Popular radio would have you believe that hip-hop music is exclusively hypermasculine and hyper-heterosexual. Sure, there’s Lil Nas X, but the way the press talks about him, you’d think he was the only queer person in the whole genre. That couldn’t be further from the truth! Though it’s usually the straight guys getting most of the publicity, there’s always been an undercurrent of queer creators shaping hip-hop music – even if people didn’t always know it.
These days, it’s easier than ever to find underground and underrepresented queer rappers. Here are ten different LGBTQ artists that range from neo-soul, horrorcore, hip-house, and more – showcasing the diversity of queer hip-hop and showing that there’s no excuse for stations not to have at least one of these artists on rotation.
As a quick disclaimer, this isn’t an exhaustive list of queer rappers or hip-hop artists by any means. The idea is to highlight queer artists you might not already know about, especially independent artists. Tyler, the Creator, Lil Nas X, Young M.A., Kevin Abstract, Megan Thee Stallion…they’re all cool and all, but they all have millions of streams and plenty of high profile coverage already. Not everyone on this list is necessarily underground, but at the very least, we’re aiming for musicians who aren’t bajillionaires
Okay, now that the semantics of the list are out of the way, let’s dive in.
Now that Backxwash is on the scene, the face of industrial hip-hop has changed forever. Bringing an innovative blend of metal, horrorcore, and trap, the Zambian-Canadian rapper infuses her raps with pain, anguish, and rawness.
Though she’s only been active for a relatively short period of time, Backxwash has already collaborated with heavy hitters like clipping., Black Dresses, and Lauren Bousfield. If you’re looking for fun party songs, this won’t be for you, but if you want cathartic songs that viscerally describe experiences of transmisogyny and racism – Backxwash has exactly what you need.
Album recommendation: honestly, you can’t go wrong with either of her studio albums, God Has Nothing to Do with This, Leave Him Out of It (2020) or I Lie Here Buried With My Rings And Dresses (2021)
Song recommendations: the title tracks of both albums are great starting points. “God Has Nothing to Do with This Leave Him Out of It” showcases Backxwash’s production skills (that Black Sabbath sample is haunting), while “I Lie Here Buried With My Rings and Dresses” has Ada Rook growling on the surprisingly catchy hook.
Cakes Da Killa
Chances are, if you heard Injury Reserve’s “What’s Goodie,” you immediately ran to check out Cakes Da Killa after his fantastic verse. In fact, he’s dominated every track he’s been featured on: clipping’s “Hot F-ck No Love,” LSDXOXO’s “Bind That Bitch,” Mykki Blanco’s “A Minute With Cakes,” etc.
Like many of the rappers on this list, Cakes came out of the New York City scene and incorporates club culture into his music. Though he is now based out of Atlanta, you can still hear that NYC club influence on his tracks. He is definitely an artist to watch, not only for his fantastic music but for his refreshing take on hip-hop tropes in general. “In hip-hop you have people glorifying negativity like killing people and not taking care of your kids — and that should be scandalous! That should be what we talk about. An openly gay rapper shouldn’t be breaking news!”
Album recommendations: Hedonism (2016)
Song recommendation: “New Phone (Who Dis)”
If you ask us, hip-hop totally needs more artists with Q-U-E-E-R tattooed in big letters across their stomachs. Luckily, there’s Chris Conde to fill that void. Their songs feature elements from industrial, avant-garde, garage punk, and more. If you find yourself resistant to more traditional hip-hop, Chris Conde may be the perfect artist to get you into the genre. And if you’re into hip-hop, the innovative spins they put on the genre will keep you coming back for more.
Album recommendation: Conde Digital EP (2020) or their newest full-length, Engulfed in the Marvelous Decay
Song recommendation: “Year of the Queer”
You may have heard of Big Freedia, but New Orleans bounce musician Katey Red deserves just as much attention. She’s a trailblazer when it comes to bounce and is credited with creating the “sissy bounce” genre that Big Freedia brought to the mainstream. With her high-energy stylings, it’s practically impossible not to listen to a Katey Red song without bopping around and smiling.
Side note: the entire sissy bounce subgenre is worth exploring if you want even more queer hip-hop.
