Everyone remembers Madonna kissing Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera at the 2003 MTV VMAs. Less memorable, though equally enjoyable, was Missy Elliott busting on stage to spit a few lines of "Work It" after the pop-star trio swapped spit. After the performance, The Guardian asked Missy why she didn't partake in the snogging. "No, no, no," writer Hattie Collins quoted saying while nearly choking on her food. "Hip hop would never do that. Never, never, never in a million years."
Sorry, Missy. But not only is hip hop "doing that," but acclaimed MCs are rapping about loving, kissing and doing a whole lot more with lovers who happen to be the same sex. Artists like Big Freedia, Mykki Blanco, Angel Haze, Le1f and more are making waves in the hip hop community despite not adhering to traditional gender and sexuality norms.
Get to know 12 badass queer acts carving out a place in hip hop culture.
Birth Name: Freddie Ross
Hometown: New Orleans, LA
Big Freedia is known as the queen of bounce music, the frenetic hip hop genre from New Orleans. She solidified her place in booty-shaking history when she led the GUINNESS WORLD RECORD™ for Most People Twerking Simultaneously last fall. She's collaborated with RuPaul in the studio (listen to their addictive 2012 single "Peanut Butter") and opened for The Postal Service and Matt & Kim.
This year, her Fuse reality show Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce won the 2014 GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Reality Program. Catch the season 2 premiere on June 11 at 11/10c. Find Fuse in your area with our channel finder.
She's currently prepping her new album, Just Be Free, which features Diplo and, believe it or not, Missy Elliott.
Badass Quote: "I wear women’s hair and carry a purse, but I am a man," she told OffBeat.com in 2011. "I answer to either 'he' or 'she.'"
Birth Name: Khalif Diouf
Hometown: Manhattan, New York
Since 2012, the ballet-dancing rapper has dropped three mixtapes and two EPs—all boasting addictive beats over his hard-hitting, grumbling style of spitting. Le1f rose to Internet notoriety after crafting the beat for Das Racist's underground hit "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell" and saw his solo stardom rise when the Brooklyn outfit called it quits in 2012. As good as his production skills are, Le1f's visuals are even more striking: See "Wut" (above) showcasing him gyrating around an oiled-up beefcake in a Pikachu mask or Le1f doing lingerie-clad gymnastics in "Hush Bb."
Badass Quote: "It would be trite to pretend to be gangsta and gay unless you actually were. If someone is that, that’s awesome," he told Fuse. "Just like being gay is just one identity out of whatever sh-tty one thousand things make up a person. It’s different for everyone. And so as long as you're feeling good while making music, that’s what’s really relevant."
Birth Name: Michael Quattlebaum Jr.
Hometown: San Mateo County, CA
Inspired by Lil' Kim's alter ego Kimmy Blanco, Quattlebaum's female persona Mykki Blanco began as a teenage girl character from a 2010 YouTube video, but evolved into a musical and performance artist. Her fluid approach to gender—going shirtless and drag in videos—translates to her music, too, incorporating heavy trap beats, ominous synths, finger snaps, military drums and wonky samples.
Badass Quote: "One day I will have put out so much music and done so many different things and played with so many different nuances, that term 'queer rap' will be irrelevant," she told MTV UK.
Birth Name: Raykeea Wilson
Hometown: Detroit, MI
Last year, Angel Haze was the only female featured on XXL's Freshmen Class cover and the BBC's No. 3 pick in their Sound of 2013 list. And she proved that she wouldn't break promises to her fans when she leaked her debut album against her label's wishes. Dirty Gold mixed rap, rock, EDM and pop, staying true to Haze's wish to be a rock star instead of strictly sticking to rapping.
Badass Quote: "No, I'm not gay / No I'm not straight / And I sure as hell am not bisexual," Haze spits on her remix to Macklemore's "Same Love." "Damn it, I am whoever the hell I am when I am it."
Hometown: New Orleans, LA
A protege of Big Freedia, Nicky Da B made inroads into the mainstream with a feature on Diplo's "Express Yourself" (above), considered to be a signature track of the Major Lazer maestro. While he certainly shouts pump-up commands like fellow bounce legends like Freedia and Katey Red, his flow and beats blend Jamaican dancehall sounds and tongue rolls. Plus, his videos are super-entertaining: Anyone who's watched TV in the last 30 years will enjoy his "Hot Potato Style" clip.
Badass Quote: "I perform for a LGBT crowd but also for everyone," he explained to Austinist.com. "I don't know about it being acceptable [in hip hop and R&B], because a lot of people aren't really coming out, but I think it's time. I think it's time for people to just be themselves."
Birth Name: Rashard Bradshaw
Hometown: Englewood, New Jersey
Heralded by hipster bibles Pitchfork and The Fader, Cakes is a reminder of the fierce attitude you need to succeed in hip hop—regardless of sexuality. The Jersey boy initially broke out when he was still a college student thanks to a style reminiscent of Lil' Kim—he doesn't hide his overtly sexual nature. Take a listen to "Goodies Goodies" not only for its snappy beat, but for tongue-in-cheek lines where Cakes describes sexy times in a Honda Civic.
