Soul Train Presents: LGBTQ+ Artists in da Culture
Frank Ocean coming out to the world in a single Tumblr post shook the world of music. Although not a typical hip-hop rapper per say, Frank Ocean is heavily involved with the culture and world of hip-hop as a whole. Often seen and involved with rappers like Tyler, The Creator, Kanye West, A$AP Rocky, Jay Z and more, Frank Ocean has cemented himself in the world of hip-hop and R&B. So with one swoop, just a week before his long-awaited debut album came out, Channel Orange, and with all surrounding rumors, Frank Ocean told us about him falling in love with another man at the age of 19. It was a super raw, real and honest. Nothing fancy and overly played out like what most celebrities would do. Instead, it was done in a single, not so appealing low-quality edit text file on a Mac, uploaded on Tumblr.
This open letter was celebrated throughout the LGBTQ community. It marked a brave, first step for a huge R&B artist like Frank Ocean and set a positive example for other artists and people alike. One of my favorite parts of this open letter was how Frank Ocean ended it, “Whoever you are. Wherever you are… I’m starting to think we’re a lot alike. Human beings spinning on blackness. All wanting to be seen, touched, heard, paid attention to”.
One of the things regarding Frank Ocean’s story is the way he chose to tell it. It’s done in an almost poetic/artistic type of way and some people have criticized him for not blatantly coming out. Some of the criticism that Frank Ocean got was during an interview he did with GQ in 2012, the only one where he addresses his sexuality where the interviewer asks him if he is bisexual and Frank Ocean answers with “You can move to the next question. I’ll respectfully say that life is dynamic and comes along with dynamic experiences”. Many saw this as a cop out, in reality, Frank was not very keen on labels or being boxed in for that matter. He also compares this sentiment with genres of music. It’s hard to say if he is in the wrong or right.
- Is it wrong that he doesn’t want to be very public with his sexual orientation?
- On the other, is it wrong that he doesn’t embrace this quality and use it to empower others?
Frank Ocean’s Open Letter on Tumblr:
Fader Article talking about the writers’ personal experience and opinion with Frank Ocean’s open letter:
GQ Magazine Interview in 2012:
Queen Latifah, often called the first lady of hip-hop, is known for her rapping, singing, acting and has won a Grammy, Emmy, and a Golden Globe. She is noted as infusing feminism into hip-hop, opening the door for future female hip-hop artists. Although she is considered a feminist by some, Queen Latifah does not self-identify as a feminist. Her sexual identity is vague and she has kept mostly very secretive about her private life. Through my research, it seems like, over the decades, Queen Latifah has slowly unveiled her sexual orientation, still not very open about it to this day.
In 1996, Queen Latifah played a lesbian police officer in the movie “Set It Off.” It is still unknown if she used her personal experiences for the character. During this time, although she was not openly gay, she states, “When I got the role of amateur bank robber Cleo Sims in ‘Set It Off,’ I sat down with my younger siblings and told them, ‘Listen, I’m playing a gay character. Your classmates might tease you or say negative things about it. But I’m doing it because I believe I can bring positive attention to the gay African-American community, and I believe that I can do a great job as an actor.’ They understood, and when those things inevitably happened in school, they were OK with it.”
Skip twelve years later to 2008, Queen Latifah told New York Times, “I don’t have a problem discussing the topic of somebody being gay, but I do have a problem discussing my personal life… I don’t care if people think I’m gay or not. Assume whatever you want. You do it anyway.” Another four years later, in 2012, at the Long Beach Pride event, Queen Latifah comes out saying “Y’all my peeps,” she said, referring to the LGBT community. “I love you!” This coming out in itself was very ambiguous.
It is noted that Queen Latifah never referred to her partner of eight years as her partner in public. In 2017, Queen Latifah talks publicly, at age 47, about wanting to start a family and most likely choosing adoption, quite possibly adopting a child rather than an infant. Although she spoke publicly about possible future adoption, she didn’t talk about family dynamics or the possibility of co-parenting with a same-sex partner. She does mention that she wouldn’t be providing frequent updates to fans regarding her adoption.
Overall, from my research, it seems like Queen Latifah has worked hard to keep her love life and sexual identity off the radar of her fans. I wonder why this is? Why did she choose to be outspoken about certain things in her music, such as domestic violence, sexual harassment, the inclusiveness of women in hip-hop, and the cycle of violence within the Black community (just to name a few), why didn’t she choose to rap about queer identity?
- Why hasn’t she been more outspoken about her queerness? Why has she felt like she needed to be so private about her love life?
- Did she not come out earlier or more publicly in fear of losing sales and fans?
- While Queen Latifah is known for being a feminist within the hip-hop movement, she does not identify as a feminist herself, why is that?
- Sweet clip of an interview of Queen Latifah on the Ellen show in 2009 talking about how the hip-hop industry is more male-dominated than ever, talking about the importance and urgency of the female presence in hip-hop:
Queen Latifah’s Ladies First (feat. Monie Love): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Qimg_q7LbQ
Queen Latifah’s U.N.I.T.Y.:
(Michelle Marte) Syd Tha Kid:
Sydney Bennett was known as, Syd Tha Kid, has been part of the industry since she was a child. Her mother introduces her to the engineering of creating music. At 19 she started recording music in a London hotel room. While her up bring, she tours around the world with Odds Future and became a member. (Gibsone) Creating and producing most of Odds Future music. Odds Future members have been criticised because of their rude, misogynistic and anti-women music. Alongside Tyler the Creator, Odds Future has also, stated homophobic lyrics and comments in their music.
