Dylan B Jones’ field guide to the urban underground movement that’s changing the face of contemporary rap one sequin at a time.
Hold on to your high-tops, gay hip-hop’s here! Armed with geometric leggings, lascivious lyricisms and throwing more shade than you can shake a stick at, it’s taking over. And if you don’t know what “throwing shade” means, then I invoke the 5 G’s; Good God Gurl, Get a Grip!
The rise of this new field of music is phenomenally inconceivable, but in some ways makes sense. For the most part, the last vestiges of bigotry in the creative industries died out a good few years ago (along with Girls Aloud, Carrie Bradshaw’s fashion sense, and the rare Yangtze river dolphin. Sad.) This paved the way for a much younger, fresher, more imaginative crowd, because let’s face it, when Azealia Banks put on that green alien catsuit and screamed that the Rolling Stones were a bunch of “degenerate goths”, who really gave a shit about Eminem anymore?
So here it is, a short field guide to the most promising new stars around. Love them, hate them, play their songs during sex or parties or sex parties. Whatever, it doesn’t matter. They’re too cool for you anyway.
You’ll find him: Braiding his hair in a dumpster.
Mykki Blanco is truly a 21st century phenomenon. Turning the homophobic stereotype of rap on its head, he camps it up, vamps it up, and spits lyricisms that would make Johnny Rapid blush. The most impressive thing about Blanco’s work is that, much to the chagrin of some of his resentful peers, it’s still very much rap music. Good rap music. He’s not changed the genre, but redefined it, repackaging it and injecting it with colour and positive energy for a new, liberal, fashion-conscious young audience.
You’ll find him: Gluing sequins onto papier mache frogs.
LE1F wears provocatively short shorts and raps about muscular Ukranian men. If everyone did that the world would be a better place. His music has a joyful, tongue-in-cheek madness to it, and infectiously dance-inducing beats. He’s brilliantly unapologetic, whipping his formidable purple braids in the face of stereotypes and homophobia. I have cups of tea with him in Dalston sometimes.
You’ll find him: Painting his nails in the locker room.
Underground star and purveyor of vintage furs, Zebra Katz is devilishly dashing, with a voice so molasses-rich that one verse makes me all tingly. In a veer away from the freneticism of his peers, Katz specializes in brooding trip-hop, with a gorgeously viscous undertone of sarky bitchiness. Unsurprisingly, his biggest song is called ‘Ima Read’.
You’ll find him: On all fours in the alley behind American Apparel.
Cazwell is what would have happened if Eminem had grown up on Madonna’s front lawn. Sloppy, sexy, and scintillatingly sleazy, his work includes songs with titles like ‘I Seen Beyonce At Burger King’, ‘Unzip Me’ and let’s not forget his seminal classic ‘All Over Your Face’. I like Cazwell a lot because he doesn’t take himself too seriously, UNLIKE SOME PEOPLE WE KNOW, LADY GAGA, COUGH COUGH. Here’s one of his ridiculous music videos, which is almost safe for work but probably not quite.
You’ll find him: Buying motorbikes.
Now strictly speaking, Frank Ocean isn’t a gay hip-hop artist. He’s a hip-hop artist who happens to have had relationships with men in the past. And he’s a bloody good one too. Anyone who can put Playstation 1 loading sounds in his songs and get universal critical acclaim for it, deserves serious kudos. Despite not strictly fitting the bill, Frank Ocean deserves a mention for the role he’s played in changing preconceptions. He’s a sweary, surly-faced, masculine singer with naked ladies and cash and motorbikes in his music videos, and a few months ago he revealed he’d been in love with men before. The fact that he’s absolutely gorgeous is nice too. Here’s a picture of him, look, he’s gorgeous.
You’ll find her: Covering her cat in salad cream.
Azealia. Azealia, Azealia, Azealia. Genius? Girl nextdoor? Alien animorph from the planet Voguetta? Who knows. She gets reactions out of people though, that’s for sure. But, vaguely homophobic Twitter slurs aside, it’s fair to say she played a massive role in the induction of gay hip-hop. When she exploded onto YouTube with ‘212’, pigtails and that slightly manic grin, it was clear things were changing. She was cool, she was fashionable, she was a woman, and she clearly didn’t give a shit about 50 Cent’s latest range of Guns For Kids (batteries not included). Besides, by definition, Banks is an LGBT rapper, having frequently said she identifies as bisexual. I don’t care that she called Perez Hilton a “messy faggot”. I’d love Azealia Banks to call me a messy faggot! Whilst holding my hair back at a house party so I didn’t get vomit in it.
On that note, I’ll leave you all to go back to your tweeting and bitching and scrolling and screwing. But learn a life lesson from this lot. Have an imagination and throw preconceptions to the wind. Put on a green catsuit. Braid your hair. Most importantly, be fresh, be fierce, and DON’T f*ck it up!
Headline image: Loren Wohl for MTV Hive