So maybe not everyone in Brockhampton is queer…
Or maybe they are. Regardless, when every media outlet under the sun championed the self-proclaimed boyband in 2017, they were also pushing a group of young men whose music is largely centered around queer themes and self-acceptance.
Now that Brockhampton has risen to hip-hop fame and is selling out tours, they're emboldening a younger generation of music fans to be more accepting of others while unpacking their own identities. Their music has sparked a hunger for content like “JUNKY,” wherein Kevin Abstract declares “not enough n****s rap and be gay.” Powerful, that statement isn’t all the way true.
Before Brockhampton (and hopefully long after), there has been a colorful lineage of queer and trans artists rapping, producing, interpolating ballroom and EDM, all making music from the political to the prideful, all celebrating queer culture and a broader message of self-love.
Of course, “queer” is not a genre of music, but artists’ decisions to be out and proud in their music will always be a marquee moment for representation. Lists such as these are not exhaustive, and can never escape some element of being reductive, but they do serve the important role of visibility and inspiring hope in other queer people who may feel alone and unheard.
While an artist’s sexuality does not automatically make them talented, these ten artists are undoubtedly phenomenal. Most importantly, their visibility sends a message to young queer music fans and aspiring musicians: you can occupy these spaces, pursue your dreams, and have your voice matter.
Kicking things off in alphabetical order, we have…
ROES (fka Angel Haze) (@AngelHaze)
In 26 years of life, rapper Angel Haze (or rather, ROES) has lived through everything—cult-like family structures, sexual abuse, and unimaginable emotional trauma. Working through a toxic relationship with religion, reasserting themselves over spirituality, and releasing four solid projects with a fifth (hopefully) on the way, Haze embodies the survival instinct that is implicit in queer art.
Much like Haze’s sexuality and gender identity, the music is boundary-less. The winding and ricocheting leads on “The Wolves,” a standout selection from 2015's Back to the Woods, will remind Brockhampton fans of the chaotic SATURATION III opener “BOOGIE.” There's a menace to Haze’s music, an assuredness that is all the more powerful within the context of queer music fans tuning in and seeing themselves as able to get loud and occupy space.
Three Standout Tracks: “Cleaning Out My Closet,” “Impossible,” “Battle Cry" (ft. Sia)
Cakes da Killa (@CAKESDAKILLA)
It is impossible—at least it should be impossible—to not be familiar with Cakes da Killa. Fans of Injury Reserve already know the New Jersey rapper to be a wellspring of energy on the mic. Cakes, 27, has six projects under his belt, with his 2016 debut album, Hedonism, serving as a perfect crash course in the club-meets-hip-hop space. The music is a strobe-lit history lesson, wherein his many electronic influences allude to the myriad EDM parties that helped birth this wave of queer artists.
Beneath Cakes' growl and a stark veneer of club bangers, listeners will find an artist battling to accept his vulnerability and exist outside of his sexuality.
“Having the gay conversation is always cool as far as visibility, but n***a I rap,” he told Noisey in 2016. While the quote speaks to the need for media to learn to see Othered artists as artists first and labels second, it is also a strong reminder that sexuality may not be a genre, but representation remains crucial if we wish to inspire the next generation.
Three Standout Tracks: “New Phone (Who Dis),” “Talkin’ Greezy,” “It’s Not Ovah”
“It’s all about self-love, loving thy body, passion, self-defense, dreaming big, minding your own fucking business,” Jay Boogie declares on “Switch It Up,” the second track on his 2015 project, My H.O.E. With a focus on body positivity and deconstructing toxic masculinity, the Brooklyn-based Boogie is working to undo the relationship between sensitivity, femininity, and weakness.
A Dominican-American raised in what he describes as “a heteronormative gangbanging environment,” Jay Boogie’s aesthetic is in itself radical. On his 2017 mixtape, Jesus Loves Me Too, Boogie spins an electronic-ballroom soundscape, where one minute we're waltzing and the next languid leads disintegrate into a pad of ethereal textures. Where Jay Boogie has a hand in the NYC ballroom scene, drag, performance art, rap, and activism, his music plays just as multifaceted without being a drop confused.
Three Standout Tracks: “Happy,” “Precious,” “Body”
There is no revolution without a riot. Case in point: NYC Riot Boi Le1f, who, in 2015, released his debut of the same name. The album is a distillation of the club scene and grimy loft parties out of which Le1f rose to notoriety, as well as a subversion of the tropes of angry Black men. On wax, Le1f’s warbles sound futuristic and en vogue. Many of the tracks on Riot Boi sound submerged in a think tank, in space, wherein Le1f is simultaneously shedding light on political issues and claiming his title as the life of the party.
Le1f’s strengths lie in his willingness to be on the page and in his vocal range. While he can dip into the syrupy moods of melodic and alternative R&B, Le1f is just as capable of making your heart pound and blood boil on a track like “Rage.” There’s a power in his husky vocalizations, in his ability to channel an earned anger without his tone being policed. Le1f’s music validates emotion without labeling it as “extreme,” and allows listeners to feel secure in their own outrage.
Three Standout Tracks: “Rage,” “Koi,” “Lisa”
Lex Allen (@TheOfficialLex)
The Milwaukee music scene is flourishing, and soul-pop singer Lex Allen is one of many voices to thank for the city’s sonic renaissance. Allen stands for glamour and camp as much as he does body positivity and attitude. There’s a brightness to Allen’s music that becomes near-necessary in the fight for equality. The great tragedy of politically minded artists and social movements is their propensity to submerge themselves in the darkness—something the media is guilty of as well—choosing to cover suffering over celebration.
