In the 6th grade, I was depressed and nonfunctional. I didn’t want to leave my room or participate in class. I sat by myself at lunch, isolating myself from my friends. I spoke quietly and didn’t make eye contact or attempt to socialize. I couldn’t concentrate or talk to my parents about how I felt, I just moved through the world not really caring about anything or anyone. Then I discovered hip-hop. More than that, I discovered that there are hip-hop artists who were different like me.
Hip-hop has always been about breaking down walls and speaking your mind. At its core, it’s about being different and demanding that society makes space for your story. Being queer is just another difference that hip-hop can help illuminate. And some mainstream artists are shining that light.
When I first heard the track “Forrest Gump,” on Frank Ocean’s debut album, Channel Orange, I was overcome with a feeling of hope and excitement. He wrote about a relationship he had with a man. It made me believe that being different, being queer, wasn’t something to hide. It was something to make art about and something to love about myself. Ocean made me realize that artists could be out and successful, and that felt like a relief.
Like queerness, there is a spectrum of queer artists. Tyler, the Creator is almost the polar opposite of Frank Ocean when it comes to queerness in his music. In Tyler’s early career his music was laced with homophobic slurs and derogatory lyrics. Homophobia was so present in all of his music that it made people think it was okay to say things like that. I didn’t cringe when I heard his lyrics, but hearing my peers using the same words felt different. It felt more personal. Tyler, the Creator’s fans were less likely to check themselves on the hatred they spewed. They heard it all the time.
Tyler’s tone has shifted a bit. On the track “I Ain’t Got Time” he spits, “Next line will have ’em like ‘Woah.’ / I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004,” effectively confirming his sexuality.
Kevin Abstract is the most personal and in touch with his queerness out of the artists I listen to. Abstract is incredibly passionate and he gives me confidence. He creates a sense of home for me. He fights through his vigorous words and music. In his song “Miserable America,” he writes “My boyfriend saved me / My mother’s homophobic / My best friend’s racist / I’m stuck in the closet / I’m so claustrophobic / I DON’T CARE!” His story about friends, boyfriends and parents is a story many queer youth experience, and I appreciate not having to work to connect what he says to my own life.
All these artists are so incredibly passionate and dedicated to their art. Now, I find myself able to talk openly about my experience as a young queer person. I am more confident in myself. I am more creative and versatile with the skills I have. I want to be able to transfer my confidence to my creativity. I want to be unique, not because I’m queer, but because I’m me.
In the past, there have been no openly queer hip-hop artists. Now I may only be able to count on two hands how many queer artists I know, but that’s a start. And we still need more openly queer hip-hop artists.
I look forward to seeing the normalization of being openly queer in hip-hop. The more artists that speak their mind and shatter the glass wall that is holding the queer hip-hop world inside, the more hip-hop will grow and change. As a queer hip-hop head, I need that.