The world of hip-hop isn’t exactly known as the most welcoming place for the LGBTQ community. The genre has a history of making queerness a punchline. We’ve seen it in from Migos, when Quavo suggested to Rolling Stone that iLoveMakonnen « undermin[ed] his credibly » by coming out. We saw it when hip hop heavyweight Eminem peppered « Rap God » with anti-gay slurs, despite claiming he had no problem with homosexuality. We saw it in Snoop Dogg’s infamous 2013 interview with The Guardian, when the « Gin and Juice » rapper claimed, « [Homosexuality is] acceptable in the singing world, but in the rap world I don’t know if it will ever be acceptable because rap is so masculine. »
Thankfully, the world is slowly changing. Snoop Dogg walked back on his comments. Frank Ocean won a Grammy for Channel Orange after penning a Tumblr letter about his sexuality, and Lil Nas X, who reigns supreme over Spotify streaming, shocked the country and hip hop world when he came out during Pride Month. Though the hip hop community is just beginning to accept queerness, these openly gay rappers are bravely paving the way.
Odd Future has long been criticized for its homophobic lyrics, so much so that the band was booted from Australia’s massive Big Day Out festival in 2011, according to Billboard. That made it all the more shocking when, the following year, Odd Future member Frank Ocean publicly came out in a statement posted to his Tumblr account. According to NPR, Ocean posted the message after a « journalist who attended a listening party » for his then-upcoming album Channel Orange « noted that several of the songs were addressed to a male love object. »
In Ocean’s letter, which was originally meant to be included in the Channel Orange liner notes, the rapper spoke about having his first gay romance at the age of 19. It was unrequited love at its most heartbreaking. He was ultimately rejected after their fling. « Some things never are. And we were. I won’t forget you. I won’t forget the summer. I’ll remember who I was when I met you, » he wrote. The letter ends with, « I feel like a free man. If I listen closely.. I can hear the sky falling too. » Okay, does anyone else need a tissue?
Since her tenure with Odd Future, Syd (previously known as Syd tha Kid) has received a Grammy nomination and major praise from massive artists such as Beyoncé and Pharrell Williams, according to The Guardian. She also made the brave step of publicly coming out before her bandmate, Frank Ocean, released his aforementioned Tumblr letter. According to LA Weekly, Syd came out via the « Cocaine » video. « I decided to do it because I wish I had someone like that [an openly gay female artist] while I was coming up, » she told LA Weekly. « People write on my Tumblr just thanking me for making the video, saying that I really inspire them, and they want to be like me. But I wasn’t always this way, this comfortable with myself, and I remember what that was like. »
Nonetheless, the Odd Future DJ wasn’t exactly accepted into the gay community, particularly considering Odd Future’s controversial history (Tyler the Creator uses the word « f****t » 200 times on Goblin alone). The group’s tracks were so vulgar that, according to The Guardian, Syd’s parents « kicked her out of the house for a few days » when they first gave it a listen. Though the backlash from the LGBTQ community « hurt [her] feelings, » she said it did make her think more deeply about her art. Syd has since left Odd Future in her past.
Big Freedia was already making waves in her New Orleans hometown — collaborating with everyone from RuPaul to Diplo and scoring her own Fuse show called Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce. However, her notoriety skyrocketed to the next level when she got a life-changing call from Beyoncé’s publicist. Big Freedia told Vice she « died in [her] own skin right then and there, » so when Queen Bey called her personally, she likely died a second time. Big Freedia lent her voice to Beyoncé’s infamous spoken-word interlude on « Formation, » saying: « I did not come to play with you hoes. I came to slay, b***h… » And slay she did.
Big Freedia might be best known for her music and bombastic personality, but she’s also known for her unapologetically outspoken advocacy for LGBTQ rights. She told the Advocate she considers herself a « voice for a lot of people who really don’t have a voice. » In 2018, she shared her touching coming out story in a « Backseat Heat » segment on The Wendy Williams Show: « One day I had a birthday party, and I was like all of my friends [are] there, so I’m going to tell my mom today that this is who I am, » Big Freedia recalled. « And when I told her, she said, ‘Mama already know, baby.’ She already knew. That was my backbone, baby. »
Chance the Rapper isn’t the only talent in his bloodline. The star’s younger brother, Taylor Bennett, made waves in the hip hop world with his full-length projects Broad Shoulders and Restoration of an American Idol; his Billboard charting single « New World » with EDM rockers Krewella; and his 2018 Young Thug collaboration « Better Than You Ever Been. » In 2017, the same year his Krewella hit climbed the Hot Dance/Electronic Songs charts, Bennett came out as bisexual.
