Hoptionary: The Dictionary of Hip-Hop Terminology defines hip-hop as the artistic response to oppression. In its inception in the 70’s, DJ Afrika Bambatta used the culture to unite warring gangs of black and brown young people in the Bronx as one unified crew. In the decades since, hip-hop has become a voice for young people to tell their stories on their terms. When you think about it, being LGBTQ in America right now is very hip-hop, it’s often seen as bucking against the established order.
So many artists are pushing back against the homophobic and chauvinistic thinking that dominated the culture just years ago and many more audience members, like me, are either members of the LGBT community themselves, are allies or simply don’t care either way. So, I still want to know: why are there still no openly gay rappers in hip-hop’s mainstream?
There’s plenty of queer MCs in the underground. I listen to artists like Cakes Da Killa and Kevin Jz Prodigy, both amazing rappers who happen to be queer. There are countless others like Mykki Blanco, Stose, Chapman, Big Freedia and many more. Maybe if more people reach out and support the LGBT artists who exist below the mainstream, the powers that be will take notice and finally give gay rappers the shine they have earned. Hip-hop is ready for a gay rapper.