Vp Issue 10: “‘I Gotta Story to Tell’: The Queer Hip Hop Scene Grows Up”

[Originally published in Vp issue 10, 2005, by Paradigm and photos by Sophia Wallace]

[Originally published in Vp issue 10, 2005, by Paradigm and photos by Sophia Wallace]

It seems that everybody these days wants to write about queer hip hop or queer hip hoppers. Whether it is the new channels showcasing gay and lesbian content, hip hop magazines looking for the “gay” rapper, or mainstream gays looking for a way into understanding rap culture, the queer hip hopper is a fascinating subject. I’m a queer artist—I rap, sing, write poetry, act, and compose. I am part of a movement of musicians, scholars, emcees, poets, photographers, writers, thinkers who are in the process of world-making. There were no hip hop shows that featured drag kings, punk-rap fags, “gangsta” fags and dykes, bohemian homo poets, so Juba Kalamka created Peace Out, a festival of queer hip hop. There have been subsequent Peace Out festivals in New York, Atlanta, Portland and London. 

Queer hip hoppers have followed in the tradition of lesbian singer-songwriters and started their own labels, community events and word-of-mouth collaborations. But don’t get it twisted, these artists are very serious about their work and their art, with many touring, appearing on television and in magazines, getting the attention of major label executives and producing an album a year. But why do they do it? What is their music contributing to the world? Why this subculture of two subcultures (hip hop and queer)? In mainstream scholarly work about the homo in hip hop, almost no attention is paid to the performances of these artists. In his article “Homies in the ‘Hood,” Tew Swedenburg points to the limits of mainstream rap’s tolerance of queer presence. Swedenburg states, “Hardcore, street-authentic rappers relentlessly push a form of masculinity that Marlon Riggs dubs black macho…who is counterpoised to the sissy/faggot.” And although Swedenburg is sympathetic to the gays being “dissed” he knows of no openly gay [mainstream] rappers. Queer hip hoppers step in to speak for themselves instead of simply being talked about. Brooklyn-based rapper, Shorty Roc sees no conflict between his sexuality and his environment. He is not far removed from the streets. He says, “Hip hop is the language of the streets and that’s what I represent and that’s where I came from.” These rappers break down this idea that the “queer” in hip hop is only in hip hop to be dissed.  

The queer hip hop scene is international. There are budding communities in Vancouver, Toronto, The Caribbean, London, Germany, South America and South Africa. Hip hop is the sound of the streets, many different streets, including queer streets. Queer kids under 35 of all colors grew up on this music—it expresses their pain, joy, ideas, and aspirations. DJ Fucci, queer and female, spreads the word about the power of telling stories as a queer artist, “[W]e know what it’s like through the process of being discounted and criticized and having to face more opposition. I will identify myself [as a queer DJ] as a way of saying I am not the same old thing.” Poetess extraordinaire Exodus puts it this way, “Being a queer woman is the best thing because everything I do is considered deep. The straight folks think I am crazy and the gay folks, think I am ‘right on, sista.’ The poetry makes my life a musical of arranged voices, a cacophony of love and sound.”  

But this music scene is about more than just being the first to get signed on a major label, rapping with straight rappers, having documentaries made about queer hip hop (Alex Hinton’s Pick Up the Mic), and producing parties and events—in many ways, queer hip hop music follows well-known narratives about hip hop and queer life—survival. Atlanta-based emcee Aggracyst states, “It’s important for me, on a more selfish level [to make hip hop]. As an artist I really make music as a release. If I wasn’t doing this I’d crawl into a dark corner, shrivel up and die quite literally.” Aggracyst also notes the reasons he decided to come out of the closet, “I’m not all paradin’ around with a rainbow flag ‘n stuff with my music, but being out offers me an opportunity to be more honest with my work and not fear repercussions anymore.” 


At the end of the day, these artists want to make their music to reach other people, to heal themselves, and to make their voices heard in the world. They want to eat and survive too, but besides the very real issues of survival for queer artists, queer artists of color, queer female artists of color doing hip hop, is the beauty of what they have already survived. In her song “Why Hate Me?” Atlanta-based emcee Da Lyrical puts it this way, “Don’t lay down and just take it, never fake it scribble my feelings down in every verse keep it real so they can feel truth is never rehearsed. And disperse the flow never keep it contained let them hatas keep on hatin’….you could my relative or just somebody I know, but I keep going and going continue on with the fight, never let ‘em see me sweat never provin’ ‘em right.” There is power in these words. Not just the novelty of an emcee being talented and queer and doing rap music. Queer hip hoppers are not just anomalies or human interest stories We are creative, transformative, intricate, varied, lyrically gifted, and damn resourceful. We keep hustlin’, we keep living, we keep making our rhymes, because Audre Lorde let us know many years ago that “we who are not supposed to survive—do.”

Word. Life.


Velvetpark Magazine, Issue 10 (Winter 2005), 16-19.