It’s no big secret that the music industry has a toxic culture of heteronormativity and homophobia. No matter the level of notoriety or success achieved, nothing makes queer artists immune to intolerance, mistreatment, and outright hate (I’m looking at you, Migos). Artists are pressured to be less gay, less feminine, less their true selves. And in an industry where your persona is your everything, being told to essentially suppresses your true identity and put on a mask for society is incredibly demoralizing.
That being said, there are a lot of powerful non–conforming artists that are building a career and fan–base off of their unapologetic determination to be themselves in every way, shape, and form. In celebration of these brave and trailblazing folks, here are some of Street’s favorite out–and–proud QTPOC (queer and trans people of color) artists.
Clifford Ian Simpson, aka Kevin Abstract
Probably best known as the founder and leader of California–based music group Brockhampton, Abstract first came up on the music scene in 2010. As the leader of “the Internet’s first boyband,” Abstract doesn’t shy away from writing about his homosexuality and queer identity in the group’s work. Whether it's tackling the lack of queer rappers in the industry, violence directed at queer folks, mental health, hyper–masculinity, or homophobia in the African American community, you can always bet on Abstract to deliver scathing lyrics that are as real and powerful as they are great music.
Songs to add: "Echo," "American Boyfriend," "Seventeen"
Khalif Diouf, better known by his stage name Le1f, was a classically trained ballet and modern dancer who studied at the prestigious Concord Academy before deciding to become a musician. Initially a producer for the hip–hop group Das Racist, Diouf first became known as a solo artist in 2012 with the critically acclaimed mixtape Dark York. Diouf has been outspoken about the injustice that queer folks and people of color have to deal with in the music industry, most notably criticizing Macklemore for his song “Same Love,” saying that the song was an appropriation of LGBTQ rights by a heterosexual for financial gain (and he’s not wrong, y’all). But what is most striking about Diouf is not his critiques of the industry or his support of fellow QTPOC artists, but his ability to capture the feelings of love and lust in his music in the most genuine and pure way.
Songs to add: "Buzz," "Change," "Koi"
Rap isn’t an easy area to break into for anyone that isn't a hyper–masculine person or heteronormative male, but Angel Haze has managed to make their mark with ease and grace. Pansexual and agender, Haze has been open about their stance on love and the fluidity and growth of gender identity, often using their experience as a queer person of color as the inspiration for some of their greatest bangers. Always the enigma, Haze uses their poetry background to write lyrics that are simultaneously brash and demure, vulnerable and hostile. Their lyrical talent and raw style have allowed this boss to make their mark on the rap world at only 25 years young, most recently releasing two singles (“No Limits” and “Candles”) in the past six months.
Songs to add: "Black Dahlia," "No Limits," "Weapon"
Arguably the biggest genderqueer rapper in the biz right now, Mykki Blanco gained international notoriety for her book of poetry released in 2011. The book, called “From the Silence of Duchamp to the Noise of Boys”, eventually morphed into the music for her first studio release, Mykki Blanco and The Mutant Angels. The transfeminine (as she described herself in an interview) artist has used different pronouns throughout her career, using her own personal journey of gender identity and personal growth to inspire fans and struggling QTPOC alike. It’s her “two–spirit side of herself” that makes her music so soul grabbing and moving—it’s impossible not to feel the raw emotion and intense care that Mykki pours into every lyric, every album, every performance.
Songs to add: "Wish You Would" (feat. Princess Nokia), "Wavvy", "Coke White, Starlight"
Former Myspace it–girl Azealia Banks has been a tour–de–force since her initial claim to fame in 2008 at only 17 (!!!!) years old. Hailing from Harlem, Banks brings a quintessential East Coast grit to her deeply emotional tracks, which touch on her experiences as a black, bisexual woman. Banks has always been an outspoken advocate for various women’s and civil rights, including access to education and the discriminatory nature of capitalism. But don’t expect her to sing explicitly about her sexual orientation—Banks has continually expressed a hatred for the labels society uses to constrain and categorize others based on their sexuality throughout her entire career. As someone who lives on exclusively their own terms, Banks and her music pack an unapologetically sobering punch. Listen with caution: Banks is for baddies only.
Songs to add: "212," "Escapades," "Chi Chi"
You may remember Kehlani Ashley Parrish from her stint in the 6th season of America’s Got Talent with pop cover band group Poplyfe. But the Oakland born–and–raised neosoul goddess is so much more than her big break as a musician. She speaks with unabashed candor about growing up with multi–racial and abusive parents, and uses her less–than–privileged upbringing to constantly engage with fans on social media and raise awareness for issues of mental health (issues of which LGBTQ and QTPOC youth are extremely susceptible). But don’t get it twisted—Kehlani’s music isn’t some sappy or clichéd call for peace and love. She brings a strong and radiant presence to every mixtape she produces, every song she is featured on, every clapback on Twitter. Now up for a Grammy for the second time, Kehlani is definitely a force to be reckoned with.
Songs to add: "The Way," "Personal," "CRZY," "Honey"