Artists At The Intersection: Black Queer Representation In Music
Join Rowdy in celebrating artists who show that being Black, out and proud has never sounded so good.
(@feliciathegoat / Instagram)
Billboard’s Hot 100 Chart sings the story of a changing music industry. People of all genders, sexualities, races and cultural backgrounds are being celebrated more and more as we challenge the notion of who can be successful in a society rife with ties to white supremacy.
However, it is important to recognize not only minority artists but those who belong to multiple marginalized communities, such as Black queer artists. These musicians are faced with the added burden of existing at the intersection between their marginalized racial identity and sexual orientation.
Institutionalized oppression and heterosexism have contributed to a lack of queer representation in predominantly Black music genres, such as hip-hop, rap and R&B. Compounded by a traditionally homophobic Christian influence and a limiting idea of Black masculinity, these genres of music are also slowly changing to reflect the rising social acceptance of people of all backgrounds.
And while there’s still plenty of room for improvement when we’re talking about equality in the music industry (and the society which it reflects), here are some of today’s biggest names in music who show that being Black, out and proud has never sounded so good:
Frank Ocean has been widely touted as a face for Black queer artists, with media going so far as to call his coming out the provocation of a “Black queer music revolution.”
Before releasing his iconic “Channel Orange” almost eight years ago, he posted on his Tumblr this equally iconic open letter which details his first love with a man who was closeted.
“Channel Orange” carries hints of the letter’s nostalgia and emotion. Listeners can imagine themselves in the Nissan Maxima he wrote about — alone but comforted by his unique blend of rap, soul, R&B and psychedelic notes.
Frank Ocean told GQ magazine he “cried like a f**king baby” after posting the letter and that “there’s some magic in truth and honesty and openness.” He has since kept much of his love life private from the public, but his music openly reflects his sexuality, most notably in his song “Chanel.”
Ocean alludes to his queerness when he sings he “[sees] both sides like Chanel.”
Frank Ocean gracefully pulls influences from all genres to masterfully craft his signature alternative R&B style.
Kevin Abstract, one of the founding members of alternative hip-hop group Brockhampton, raps openly about both his struggles with being gay and the freedom he found in his partners.
For example, in “Miserable America,” he melodically holds these opposites: “My boyfriend saved me / My mother’s homophobic / I’m stuck in the closet / I’m so claustrophobic.”
The 23-year-old has said that although he would prefer to be seen as just a rapper and not a ‘queer rapper,’ “I have to exist in a homophobic space in order to make change and that homophobic space would be the hip-hop community… So me just existing and being myself is making change and making things easier for other young queer kids.”
Abstract, both his stage name and what he bases his music upon, breathes sincerity and authenticity into each bar he raps, musically carving out a space in the genre to be himself.
Kehlani took to Twitter in 2018 to address questions about her sexuality. She clarified that identifying as queer instead of other labels has an important distinction to her.
In a since-deleted tweet, she wrote: “i felt gay always insisted there was still a line drawn as to which ‘label’ of human i was attracted when i really jus be walking around thinking ERRYBODY FINE.”
(To which I say, same, Kehlani, same.)
Her song “Honey” is a sweet, acoustic profession of love for another woman. In 2017, she told MTV that the song allowed her to “be myself fluidly in my music and not just in my life.”
When she welcomed a beautiful baby girl in 2019, Kehlani reminded queer people
that being in a heterosexual relationship is not the only avenue to having a family.
Her music fills you with the same euphoria you feel when you’re crushing hard, and her effortlessly smooth harmonies are there to soften the blow when the love is unrequited.
Young M.A. dropped “OOOUUU” in the summer of 2016. The song’s lyrics mirror the hypersexualized way male rappers tend to talk about women, such as when she raps, “Where the hoes, bro?”
Although these are common and accepted lyrics in the genre, hearing them from a woman definitely raised some eyebrows at the time. Much of Young M.A.’s music is like this, bars dripping with the luxury, sex and adrenaline signature to modern rap.
Young M.A. told TIME about how being a non-straight person made it hard for her to be seen in the music industry.
“Before, I used to think being a label was cool. With this industry, they didn’t welcome a person like me, what I represent,” she said. “I busted some doors down, with no hesitation. But then I got to a point where it was just like, ‘I don’t need nobody defining me.’”
Tyler, the Creator
Tyler, the Creator has garnered years of rumors and speculation over his sexuality. Despite never formally “coming out,” Tyler, the Creator has many lyrics which allude to relationships with men, and even straightforward ones such as “I been kissing white boys since 2004,” off his track “I Ain’t Got Time.”
He’s also tweeted about the subject, but in true Tyler fashion, he leaves things open-ended. The debate over his sexuality highlights the need for nuance and fluidity in the conversation about sexuality, one which can at times seem hell-bent on looking for a definitive label.
Regardless of how he identifies, Tyler offers an alternative to the traditional male – and Black male – experience, by challenging ideas about masculinity and being open and fluid with the people he dates. His energetic songs mirror this flexibility with a genre-bending blend of hip-hop, jazz, pop and R&B.
Lil Nas X
Lil Nas X became one of the newest and biggest queer artists in the pop culture scene almost overnight. After coming out during Pride Month in 2019, he has embraced his identity, and today his Twitter is full of memes any other queer 21-year-old could relate to.
Not only has Lil Nas X navigated the intersectionality of being a queer Black artist and pushed the boundaries of what it means to be a Black man in popular culture, he has also boldly taken on a country-rap style, demanding space to be made for him in genres which have typically excluded Black and queer people.
By bending the traditional associations with these genres, Lil Nas X has quickly garnered a large following and is paving the way for even more. “I feel like I’m opening the doors for more people,” he said to the BBC. “That they feel more comfortable [being out]. Especially in the … hip-hop community. It’s still not accepted….”
This Pride Month, join Rowdy in celebrating the artists who are breaking boundaries and being themselves as they unapologetically pave the way for a more inclusive future in music.
Morgan is an Online Writer at Rowdy Magazine and a fourth-year journalism and women's studies student at UF. You can usually find her at a local coffee shop, petting her latest foster cat or on social media @morgangoldwich.