Album recommendation: the compilation album, Katey’s Hits
Song recommendation: “Where da Melph at?”
Mykki Blanco is another artist who has been killing it for years and consistently putting out fantastic projects. From their acclaimed 2012 mixtape Cosmic Angel: The Illuminati Prince/ss to their 2016 studio debut Mykki, all the way up to their genre-shifting 2021 release Broken Hearts & Beauty Sleep, the fluidity of Blanco’s style is something to marvel at. It’s also worth noting that she had a collaboration with Kanye West on the scrapped album, Yandhi.
Album recommendation: their newest, Broken Hearts & Beauty Sleep (2021), is pretty great, but Gay Dog Food (2014) features the likes of Cakes Da Killa, Kathleen Hanna, and Cities Aviv, so we can’t NOT hype that one up here.
Song recommendation: “It’s Not My Choice” or “Wish You Would”
“Middle fingers up to the cops / got your man all on my cock.” The boisterous rapper Quay Dash fills her music with unapologetic lyrics and rave-influenced beats. She has worked with SOPHIE, Sega Bodega, and Dorian Electra. Though she often raps about transgender issues and her identity, she isn’t interested in being boxed into the genre of “queer hip-hop”. And why should she be? She has the bars and the talent, and deserves to be highlighted by every hip-hop publication and featured on every party playlist – not just the pride playlists.
Album recommendation: Transphobic EP (2017)
Song recommendation: “Queen of This Shit” (produced by the late SOPHIE and recently featured on HBO’s Euphoria)
Williams isn’t a new act by any means. He’s been doing slam poetry since the mid-’90s, and started putting out music just a few years later. His first album, 2001’s Amethyst Rock Star, experimented with blending his spoken word poetry with hip-hop and rock influences, and by 2007’s The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust!, he had mastered this unique mix and created one of the greatest industrial hip-hop albums ever. The likes of Janelle Monae, Blackalicious, Buckethead, and Zac De La Rocha have featured Williams on their tracks. He is an act who should definitely be on your radar if he isn’t already.
Album recommendation: The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust! (2007) (produced by Trent Reznor!)
Song recommendation: “List of Demands (Reparations)”
Trapcry is criminally underrated and deserves way more attention. On his most recent album, Dangerous, he samples both James Baldwin and the Baha Men throughout – that alone should give you an idea of how he incorporates themes of activism into his music while still taking the time to drop some sensual party songs along the way. Challenging both hypermasculinity in mainstream rap and the white-dominated nature of mainstream gay culture, Trapcry is an up-and-comer worthy of your time.
Album recommendation: Dangerous (2020)
Song recommendation: “Burn”
If you’re looking for sensual, smooth neo-soul, look no further than Vesta. This Chicago-based non-binary artist has been consistently releasing sultry music since 2018. Not only are Vesta’s vocals hypnotically luscious, but their lyrics are layered with everything from political calls to action, musings on mental illness, to messages of empowerment.
“Mr. Antebellum” from 2020’s Deliverance particularly highlights their songwriting skills. The metaphorical Mr. Antebellum represents the looming influence of white masculinity. As the narrator begins to embrace their Blackness and queerness, Mr. Antebellum slowly starts to fade.
Album Recommendation: Hydra (2021)
Song Recommendation: “Passionfruit”
In 2012, Zebra Katz took Fashion Week by storm when his pulsating track, “Ima Read” played on loop while the world watched. From there, he continued putting out incredible singles like “Tear the House Up” and “Blk & Wht,” and brought his signature style to three different tracks on Gorillaz’s 2017 album, Humanz.
Finally, he blessed the world with the full-length studio album Less Is Moor in 2020, an album filled with everything from bass-heavy club bangers (“Been Known,” “Lick It N Split”) to vulnerable tracks like “Necklace.”
Album recommendation: Less Is Moor (2020) (seriously, this was lowkey one of the best albums of 2020…CHECK IT OUT!)
Song recommendation: “IN IN IN”
Those are just a few favorites of ours. By no means does this list encompass every talented queer artist on the scene, nor is it an attempt to define “queer rap” as a single genre. Everyone here definitely deserves more recognition, so be sure to check out their latest projects and keep supporting queer artists!
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