He opened up about his sexuality in a tweet, admitting to Rolling Stone that it was surprising that some of his followers actually thought his account had been hacked. This gave Bennett the chance to walk back on his comment, which he contemplated for about 5 or 10 minutes before experiencing an outpouring of love from his fanbase that prompted him to push forward. « I decided to come out before my 21st birthday because I felt like I was going to be a man and not just a man, a grown-a** man. I had felt like I wanted to say who I was and I was so tired of listening to everybody else. It’s the one point of my life that I just decided to be myself, » he said.
Brockhampton, the 15-member rap collective and self-described boy band, has taken the internet by storm with its DIY ethics. Its members are truly a product of the internet age and, according to Forbes, spawned from the depths of a Kanye West message board. Since then, they’ve reportedly landed a Viceland documentary, a No. 1 debut on the Billboard 200, and a multi-million record deal with RCA, which frontman Kevin Abstract claimed was going to help them push their « gay agenda. » The star, whose real name is Ian Simpson, has been open about his sexuality to the group’s fervent fanbase — but that wasn’t always the case.
In 2012, Abstract read Frank Ocean’s famous coming-out letter on Tumblr. He was just 16 years old and had recently had his first experience with a man. Though the rapper wouldn’t openly discuss his sexuality until a couple of years later, the star told Fader that Ocean’s letter « saved » him. Today, he hopes to normalize his sexuality by singing about it. « I’d see negative comments and forget [being gay] was a big deal to some people, that some people hadn’t heard it before, » he told ShortList. « My goal is just to normalize it. Straight rappers talk about their sexual relationships without warning me. And they are more explicit and violent. I have to express myself and who I am. »
Makonnen Sheran, known by the pseudonym iLoveMakonnen, rose to fame when his single « Tuesday » became a Top 20 hit after Drake crafted an epic remix. The Canadian rapper subsequently signed the up-and-comer to his OVO Sound label, but according to iHeartRadio, iLoveMakonnen didn’t start out on top. The rapper initially crafted his songs with a keyboard and a broken Gateway computer yet still managed to capture the attention of designer Alexander Wang, who put him in the brand’s spring/summer 2016 campaign. Sheran has since parted ways with Drake, who helped him nab a Grammy nomination, but he made an even bigger impact on his own when he came out as gay on Twitter in 2017.
In a since-deleted series of tweets (via i-D), the iLoveMakonnen said: « As a fashion icon, I can’t tell u about everybody else’s closet, I can only tell u about mine, and it’s time I’ve come out. And since y’all love breaking news, here’s some old news to break, I’m gay. And now I’ve told u about my life, maybe u can go [live] yours. » According to i-D, the star’s tweets were mostly met with support from his fans and, of course, a couple of jokes about why he didn’t reveal the news on a Tuesday. It is, after all, the day of the week that spawned his entire career.
Azealia Banks is one controversial woman. The rapper has had a feud with countless A-listers, including (but not limited to) Elon Musk, Grimes, Lana Del Rey, Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea, Rihanna, Russell Crowe, and for some inexplicable reason, Action Bronson. One could argue that the realization that Banks has been practicing witchcraft in a blood-stained room for half a decade and that Rihanna made fun of it is far more newsworthy than the fact that Banks doesn’t consider herself straight.
Banks is an out and proud bisexual — and has been for years. The star publicly addressed it in a 2012 interview with The New York Times, noting that she’s « not trying to be, like, the bisexual lesbian rapper. » She discussed it again in a Rolling Stone interview later that year. By 2015, the rapper felt like people still didn’t get the hint and took to Twitter to air her grievances following an onslaught of accusations claiming she was homophobic. « It’s really tiring having explain myself to people I’m not even talking to. Because of course I don’t wanna piss off my fans, » Banks wrote (via Billboard). « …Just give the Azealia Banks is a homophobe thing a rest because I’m not. I have a transgender sibling. My whole life is gay. All of my friends are gay, I am bisexual…. So please… Stop. »
Los Angeles rapper Brooke Candy has some major credits under her belt. The star collaborated with Charli XCX on « Cloud Aura » and « Shake It » and toured with him; shared the stage with Lizzo; and styled the « Truth Hurts » singer during her dates with Haim. But Candy’s showbiz success is just a small puzzle piece in her extraordinary life. According to Billboard, the singer once worked as a stripper. Her father was the CFO of Hustler, and she would find boxes filled with sex toys around his office. This made it all the more surprising that her family supposedly had some closed-minded views regarding sexuality. When Candy finally came out as pansexual, she claimed her father swept it under the rug and her mother kicked her out of the house. Candy was forced to live in her car for « a long time, » and her relationship with her parents never recovered.
