Recently, Berkeley-born rapper Lil’ B made headlines after he announced at Coachella that he plans to title his next album "I’m Gay." The artist, who steadfastly denies actually being gay, says that he’s trying to prove a point, make a statement about misogyny and hip-hop. Or whatever.
Lost in all the hoopla was the fact that there already exists a crop of openly queer rappers who have been making music for years. They’re talented, proud, but when it comes to mainstream media, they’re often ignored. So I reached out to some of the industry’s best and brightest to get their take on the really gay rappers who should be getting our attention. Writer and activist Kenyon Farrow summed up the bigger picture nicely when he wrote in an email: "I wish we could focus more energy and our money on artists in the community, rather than falling all over ourselves for straight people to validate our existence."
To wit, here are some folks to fall out over, courtesy of hip-hop heads Invincible, Juba Kalamka and Jeff Chang.
Eight Openly Queer Rappers You Should Know
Invincible is a Detroit-based rapper and activist who’s already got the world’s attention. She founded her own label and media company Emergence and released her debut album "Shapeshifters" in 2008. She contributes these artists to the list:
Miz Korona: A cornerstone of Detroit’s Hip-Hop community and one of the most consistent emcees I know, live or recorded. Miz Korona independently released her debut album, "The Injection," last year and it’s incredible. She’s also known for her role in the film 8 mile–battling Xzibit at the lunch truck.
Mz Jonz: Also a Detroit representative, but we first met performing in New York at the Peace Out East festival. She performs regularly in the Detroit area, and pride festivals all over the country. This month Mz Jonz is independently releasing her debut album "Here On My Own" (peep the acronym?).
Thee Satisfaction: This Seattle based dynamic duo do it all–produce, sing, emcee, graphic design. In February, I witnessed their stellar performance for "Black Future Month" alongside their brethren Shabazz Palaces. Thee Sat members Cat and Stasia are not only partners in music, but also in love and life. They released a few mixtapes and a EP but i’m looking forward to the official album release via Seattle label Sub Pop.
Las Krudas: This trio was born and raised in Cuba, but is now splits its time between Austin, Texas, and the Bay Area. They are artists, activists, musicians, and theater performers, who have incredible stage presence and skill as emcees. Every time I see them on stage I’m blown away by their breath control and rapid fire flows, not to mention their tireless commitment to a global movement for justice.
Skim: The Queens-raised, L.A.-based emcee/songwriter and activist is a trailblazer in every way. Skim plays guitar, sings, produces, spits, and facilitates workshops like no other. Skim’s album "For Every Tear" dropped in 2006, and has many underground anthems including, "Unfamiliar" featuring Jade and "Long Story." Ladies love Skim–last time I saw Skim live was at Mondo Homo festival in Atlanta, and someone threw some panties on stage.
Juba Kalamka is a queer artist and activist based in the Bay Area. He’s a founding member of the now disbanded Deep Dickollective. He’s also a former Colorlines music columnist. He adds to the list:
Collin Clay (of Juha): Deep Dickollective (D/DC) was a labelmate (on a 7" single) when Juha was a group in the early 2000s. Their first CD "Polari" (2002) was amazing, and he’s released two more ("The Grooms of God" and the "Stomach" EP) as a solo artist under the Juha banner that are even better. Dense yet accessible conversation on mixed-race identity, colonization, queerness, masculinity and a lot more. (Photo by Sophie Allen)
Wheelchair Sports Camp: I recently became aware of emcee/producer Karlyn Heffernan’s music through my colleague Leroy Moore Jr.(disability activist, artist and producer of the Krip Hop Nation compilations). I’m still listening, but her work is absolutely worth mentioning. Really enjoying the way she tells her stories inside of stories, as well as her lyricism and production work, and I’m looking forward to hearing more.
Big Freedia: Deep Dickollective opened a show for Big Freedia in New Orleans in 2003. It was so hot our feet were burning on the stage and our DJ’s records were warping. Freedia took the stage with what seemed like 27 dancers, the way they were moving. Casual and tight. Her records are amazing, intense and fun and her live show even more so. Her work makes me smile. She’s a fountain of history and love and respect for her communities at home and around the world.
And more love for Big Freedia, from resident hip-hop scholar, author and Colorlines co-founder Jeff Chang:
It’s funny that Big Freedia just got a shout out on "Treme," so now people outside of hip-hop are curious. But what I love about Big Freedia is that she just crushes all the boxes set up for rap and rappers–just tears that shit up! No one can say she doesn’t rock (around the clock). And if some folks are trying to pretend she doesn’t exist, you know they’re all still listening. Listening hard. Like what Posdnous said, Freedia is complicated.