Lex Allen is the celebration, though. His vocals bounce over new wave influences just as easily as they strain with hurt during an ode to his mother on “Mama’s Boy.” There’s a sweet lilt to his love songs (“Cream and Sugar”) and an earthshaking power to his anthems (“Never Look Back”). If you are a fan of the Brockhampton's sunny deep cuts, Lex Allen is your new favorite singer. With two solid EPs and a wealth of sticky singles, hopefully, 2018 will see the release of a full-length album.
Three Standout Tracks: “Cream and Sugar" (ft. WebsterX), “Venus And Serena" (ft. Taj Raiden & Q The Sun), “Mama’s Boy”
Mister Wallace (@MISTERITGIRL)
His debut EP is entitled Faggot. If that alone doesn't hook you on Chicago-born, New York-based rapper Mister Wallace, allow me to also note his music blends ballroom, club, jazz, and soul. If it seems like I’m just listing the most aurally pleasing genres of music, that’s merely a testament to Wallace’s superb ear.
The raps on Faggot are tongue-twisters delivered with an earthy cadence, and the production flips the concept of a soundscape into an amusement park. Tracks on the EP are layered with textures and skillfully peer over the edge of cacophony without ever tumbling down. Wallace spits each bar with confidence, inadvertently declaring himself the CoverGirl of the century.
Of course, the title of the EP is also a powerful moment of reclamation, a note to all queer listeners that they are free to fearlessly embody their sexuality and take ownership of slurs. Combining whimsy and technical skill with innate political subversion, Faggot succeeds for more reasons than its provocative name.
Three standout tracks: “It Girl,” “Zzz" (ft. Cakes da Killa), “Faggot”
Mykki Blanco (@MykkiBlanco)
Poet-rapper-activist-performance artist and all-around California badass Mykki Blanco has been an impressive and award-winning entertainer for over half their life, winning an Indies Spirit Award at the spry age of 15. Now 31, Blanco is a staple artist in the queer community with three EPs and just as many mixtapes to their name. Their debut album, Mykki, finally released in 2016.
Mykki takes the winding darkness of grime and techno and gives it an alternative hip-hop spin. Songs move from yearning and personal (“I’m In A Mood”) to riotous and raucous (“Fendi Band”), to steely and robotic (“Interlude I”). On “You Don’t Know Me,” they tackles the harrowing reality of coming out as HIV-positive. There is bravery and an edge to Mykki Blanco’s every bar, note, and jittering synth.
Three Standout Tracks: “You Don’t Know Me,” “Loner" (ft. Jean Deaux), “Hideaway" (ft. Jeremiah Meece)
Princess Nokia is still way more than the soup of the day. An unsilenceable and unfuckwithable rapper from New York City, Nokia has had an eclectic rap journey. A proud feminist, Nokia's music occupies the same space and demands the same attention as her male counterparts. Originally releasing music under the name Wavy Spice, Nokia's earliest works fused jazz and anime with icy tones and EDM influences to produce a set of oddly compelling mixtapes. Fast forward to 2017, and Princess Nokia releases the decidedly New York and wonderfully affirming 1992 Deluxe.
Embracing every element of her identity, from being a “Tomboy” to a “Bruja,” to an unassuming and misunderstood “Goth Kid,” Princess Nokia is one of the most unabashed emcees breathing. Prizing her “little titties” is her protest, much like her claiming ownership over her hair on “Mine.”
Nokia’s range is also impressive—raspy in one breath, sultry in another, yelping in the next, empowered always. Her progressive and self-possessed writing lands well on the classic production throughout 1992, that juxtaposition of old and new making change and evolution a drop more tangible.
Three Standout Tracks: “Bart Simpson,” “Tomboy,” “Bruja”
Quay Dash (@QuayDash)
New York rapper Quay Dash proves that trans women have a seat at the head of the hip-hop table. Rising out of the NYC club scene like many before her, the boundless Dash pulls from the hard-hitting quality of club music to sharpen her pen and her presence on the mic. “I’m not putting myself in a box either, but I know that I’m here to represent for people in my community, definitely,” she told The Guardian.
There’s an attractive heat to 2017's Transphobic. Dash’s delivery is all at once sinewy and ever so tender. She sheds the creeping menace of “Bossed Up” on “Queen of NY” in favor of a crisper and punchier delivery. The track is outfitted with noir-esque horns and Dash struts over the beat with a well-earned braggadocio. Queer art is as invested in pride as it is in pain, and Quay Dash is beaming with an attractive delight.
Three Standout Tracks: “Queen of NY,” “Decline Him,” “I Need A Bag”
Zebra Katz (@ZebraKatz)
Once a performance piece, Zebra Katz now embodies the power and pomp of the queer community. The Brooklyn rapper began as a character in the mind of Ojay Morgan but has gone on to release six projects, work with a grip of artists on this list, and portray a fresh image of Black male queerness as strong, assertive, and unashamed.
There is an obvious pride within his queer identity, but Katz’s music rightfully exists outside of the label. “I think as artists we have so much more to offer than a blanket sexuality that most people think is helping us sell music because it’s not,” Katz told Huffington Post.
With infectious tunes that evolved out of deep house music, it’s easy to call some of his work experimental and move on, but the material is more engaging than the ironic catch-all of the avant-garde. Zebra Katz’s music is pounding and guttural, unlocking something lost and carnal within the listener. Within his dark production choices, Katz is keenly aware of your most sacred thoughts, but it sounds like he can keep a secret.
Three Standout Tracks: “Josephine Effect,” “I’ma Read,” “Hello Hi" (ft. Bosco)