Picture the hip-hop landscape 15 years ago. The charts and channels were filled to the brim with hypermasculine men rocking oversized sports jerseys along with pants sagging below their waists, neck and wrists shimmering with thousands of dollars worth of gaudy jewelry. These were the silver-tongued kings of the early 2000s, men dripping masculinity from every tattooed pore. To question their heteronormativity would be to question their reason to live, and they did not take that lightly.
It seemed as though hip-hop was sending a message to the world: if you want to thrive in our world, you play by our rules. One of those rules, probably the number one rule most reinforced rule was to not be gay. At least, not gay in a way that sexually deters the cisgender heterosexual male. If 50 Cent, Ludacris and DMX got a dollar for every time one of their lyrics punched down on the queer community, they probably wouldn’t have had to file for bankruptcy.
The rap landscape has widely expanded since the early 2000s, with artists incorporating more autotune laden lyrics and flamboyant clothing to their overall images. While the aesthetics of these artists pushed against the previous generation’s ideas of what a real masculine MC was supposed to be (s/o to Young Thug’s Jeffrey dress), these artists were accepted because at the end of the day they identified as straight.
Tyler the Creator was one of them.
This MC burst onto the scene with his bizarro hit “Yonkers,” a dark performance piece that garnered him much attention from more seasoned rappers including Kanye West and Pharell, his lifelong idol. Here came an artist that didn’t just make rap songs, but weaved images of 4-minute horror movies in the heads of anyone willing to listen. The public respected him as an artist first – before they knew he was gay. When writing songs about love and relationships, Tyler would use she/her pronouns. He would rap about his tumultuous relationships with women that often resulted in violence. He was heavily criticized by progressive critics on his constant use of the word “faggot,” but his fanbase that was saturated with millions of emotional teenage boys and young men thrived off of the way he spat bigotry at two of the most marginalized groups, women and LGBTQIA+ people.
And then it happened.
Alternative rapper Tyler, The Creator shocked the world when they came out as gay in 2017 after producing music that pleased all people, especially cishet people for the majority of this decade. His revelation left many of his fans wondering if it was true, as he’s known for his playful nature. But he stuck to his word, admitting to having been “kissing white boys since 2004” on a song from his album Flower Boy. Ultimately, his fans accepted his true self, as did some of his straight peers. A$AP Rocky very publicly showed his support for Tyler, collaborating with him on various tracks and freestyles.
The world of Hip-Hop was looking like a slightly safer place for queer people. Along with Tyler, the Creator being able to express his true self sonically, Hip-hop boy band Brockhampton rose in popularity with their radically queer lyrics. Lead member Kevin Abstract proudly spits on Junky that “Where I come from ni***s get called fa***t and killed, so Ima get h*** from a ni**a right here, and they can come and cut my head off, and my legs off and, and Ima still be a boss ‘til my head gone yeah,” vowing to live life openly gay no matter how dangerous this world may be for black LGBTQIA people.
Now while Brockhampton and Tyler, the Creator were making significant strides in changing the culture from a more underground perspective, Rapper Young MA was making waves on the radio with her hit song “OOOUUU.” Her song encapsulates all the themes of the quintessential mainstream rap hit: Money, power, respect, women. The only difference is that a woman is singing these lyrics. Straight men didn’t have a problem bopping along to a song that a gay woman wrote, so long as the pronouns didn’t make them sound gay, they were fine with it.
Unfortunately, the rap patriarchy continued to make the road hard for her. While she showed herself to be just as talented as any straight male rapper, she faced ridicule from various media outlets. During her interview on The Breakfast Club, DJ Envy took her to task on a lyric where she says “shawty make me weak when she deep throat.” Her sexuality was picked and prodded at when the topic should’ve been focused on her skills. She even had to post a video about her not wanting anything to do with Rapper Kodak Black, after he calls her out by name in his song “Pimpin’ Ain’t Eazy.” He claims to want to have sex with her as long as she has cis female genatalia. Cishet men continue to disregard black women’s queer identities, but Young MA is an example of an artist that doesn’t let a little bigotry stop her from doing what she loves.
Queerness was slowly being embraced like never before. Rapper Lizzo openly shows her support for LGBTQIA people in her music and her social media platforms, and breakthrough artist Megan Thee Stallion has a track with openly gay rapper DreBae on “No Pressure.” Then almost like a domino effect, rapper Lil Nas X came out as gay after his hit Country/Hip-Hop hybrid “Old Town Road” blazed through the charts for months. Only it wasn’t really a “coming out,” at least not to him. He posted on his Twitter page that he thought he made his orientation obvious, pointing to the rainbows in the background of his EP 7. This young black male artist took the world by storm by fusing two of music’s most popular genres, all the while being very comfortable in his queer identity. He may even be working on his 4th “Old Town Road” remix.
Cishet men’s worst fear had been realized. Their piece of the pie was slowly getting smaller, the odds becoming easier for people that didn’t identify as a straight male. Tyler, the Creator’s latest album IGOR debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 100, much to the ire of DJ Khaled who posted a video referring to Tyler’s music as “Mysterious s**t.” Well, it turns out that the world likes their music a little mysterious. The artists that have had to hide parts of themselves for survival now have a little more breathing room. Tyler ditched his usual bright shirt and short shorts look for a bright suit with a blonde bob wig…and his fans are eating it up. They will continue to challenge the status quo by bringing their uncensored creativity to the forefront of the physical and digital world.
They’re proof that it doesn’t matter who you love, as long as you can move the crowd.