Navigating lyrics on queerness in rap

As a transgender lesbian woman who has listened to rap her whole life, nothing scares me anymore. Living this life is like the meme of the ant with a stick and bag slung over his shoulder—you don’t want it. I have become so accustomed to being the butt of the joke that I can predict when a rapper is going to drop a slur based on their rhyme scheme. Unfortunately, the negative lyrics are something I have come to terms with. Rap music is so integral to my Black identity that sometimes I try to turn a blind eye, like when grandma says something a little strange at the Thanksgiving function. Rarely do I feel seen and heard by the occasionally popular queer rapper; I am usually having my ears harassed by a homophobic 40-year-old dude in a Rocawear hat.

I will share some of the most striking rap lyrics about queerness—lots of which I wish I never heard. While queerphobia has been rooted in the genre since its inception, there has also been a long lineage of allyship developing parallel to it (homo hop, an early 2000s subgenre of rap, specifically focused on battling the negative rhetoric way back when). Perhaps we can laugh at the ridiculousness of the bigotry and embrace the heartwarming moments of queer rappers finding their footing in a position that can be so complex. 

Sahbabii—“House Party (feat. T3)”

“They thought I was gay when I had the Uggs on”

Who, Sahbabii, who? Who thought you were gay when you had the Uggs on? The rap game? A singular enby? I do not know what is funnier—the fact that they correlated Sahbabii’s shoe swag to how he likes it in the bedroom, him thinking it was so important that he had to mention it on a track or the fact that the next line is “had the .38,” as if gun-ownership absolves you from homosexuality allegations. I mean, it is clearly supposed to be a callback to Young Thug’s “Had to wear the dress cause I had the stick,” his response to the iconic “JEFFERY” album art that shows him donning long, purple garb. But surely it makes more sense to hide a gun with a dress and not an…Ugg boot?

quinn—“please don’t waste my time”

“Mama said the life I’m living is just the life of a man / Except the gender change just wasn’t part of the plan”

Wonderful. One of those lines you wish you came up with first. This was one of the first times I had heard an expression of gender queerness that also encapsulated the Black experience. The boom-bap-esque “mama said…” setup of a bar about transitioning creates a dichotomy between the perceived ruggedness of the genre and one’s existence in it. Her gender identity does not affect her participation in a culture that has molded her. quinn does not change for anybody—she tells how it is.

tenkay—“Respect My Mind”

“My b**** got she/her pronouns but she was a he first”

I mean, wow. I have taken seminar-style classes at Vassar but none of those discussions were as fruitful as the one I had with the girls about this line when this song dropped last year. Was tenkay yelling trans rights? Was he coming off as a chaser? Like, yes, I felt seen (I guess?) but why did you feel the need to air that out? Was tenkay’s girl aware of this? 

Young Thug—“Die Slow”

“I always knew I wasn’t gonna be gay / Had her sending naked pictures to my mom’s phone when I was like 8”

Free Thugger! Victim of the prison industrial system but also grooming. It is daunting how he glides past such a serious issue to focus on a much more minor thing. Maybe that says something about what hip-hop politics decides to hone in on. In any case, I think it is hilarious that he is admittingly, like, hyper aware of the possibility of being gay. Like he always knew he was not gonna be gay. From day one he was like, yeah, surely I will not end up like Tommy working at Seafood Palace down the street. I hope we catch that woman though. 

SoFaygo—“Clash”

“Hop in that whip and then kill a queer”

Actually just insane. There is no bar here! It is just a declaration of a hate crime! Nothing witty about this. It is also so bizarre to realize how real this sentiment is in some people. Faygo went to punch-in and the first thing that came to mind was this. Pretty disgusting. Homophobia’s position in hip-hop seems so deeply rooted in a masculine/feminine binary where the macho gets the praise and adoration, which makes this declaration…off. SoFaygo’s hot pink dreads and cute dance moves feel like a pretty progressive step towards breaking that binary, but his lyrics do not reinforce that. 

Kuru—“boohoo”

“I can’t f*** with these b******, I’m gay”

Do not call them that, bro. But seriously, this might be one of the greatest lines of all time. It is so simple and fun and hard to imagine that nobody thought to say this previously. I think queer rappers should take after this instead of the millennial-coded coming-out song. Seriously. There is something so personal and unique about queer identity, and the feelings that come with it do not always have to be so serious! You can have fun and be playful about it. 

MF DOOM—“Batty Boyz”

“Oh shoot, get a load of that fruit”

RIP DOOM. I chose this one because of how comically DOOM it is. He opens up what is easily his most homophobic song (I mean, the title is literally a Jamaican Patois slur for gay boy) with the silly rhyme antics he is known for. It reads like a viral tweet—“MF DOOM if he was homophobic: Oh shoot, get a load of that fruit!” Except it is a real thing that he said. Aw shucks. Guess all of our idols cannot be perfect.

All of this to say, queerness and hip-hop have such an interesting relationship. In an era where eight different underground movements can be broadcasted at the same time (thanks to social media), it is easy to feel confused about where queerness is currently positioned in the genre. For example, Lil Uzi Vert, identifying as non-binary, hangs out with Opium upstart Ken Carson, who has not said the friendliest things about trans folk. Whether we are all conditioned to turn a blind eye to gender politics or simply are not ready to have those difficult talks is all a blur to me, but I am happy taking my wins for now. Even if I think Lil Nas X’s music kind of sucks, the work he is doing goes a long way. Queerness will never leave rap, so maybe it is time we start getting drawn-out, over-the-top Biggie vs. Pac-style beefs about holding those unwilling to conform accountable. 

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