Exploring Queer Hip Hop

Samuel Silverstein (Summerfield, NC)

In December, 2011, alternative R&B artist, Frank Ocean, surprised his fans by announcing that his first love was a man, making him the first hip hop musician to have international success and come out of the closet. “4 summers ago, I met someone,” he wrote “I was 19 years old, he was too.” The note was a detailed explanation of his struggle with confused feelings and a growing need to tell the world about them. For those of us who identify as queer, these feelings are familiar: a longing for openness, and acceptance from those around us. Frank Ocean ended up receiving a somewhat refreshing response. Besides an expected tabloid buzz surrounding his coming out, there seemed to be public respect for Frank. This is refreshing considering a notorious history of homophobia in Hip Hop. “Faggot”, “dyke” and “no homo” are thrown around frequently and with little thought. Male rappers avoid discussion about anything remotely gay and place themselves on the defensive to maintain a hyper-masculine reputation.

Well, that was up until last year, when the Hip Hop underground made a place for a generation of queer emcees. A gay rapper? That’s a revolutionary idea that requires a new way of appealing to listeners. Instead of recycling the same violence and sexism that has defined the image of rap for years, MCs like Mykki Blanco, Le1f, and Cakes Da Killa are pushing the boundaries of the genre and paving the way for something more innovative and unique. Mykki was one of the first to reach an audience outside of the Queer Hop capital of New York City. Born Michael David Quattlebaum Jr., Mykki performs in full drag, slinging bold, catchy verses over heavy, psychedelic beats. Her absolute swagger is palpable on first listen: she exudes nothing but confidence. Just watch the video for the single “Wavvy”, where she attends a whacked out party in lingerie. Mykki has become the figurehead of androgyny in the Queer scene and has gained recognition internationally, by making quality music and boldly pushing an image radically different than anything before.

Then, there is Le1f. Utilizing futuristic, detailed dance beats and a speedy flow, his style is totally distinct. Le1f’s voice is so singular, that at moments, listeners may compare his timbre to that of a throat singer or Voldemort. That is not to say, however, that it feels strained or weak, but it has a strange quality that requires a short adjustment period. As a result of this quality, his delivery is very expressive; often, he climbs to his high register to emphasize a highly sarcastic punch-line. His breakout single, “Wut”, is a catchy club banger that has an earworm hook, heavy, dirty bass, and saxophone production a la “Thrift Shop”. His Dark York and Fly Zone mixtapes are dark hypnotic listens that evoke alien images far more successfully than Katy Perry did last year. Many expect Le1f will gain wide indie appeal in the coming months.

The third of the New York, Queer-Hop pioneers is perhaps the most like “traditional” rap. Cakes Da Killa is very lyrical; his verses are dense, finely crafted and very memorable. He has a kamikaze approach, spitting word play, and blatant innuendo at a lightning fast speed in songs that rarely exceed the three minute mark. His debut from this past January, The Eulogy, is the most blood pumping and enthralling Queer-Hop record ever, a ride that deserves multiple listens for full enjoyment. Though its energy is consistently high, the songs create a diverse collection, borrowing from dance, juke, and trap. Cakes, lyrically, is boldly sexual. In every track, he happily alienates the uncomfortable homophobe. Every straight rapper includes some graphic images of sex, so why can’t a gay one do the same thing? By making music that is undeniably of exceptional quality, Cakes Da Killa is bringing attention and respect to Queer-Hop New York.

Music has always been a harbinger to social progression. Queer Hip-Hop is becoming more and more integrated into the general underground. Last March, Le1f performed at SXSW festival in Texas, in of the reddest states of the south, and Mykki is touring Europe this Summer. The greater hype that surrounds these artists, the more accepting the future will be. Hip Hop is enjoyed everywhere in the western world and these artists have found their places in the folds of the underground. Soon, they will gain influence through their music. The gay MC is not merely an entertainer, but a harbinger of a more accepting future culture.

To listen to some of the music mentioned, visit: