Since its inception in the 1970s, hip-hop has consistently displayed a certain level of homophobia. Whether looking at the lyrics of the seminal tune “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (in which two F-bombs are dropped) or tracks by Eminem such as “Criminal” (“A homosex, hermaph, or a trans-a-vest / Pants or dress, hate fags? / The answer’s yes”), LGBTQ+ bashing has unfortunately been a thread that ran through many songs in the genre, possibly as an accepted part of the culture, as illustrated by the aforementioned Em. In an interview for American serial 60 Minutes, Marshall Mathers tells journalist Anderson Cooper that the word “faggot” was “thrown around” in the MC battling scene he came up in, though the legendary rapper claims to not “have any problem with anybody.” The casual bantering about of such a historically derogatory term shows a total disconnect from the power of the very words that form the artillery of an MC’s power, as well as disregard or disengagement with the meaning and far-reaching impact that a phrase can have past the microphone.
This is why rapper Lil Nas X, real name Montero Hill, coming out last year at the height of his international hit, “Old Town Road,” was such a momentous event. The track first made Nas X a star on the social media platform TikTok before topping the Billboard list for a staggering 19 weeks, the longest-running time a song has held the cherry spot since the chart started. Queer and African-American and ascending to such dizzying heights, Nas X and his country-rap stylings — mixing two of the most hetero-dude music genres of all time on pop-chart dominance — are not only a sign of a changing world but also of a brave and uncompromising artist. After all, it was not that long ago (just over two decades) that the pop world was rocked at the then-unbelievable revelation that George Michael was gay.
Nas X beckoned his fans via Twitter to take a closer look at the lyrics to his song, “C7osure,” using the single as his official declaration of being gay. It marked a huge departure from a listener accepting sometimes uncomfortable lyrics found in various tracks; Nas X actively asked people to closely engage with what he was saying, not just be a passive listener consuming whatever comes through their headphones. Lil Nas X continues to live his lyrics: “I want and I need / To let go / Use my time to be free.”
However, Lil Nas X is not alone in being out and proud in the hip-hop world. Below is a totally incomplete — but quality! — list of some other folks you need to get on your turntables now.
Cakes Da Killa
Besides having one of the best MC names of all time, Cakes Da Killa (Rashard Bradshaw) captures the fun of hip-hop that seems to be missing from so many tracks of his contemporaries.
His 2016 debut LP, Hedonism, is a hop-scotch of upbeat tunes skipping between the infectious clap-along track “New Phone (Who Dis)” to the house-flavored “Gon Blow” featuring tones of the classic ’90s anthem “Pump Up the Jam” by Technotronic and the lyrics, “I’m here to make it hot from the womb to the coffin.” Going a bit further back, his 2013 single, “Goodie Goodies,” will be stuck in your head after one listen. The Billie Holliday-styled music video showcasing the technicolor rapper in full glory.
Mykki Blanco is the stage name and persona under which Michael David Quattlebaum Jr. can be found. Referring to her first time stepping out of her house in full drag as her “Golden Ticket Day,” Quattlebaum’s Blanco has become, according to Elle, “Hip-Hop’s New Queen.” With self-declared influences ranging from Riot Grrrl to Madonna to Lauryn Hill, Blanco is a “cross-dressing poet extraordinaire.” Her style is equally almost uncategorical — watch the video for “Join My Militia (Nas Gave Me A Perm)” to see for yourself. It’s almost like Peaches and Lil Peep had a lo-fi rap offspring, all jittery rhymes and slowed-down beats.
If you want to further twist your melon, take a listen to the up/down/all-around single “Wavvy.” With over 2 million views on YouTube, the song’s video uses the gritty inside of a U-Haul van as a performance stage, cut with a 1920s-era intemperate parlor scene. More recently, the first single taken from her 2016 debut LP, Mykki, “High School Never Ends” perfectly encapsulates the cultural moment. Sounding like the close cousin in style and funk to Beyonce’s “Formation,” the 7-plus-minute-long video for “High School” is a don’t-miss. Packed with Blair Witch scenery, it pushes the viewer to question gender, race, and stereotypes.
Lizzo is not strictly hip-hop, I know — more an R&B and pop artist. But her badassery needs to be further applauded. From her body-positive stance to calling her fans “Lizzbians,” this queen is a model for hopefully more uncategorizable talents. Though it is a crew of hot men that the “Tempo” singer seems to be pushing off in the video as she prances around in a blue fur cloak and patriotic red, white, and predominantly blue two-piece, Lizzo refuses to be pigeon-holed into any category. In a Teen Vogue interview, she proclaimed, “When it comes to sexuality or gender, I personally don’t ascribe to just one thing … I cannot sit here right now and tell you I’m just one thing … That’s why the colors for LGBTQ+ are a rainbow! Because there’s a spectrum, and right now we try to keep it black and white. That’s just not working for me.”
The themes of self-acceptance and love are also relevant across the Lizzo catalog and are especially prominent across her 2019 major-label debut, Cuz I Love You. Whether proclaiming that the “Truth Hurts” — the video shows the singer marrying herself and has amassed over 200 million views on YouTube — or strutting in a slinky majorette uniform and declaring she feels “Good as Hell,” the sheer number of people connecting with these images and ideas leaves no doubt as to a major culture and attitude change towards a more inclusive pop chart, if nothing else.
It has been over a decade since this American hip-hop trio dropped their full-length LP, Futuristically Speaking … Never Be Afraid, on Domino Records. Openly lesbian and Christian, Yo! Majesty combines elements of punk and electroclash (remember that genre?) with some fresh-flowing rhymes. You are at least somewhat dead inside if one of the many remixes of their hit, “Club Action,” does not have you at least tapping your foot along.
Their knowledge of hip-hop — embedded in a slew of moxy posturing usually the reserve of men — will have even the most staunch head impressed. I mean, when is the last time you have heard anyone reference MC Hammer’s New Jack Swing girl band Oaktown’s 3-5-7 in a song (“Call me Juicy / I got ya crazy”)? Their lo-fi videos also make this Gen Xer feel nostalgic for the early days of MTV — remember, when it was music television?