Hip Hop’s Queer Pioneers
The lyrics are from the Harlem-based MC Mykki Blanco. But the sentiment expressed in her after-hours party anthem “Wavvy” is shared by other pioneering rappers who bristle at being defined by their sexual orientation—even as it helps bring attention to their work.
The seven artists in this portfolio are wildly diverse, but they’re all about as far from the down-low as possible. In the “Wavvy” video, Blanco evolves from a male street tough in a backwards Raiders cap to a vamping glamazon in stilettos. When the rap duo House of Ladosha played New York City in July, Dosha Devastation accentuated her beard with a leopard-print sarong, gold hoop earrings, and a waist-length wig; Cunty Crawford Ladosha, all six feet eleven of him, rocked In Living Color Fly Girl-style biker shorts; and the group closed with their calling card, “B.M.F.,” short for “black model famous,” a paean to being as fabulous as Naomi Campbell. Artists such as these—once confined to gay clubs and art-world openings—are inching toward the mainstream.
Of course, they stand to benefit from the actions of Frank Ocean, a member of the Odd Future collective (which also includes Syd tha Kid, who’s openly lesbian) who came out in July through an offhand missive on his Tumblr. Ocean’s revelation made waves, but the backlash was more subdued than many had expected. “The fans are more tolerant,” says the rap impresario Russell Simmons. “A catalyst with courage like Frank Ocean making public statements like that can flourish.”
But a sea change was under way even before Ocean’s disclosure. In March, the Grammy-nominated producer Diplo featured the New Orleans bounce rapper Nicky Da B on the dance-floor burner “Express Yourself.” Earlier this year, House of Ladosha opened for Azealia Banks (who came out as bisexual in February). In April, the New York native Le1f released his debut mixtape, Dark York, to critical praise from music authorities like The Fader. “We’ve gotten attention not just for being gay rappers,” Le1f says, “but for being particularly progressive rappers.”
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