LGBTQ+ Artists Are Changing Hip-Hop: Frank Ocean, Young M.A, & More
The LGBTQ+ community has a history of being poorly represented in mainstream hip-hop but, alas, things are changing. There are so many artists that are making it their personal goal to create change in the world, to make things easier for the generations that are to come.
When it comes to LGBTQ+ representation in the hip-hop community, there still isn't a large number of artists that publicly identify as gay, lesbian, trans, or anything other than cis and heterosexual. A large portion of rap listeners, and the artists themselves, have been raised to be "alpha," and often, if sexuality strays away from the preconceived notion of what is "normal," it's seen as a weakness. If a rapper comes out as gay, bisexual, pansexual, lesbian, or anything other than heterosexual, they may find themselves boxed in, in a way they did not intend for. These artists are seen as people who will exclusively discuss the rights of LGBTQ+ folks in their music but that assumption is simply not true.
Just like a street rapper will move away from the most menacing topics sometimes, and just like a lyrical rapper like J. Cole will mess around with the effects of auto-tune from time to time, rappers that identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community explore a range of themes in their music. We've compiled a list of LGBTQ+ talent that is essentially shaping the way we look at hip-hop today and building a better tomorrow for the next batch of talented, young up-and-comers.
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Kevin Abstract & Brockhampton
America's self-proclaimed favorite boyband is a collective of artists that call themselves Brockhampton. The group is queer-inclusive and led by Kevin Abstract, an openly gay rapper. Abstract has been hammering away at glass ceilings for a minute and as a black man who also identifies as gay, he's had to deal with double the obstacles along the way. He and several others in Brockhampton are some of the first people that come to mind when you think of LGBTQ+ representation in hip-hop. Not every member of the group identifies as queer, and it certainly isn't a must to be initiated into the band, but they do not hold people back because of who they fall in love with.
Complex might have said it best when they wrote that Brockhampton incites moshpits through their raps about being gay. In their group efforts and through Kevin Abstract's recent work on ARIZONA BABY, their ties to the LGBTQ+ community are pretty obvious. They are proud to be who they are and they won't filter themselves, or their sexual preferences, for anybody.
One of the qualities we love the most about Young M.A is her brash confidence. The openly lesbian rapper doesn't feel a need to explain herself to anybody. She refuses to label herself and it's that kind of attitude that has helped her create a career outside of the LGBTQ+ niche. With hits like "PettyWap" and "OOOUUU," M.A has been extremely successful thus far in her career. During an interview with The Guardian, the rapper said that she prefers to speak about her sexuality in her music but even still, nothing is forced. "I talk about a girl giving me head, I talk about giving her head," she said. "But I don’t say ‘I’m gay, I’m gay, I’m gay!’ I don’t like doing that. I don’t like to put labels on myself, even though I was the first [lesbian] to do it."
Young M.A recognizes that she's not the first lesbian woman to spit bars, showing love to the people who came before her, but she's damn proud about being the first to go triple platinum.
Two years ago, iLoveMakonnen felt comfortable enough to tell his truth to the world. After the success of his "Tuesday" record, Makonnen revealed that he had been hiding a secret from his fans. "As a fashion icon, I can't tell u about everybody else's closet, I can only tell u about mine, and it's time I've come out," said the singer in a series of tweets in January 2017.
The eccentric artist made the decision to come out even though he knew it could possibly affect the way people viewed him. Since breaking his truth to the world, Makonnen has spoken about the strained relationship between hip-hop and LGBTQ+ issues, noting that they're far more connected than people like to let off. "It’s like, it’s gonna come to a head eventually, gay and hip-hop," said the rapper. "Because they’re two worlds that try to act like they don’t fuck with each other, but they do, very hard. You can listen to any rapper and they’ll tell you about a gay designer, more than their female counterparts. Sooner or later, people are gonna have to be like, 'okay, what is it?' Because I keep hearing about all the gay designers, seeing you guys in all the gay designer clothes. You guys all come from Atlanta, the known black gay capital of the world. So it’s like, when are we gonna have this conversation? You’re so anti-gay, but you support gay brands? You can’t support a gay man, you can support a gay brand?"
The First Lady of Lil Yachty's Sailing Team is also making big waves as a member of the LGBTQ+ community. The Atlanta rapper has been in a very public relationship with Skye Morales but she's also admitted that as she's grown up, she's realized her sexuality is pretty fluid. In a cover story for Red Bull, Kodie likened her own feelings to somebody like Kehlani. "Y'all saw Kehlani just came out, saying she not gay or bi, she's queer? I don't know, but me too!" said Kodie Shane. "It's handsome guys out there, I'm not gonna lie. You might see a guy, like, man, you're a handsome-looking guy. But ew."
The Young HeartThrob allows her sexuality to come through in her music, using female pronouns when describing her lovers. Other artists, like 070 Shake, do the same thing but have been less direct about how they identify.
Chicago rapper Taylor Bennett proudly came out as bisexual in January 2017. Chance The Rapper's brother made a promise to himself that he would be more open -- both with his fans and with his own emotions. The album BE YOURSELF marked the first time Taylor ever wrote about his sexuality, finally feeling safe enough in his own body to let others in. The project is all about staying true to oneself and the most potent example of Taylor embracing his sexuality comes in the title track to the album. "I'm an outstanding Afro-American bisexual havin' shit," he raps on "Be Yourself."
Bennett is still working through self-acceptance, voicing everything out on his latest project THE AMERICAN REJECT.
A feminist rapper from New York City, Princess Nokia burst onto the scene with a lot of ambition, drive and personality. She identifies as a lot of things: Puerto Rican, Native American, African, and more. Her sexuality doesn't come up often but she has previously noted that she is fluid. Modelling her career on people like Missy Elliott and Erykah Badu, Nokia leaves a lot to the imagination. She doesn't want to give everything away at face value. There is a lot to unpack with this rising artist but if there's one thing we can be sure about, it's that she loves herself. Much of her music touches on self-love and how she's learned to accept herself... "little titties," "fat belly" and all.
Perhaps the most popular LGBTQ+ musical artist in the world, Frank Ocean turned heads when he came out as bisexual. The artist came out by telling his fans a story of love, saying, "4 summer ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together. Everyday almost… Sleep I would often share with him. By the time I realized I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless. There was no escaping."
Frank has said that he used to scream at the sky in search of answers. Eventually, he came to terms with his sexuality though, thanking his first love and saying, "I don’t know what happens now, and that’s alright. I don’t have any secrets I need kept anymore."
The topic of bisexuality and sexuality, in general, comes up often in Ocean's music. Songs like "Chanel," "Forrest Gump," and others deal with the theme very well.
There aren't many transgender rappers that have been accepted in the industry with open arms but Quay Dash is working to become one of the first. The 26-year-old Bronx native is one person that you'll be seeing a lot of if you're researching trans rappers. The emcee comes through with powerful bars about her identity and gender, emotionally telling her tale on Transphobic.
Hitting her stride on SoundCloud, Quay Dash speaks freely about being herself in her music, noting that LGBTQ+ issues are not exclusively what she discusses. "I think talking about transgender issues is important," she explained to Dazed Digital. "But at the same time, I’m here to make my music and do what I have to do."