Today, Candy hopes to use her music to help those who feel alone. « I want to speak to anyone who feels like an outcast or anyone who feels deprived of their rights or are otherwise disenfranchised, » she told Billboard. « I want to create music that can be played in every gay club all over the world because those are my people. »
Brooklyn-based rapper Young MA rose to fame in 2016 when she dropped her viral single « OOOUUU. » The song has since amassed more than 300 million YouTube views and reached multi-platinum status, though the singer admitted to The Guardian that she had to « dumb down » her lyrics to make the track catchy.
Young MA uses similar tropes to the leagues of male rappers that came before her. She often objectifies women in her lyrics. As The Guardian points out, she sings about not opening the door for « wh***s » and comments on the way women look in sundresses. However, her work still feels radical rather than regressive because Young MA is one of the few outspokenly gay members of the greater hip hop community. The star knew she was gay since her first year of school, but denied it to her mother until she came out — to the support of her family — when she was 18 years old.
« There’s a lot of rappers out there, a lot of gay girls expressing themselves; I’m not the first to say it, I’m not the first to rap about it, » she told The Guardian. « But I’m the one who broke down those doors that everybody has been trying to break down. I did that. I’m the one who went triple platinum first. »
Zebra Katz, or rather the alter ego of rapper Ojay Morgan, has become somewhat of a poster child for the queer rap movement. In 2012, he skyrocketed to fame when his song « Ima Read » was chosen for Rick Owens’ Paris fashion week show. Though the song uses the word « b***h » a whopping 87 times, what most people don’t know is that, according to The Guardian, the single was an homage to New York’s ballroom scene, as depicted in the 1990 documentary Paris is Burning. — and all the « voguing » and « drag culture » that came with it. Morgan actually developed his Zebra Katz persona because he felt like rap needed a « strong, black, other, queer male. »
« There are a lot of rappers who can’t come out and say they are queer and are sleeping with people of the same sex, » he told Independent.ie. « You don’t have a large number of hip-hop artists who state they are queer and proud. That’s what is most jarring to me. It’s kind of sad that those few who do come out get so much attention because they are gay, rather than because of their music. »
Mykki Blanco told Plus that his father knew he was gay since at age 3, but when the artist came out to the public in 2015, he also revealed that he was HIV positive. According to Plus, Blanco star is the « only living rapper who acknowledges having the virus. »
Blanco came out on Facebook during Pride Month. He initially held back the information because he was worried it would ruin his rap career, noting that he planned to come out when he was around 40 years old or after he had made millions. But something prompted Blanco to change his plans and come out sooner. « I did it on this whole emotional whim, » he told Plus. « But I think afterwards, when Newsweek and Time magazine — who have never heard of me before — are writing about it, I’m like, ‘Oh, wait, maybe it’s been a while since someone’s done this.’ »
Lil Nas X
Lil Nas X, born Montero Lamar Hill, had us at « Old Town Road » — the most streamed song of 2019 to date, and then he hit us in the feels again when he performed to a gymnasium of screaming elementary school children, but he really tugged at our heartstrings when he came out on the very last day of Pride Month in 2019. The rapper revealed the news in a tweet following weeks of online speculation.
« Some of y’all already know, some of y’all don’t care, some of y’all not gone fwm no more, but before this month ends I want y’all to listen closely to c7osure, » he tweeted. « C7osure » is a track from his 7 EP, and while it doesn’t confirm his sexuality, it does hint at someone finally being true to their identity. The rapper later clarified that he « thought [he] made it obvious » when he worked a rainbow into his EP’s cover art.
Unfortunately, Lil Nas X did get some backlash after coming out so publicly. He admitted to BBC Breakfast that he didn’t feel like homosexuality was « accepted in either the country [or] hip-hop community, » but he hoped fans would « feel comfortable » with it. The rapper has received the full support of his manager, Adam Leber, who wrote in an Instagram post (via BuzzFeed), « So proud of you Lil Nas X. You are incredibly brave. »