Badass Quote: "Of course, I have to put a lash on. But in terms of gender roles, what is makeup?" he reflected to Interview magazine. "It doesn't just have to be about being female... We have our own styles, but we all sleep with men. That's how the media paints it. If I had a cover story, I wouldn't use that angle, I think it's so lazy. I tip my hat to anyone who's making it in music, but I'm not hawking anyone else's career, I have my own life to live."
Birth Name: Brooke Dyan Candy
Hometown: Oxnard, CA
The singer/rapper first garnered attention from indie crowd by co-starring in Grimes' awesome "Genesis" video and linking up with Charli XCX on trance-pop track "Cloud Aura." She's continued to keep interest for spitting feminist-driven lyrics ("It's time to take the word back / Slut is now a compliment / A sexy-ass female / Who runnin' sh-t and confident" in "Das Me") and visuals that rival Lady Gaga (see "Opulence" above).
Badass Quote: "'I Wanna F-ck Right Now' is truly how I feel because I am very sexual" she said of her 2013 single. "The lyrics, ‘You coming for victory boy / Nothing but dick to me boy,' I would say being a gay female. The men that I do have sex with—cause I'm a lesbian that identifies as a gay man, a concept which is completely separate—but there are times when I don't care and I have sex with whoever I want. There are no boundaries to my sexuality and so, for me, because I don't mentally connect with men, it's like they are a sex object for me, like many women are to men and have been for centuries. Why can't they be sex objects for women?"
Birth Name: Kenyon Carter
Hometown: New Orleans, LA
The very first transgendered rapper to get on the mic, Katey Red led the way for her best friend Big Freedia and other queer musicians in the late '90s.
Badass Quote: "At first, I was a bit scared," Katey told Vanity Fair of her beginnings. "I know a lot of the boys listening didn't like homosexuals. But I got over my fright. And they liked my music so much, they was like, 'F-ck it.'"
Birth Name: Ojay Morgan
Hometown: Brooklyn, NY
Zebra Katz was crafted while Morgan was in college in New York City, evolving out of a performance art piece. While initially keeping music as a hobby, things changed when the Brooklyn-based MC's "Ima Read" was featured in a Rick Owens fashion show. Not only does Katz have Diplo in his corner—"Ima Read" was released under Diplo's Mad Decent imprint—but he scored a Rhymes co-sign when the rap veteran remixed his breakout hit. "I think it says a lot about who can and can't be involved with hip-hop," Katz said of the collab.
Badass Quote: "Creating a strong, black, other, queer male is something that really needed to happen because you don't see that that often, especially not in hip-hop," he told The Guardian. "But it's terrifying standing up as a queer man. People are getting attacked all over the world, but you have to use your sexuality as a tool, instead of having them use it against you."
Birth Names: Adam Radakovich (aka C-nty Crawford Ladosha) and Antonio Blair (Dosha Devastation)
Hometown: Now based in Brooklyn, but Radakovich grew up in Ohio and Blair in Nashville
House of Ladosha isn't just a rap duo—it's an entire collective. C-nty Crawford Ladosha and Dosha Devastation studied vogueing on YouTube and handle the rapping while their DJ, Michael Magnan, designs hip hop t-shirts with a twist: One replaces Tupac's "THUG LIFE" tattoo with "C-NT LIFE."
Badass Quotes: "I thank the skies that I'm queer—it's so much fun and gives you the license to carry," C-nty Crawford Ladosha told Interview mag. "I think more rappers should just let go. Put on some pumps, honey, wear a dress—it really frees you, and will probably make your lyrics better."
Dosha Devastation added, "It's all about good music and individuality, which I think a lot of... not just rappers, but artists in general, lack. If you are that bitch and you actually do spit the hot, hot fire, then how could you ever be denied your props? Real recognize real! Because at the end of the day, being a straight black male doesn't mean you are gonna be good at rapping."
Birth Name: Azealia Amanda Banks
Hometown: Harlem, NY
Originally touted as the female rapper to compete with Nicki Minaj, a slew of public feuds and album delays have made many wonder if her breakout viral hit "212" (above) will be her only long-lasting contribution to the mainstream. Still, her ability to spit over fiery beats can't be denied with her mixtapes and EPs earning widespread critical acclaim.
Badass Quote: "I'm not trying to be, like, the bisexual, lesbian rapper," she told The New York Times of identifying as bi. "I don't live on other people's terms."
Not-So-Badass Quote: "My most sincere apologies to anyone who was indirectly offended by my foul language," she tweeted after calling gossip blogger Perez Hilton a "messy f-ggot" on her account. "Not sorry for Perez tho [sic]... really not as moved by this f word thing as u all want me to be. As a bisexual person, I knew what I meant when I used that word."
Birth Name: Roxanne Conway
Hometown: Birmingham, England
The MC has been tipped as the next hot thing to come out of the UK's grime scene. Her husky voice is instantly recognizable and her attitude-driven swagger is undeniable.
Badass Quote: "I want to be perceived as 'RoxXxan,' but if people label me as 'gay rapper RoxXxan' I'm not offended," she told The Guardian. "Being gay today isn't what it was 10 years ago. People are so much more relaxed... especially where I'm from, all you ever hear in the hood is, 'Shut up, you're gay.' You're brought up to believe that it's wrong. It took me ages to come out and tell everybody, but life is a lot easier for me now."