By: Ella Nilsen
Hip-hop is constantly changing, and over the last decade, the genre has diversified wildly. Lead by Nicki Minaj, the entrance of young female emcee’s including Azaelia Banks, Iggy Azalea, and Kreayshawn into the mainstream has proved lasting and popular. But one area in hip-hop is still vastly under-represented.
Where are the gay rappers?
For the past decade, queer rap has been thriving on the outer fringes of the music world. It’s the next great musical frontier, and there has been speculation for years as to whether it can successfully enter the mainstream. A good clue that the tides are turning is the aforementioned Nicki Minaj, whose gay, male, alter ego, Roman Zolanski, has been dominating Billboard 100 for a solid year.
In New York City, the burgeoning queer rap scene is steadily gaining notice. In New Orleans, the explosive ‘bounce’ scene, dominated by gay and transgender rappers, has been going strong since the ’80s, but is just starting to break out nationally.
Each area boasts a diverse number of performers, with different styles and personas. Many of the artists from both cities cross-dress, but there are others that do not. The music is often flamboyant and assertive, but musical styles of the rappers differ, offering a wide listening range.
New York rapper Zebra Katz, born Ojay Morgan, made waves with his recent single ‘Ima Read.’ Katz does not cross dress, and ‘Ima Read’ is a track with a very simple beat and menacing lyrics. Katz and female cohort Njena Reddd Foxxx spit about outdoing rivals, rapping, “Ima read that bitch/Ima teach that bitch./Ima give that bitch some knowledge/Ima take that bitch to college.”
The track has garnered high praise from the fashion industry in particular; it was the only song played in fashion designer Rick Owen’s Paris show last month, and subsequently garnered the title “song of Paris Fashion Week” from fashion writer Derek Blasberg. No wonder; “Ima Read” is the definition of ‘fierce.’ Katz was recently signed to Jeffees, an imprint of Diplo’s Mad Decent label, and has gotten shout-outs from fellow fashion industry favorite Azealia Banks.
In contrast, Mykki Blanco, born Michael Quattlebaum, has openly confrontational talent. Quattlebaum invented the character of Blanco and started cross-dressing a few years ago. Her “Cosmic Angel” video diary on Vimeo opens with Quattlebaum on the street saying, “This is something I feel like people in the gay media period don’t talk about: teenagers harass gay people to an insane amount.”
The video shifts to Quattlebaum as Mykki, full drag on full display. Directly after being provoked by a group of Harlem schoolchildren, she stands on a street corner in front of them. “I bust it down,” she says, before going into full freestyle action. “I’m a mercenary/Break bread with nobody/If my rhymes was a gun, you’d be some dead somebody’s/I’m in the passenger of the purple Maserati/Cuz hotties sit shotty/Cuz the honeys counts the money.” The kids crowd around her in admiration, instead of judgment. They are obviously impressed.
Even though instances like this are extremely localized, they point to a growing trend of gay rap being able to break through to the mainstream. In a genre where flow determines status, gay rappers are certainly not to be underestimated.
In contrast, the New Orleans ‘bounce’ scene (also known as ‘sissy bounce’ for its proliferation of gay rappers) is characterized as highly frenetic dance music with obscene lyrics and ass shaking. Lots and lots of ass shaking. Any bounce music video or photos from bounce shows crowds of women bent over at ninety degrees and out of control.
Typically, this music and the dancing it is specifically designed for would be seen as rap culture objectifying women, but the dynamic becomes totally different considering that the man on stage is gay, not straight. In bounce culture, the dance floor is dominated by women, and straight men are often discouraged from joining the throng.
Arguably most famous bounce rapper, Big Freedia (pronounced Free-da) is synonymous with the style. In a 2010 New York Times article, Freedia’s DJ, Rusty Lazer, stated that bounce was empowering for the women Freedia performs for specifically because it is a female dominated area where the ‘threat’ of straight men is nonexistent.
Like Katz and Blanco, Freedia is making large and recent strides into the mainstream. With sets at Bonnaroo and Electric Forest music festivals this summer and tour dates all over the country, she is taking her brand of music from New Orleans into the national arena. Other gay rappers will undoubtedly follow suit.
- Zebra Katz feat. Njena Reddd Foxxx – “Ima Read”
- Mykki Blanco – “Betty Rubble”
- Big Freedia – “Excuse”
- Diplo feat. Nicky Da B – “Express Yourself”