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July 24, 2017 | by  | in Music |
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A Tribe Called Queer

Queer rap seems like something of an oxymoron, given the amount of homophobia and transphobia still so prevalent in the hip-hop industry. Nevertheless, in spite of a culture that invalidates their very existence, many queer and trans artists have persisted. In honour of this week’s queer issue, we have compiled this (by no means exhaustive) list of rappers we think you should be listening to. Presumably, none of these people would want to be pigeonholed as “queer rappers”, but they have all positioned themselves somewhere on the broad LGBT+ spectrum and also happen to make music that is reflective of these experiences.

 

LE1F

Arguably the jewel in the crown of New York City’s well-celebrated queer rap scene (including Mykki Blanco, Zebra Katz, and Cakes da Killa), Le1f’s low drawl and androgynous swagger are unmistakeable. On the track “Wut” from his 2014 EP Hey, the standout lyric — “Ukrainian cutie, he really wanna cuddle / the fever’s in his eyes, he wanna suckle on my muscle” — is accompanied in the video by a muscled, nearly naked white boy sitting on Le1f’s lap in a Pikachu mask. Seeing as the prevailing narrative often involves white men sexualising women, and often women of colour, it is interesting to see this flipped on its head, so that a faceless white man is being sexualised by a black man. Le1f’s music is continually unflinchingly honest about his experience as a gay black man, and this is carried into his 2015 album Riot Boi. You can find him on Soundcloud and Spotify.

 

PRINCESS NOKIA

Damn, Princess Nokia is cool. The New York-based queer rapper and bruja has Taino and Yoruban ancestry, and frequently uses these languages and makes reference to her heritage in her work. Her recent EP 1992 is an opus of experimental beats and woke discussion. On the track “Tomboy”, she deals with not aligning with contemporary ideas of how a woman should look and act with humour and intellect. She also has her own podcast where she recites poetry and discusses social issues with incredible sageness and wit. You can check out Princess Nokia’s music on YouTube and iTunes.

 

RANDA

Now to our one homeland hero on this list, Auckland-based rapper Randa. There has been a cloud of hype surrounding him ever since his 2014 banger “Rangers”. Deservedly so, as he is incredibly gifted, puts on a stellar live show, and is an actual angel of a human. He is also openly trans, in a time when it is so crucial for young trans and gender-variant New Zealanders to be able to see people who have gone through similar struggles killin’ it in their lives and work. Randa has recently released two new singles, “Fashion” and “Angel Boy”, and these, among his other music, are located on Bandcamp.

 

BABE FIELD

Babe Field is part of the rap collective Barf Troop, an array of wonderful women, queer, and nonbinary people of colour from around the US who connected via Tumblr, and all have some form of the word “babe” in their rap moniker, including the sublimely-named Babeo Baggins. Babe Field released one of my absolute favourite hip-hop EPs of all time, 2014’s Half Ripe, which is stuffed with impeccably produced beats and woke dialogue on femininity and black identity. I urge you to drop everything and scramble over to Bandcamp to check it out.

 

KATE TEMPEST

Tempest is an out gay woman, and a stunningly erudite poet and lyricist who tells unbelievably complex, interwoven tales of life in modern London. She has a cast of characters that she introduced to the world in her 2014 Mercury Prize-winning debut Everybody Down, who represent facets of herself and people she has known, and who are all elaborated on in her novel released last year, The Bricks that Built the Houses. This is a bleak and truthful look at being young and confused and broken in various ways and yet still trying to stay afloat and navigate life with some semblance of dexterity. Like a Zadie Smith novel, with a splash more queerness. She released another hard-hitting album Let Them Eat Chaos last year, peppered with biting social commentary on the many-splendored hypocrisies of our capitalist culture and emotive personal stories. Check her out on Spotify.

 

MYKKI BLANCO

Also going by the name of Michael Quattlebaum, he created the Mykki persona as a type of performance art, and an ode to drag culture. He will often switch between his own persona and Mykki, highlighting the fluidity of his gender and the multitudes of splendour that can be held within one being unbounded by gender. He is also very outspoken about being an HIV-positive gay man, which is incredibly important to see, given the stigma still attached to this following the AIDS crisis (if you want an example of this, gay men are still unable to give blood in New Zealand). She can morph effortlessly from swaggering, electronic-inspired trap lord to ’90s-inspired feel-good bopper, both showing off her trademark textural growl. Mykki has her roots in the NYC riot-grrrl and queer communities, which means she is unapologetically political and affronting in her art. Though this has led to various beatings, arrests, and gig cancellations throughout her career, she nevertheless channels the anger this creates into his music. You can look up her most recent album Mykki on Spotify.

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