Syd identifies herself as part of the LGBTQ community but has stated before that she does not like the word “ lesbian”. (Gibsone) In a video that The Internet, a band, shot called Cocaine raised a lot of red flags for Syd in the LGBTQ community. The beginning of the video she flirts with a girl and starts doing drugs with her. Fast forwarding, she ends up abandoning the girl and left her on the floor. This upsets many people because as “a queer black woman” in the industry they expedited her to be different. In her lyrics in the song, she is telling the girl to go and do drugs with her luring the girl to continue doing it.
This surprises me as a woman she would portray other women who are on drugs disposable.
During her interview with La Weekly 2012, she does address many things. In the article, Gibsone mentions how Syd spoke upon the video and stated: “the backlash from the gay community hurt me.” I mean what else did she expect to happen? Syd Tha Kid, also acknowledge that her previous crew, Odds future used offensive words and made her question why she was really the only girl in the group. After leaving the group, she states, “ Tyler [the Creator, Odd Future’s frontman] got mad at me at first. It was like: ‘Dang, why do you guys need me that bad?’ Then it made me think that maybe it’s so they could say certain things. And use me as an excuse.” I think back to the conversation we had in our previous class about Tyler the Creator, and how he used his friends as a way to justify the unacceptable language and disrespect to women and the LGTBQ+ community. Was he really using Syd as an excused?
Since hip-hop culture started women have not be acknowledged or praise in the way men have been. They have been mostly used as accessories or if not backlash and shamed.
- Why isn’t she speaking up against the misogyny her previous crew members stated?
- Why hasn’t she taken the extra mile to be the advocate in the industry?
- If she let offensive comments be said about women and the LGBTQ+ community, is she contributing to the problem within the hip-hop culture? If so, can she be forgiven?
(Lauren Jinete) CupcakKe:
Entering the rap scene in 2012 at the age of 15, CupcakKe found her success through YouTube videos. She caught the attention of people with her songs, lyrics, and videos “due to their overt sexual nature and raunchiness” (Wikipedia). CupcakKe is 20 years old now and has seen more success in the past year than ever, touring since the beginning of 2017. CupcakKe has been known to rap about many personal and powerful topics such as sexual assault, the LGBT community, police brutality, graphic sexual situations, just to name a few. The rapper has stated that her newest music will be more “introspective”, but she will always be widely known for her explicit lyrics. She is popularly known on most forms of social media for her unfiltered, sexual, and honest presence. CupcakKe has never openly discussed her sexual orientation, but does openly show her support for the LGBT community, in her lyrics as well as in practice.
For example, CupcakKe had experienced living in homeless shelters in her youth, so when a fan tweeted at her, saying how he needed somewhere to stay live that he came out as gay parents, she was more than eager to help. The rapper tweeted back at the kid and said to private message her, where she later ended up providing him with a hotel room for a couple of days. CupcakKe raps and lives to tell the truth, to tell her truth, and encourage others to tell theirs.
In an interview with Teen Vogue, when asked if she was a feminist, the rapper replied “Hell yes! Anything guys can do, girls can, and most of the time, they’re out there working harder and doing it better. You’re going to hear a lot of that on my new album.”
She was also asked how she felt about being a female rapper an industry where male rappers are the ones to use sexual and objectifying language, and how this creates a double standard when she faces critique for it. This is how she replied,
All in all, CupcakKe is a powerful feminist icon and LGBT ally. She remains transparent to her fans and audience, projects honesty whether people want it or not. She constantly challenges gender double standards that exist among male and female rappers.
Lyrics from LGBT by CupcakKe
Lyrics from Crayons by CupcakKe
Question: CupcakKe has discussed how people will reference to her music as a ‘joke’. Most people just aren’t used to hearing female rappers lyrics with so much vulgarity. CupcakKe challenges the expectations of a female rapper, she doesn’t hold back with her lyrics and uses sexual language. Is it fair to say that CupcakKe receives unnecessary backlash for her lyrics, considering she is working in an industry where male rappers are known to use vulgar language. Is it fair to say that this is a double standard?
Destiny Nicole Frasqueri, better known as her stage name Princess Nokia (formerly Wavy Spice and Destiny) recorded her first track “Destiny” in 2010, but her video and tracks “Bitch I’m Posh” and “Versace Hottie” went viral on YouTube. Destiny Nicole Frasqueri has Afro-Puerto Rican descent, and grew up in Spanish Harlem and the Lower East Side of NYC. In interviews, she often talks about how at age 10, she lost her mother to AIDS, and began living in foster care with an abusive foster care mother (who she writes about in her rhymes) until she ran away when she was 16 to move in with her Grandmother. At 16, Destiny came out as bisexual, began going to underground voguing and rave clubs in NYC, and she believes that growing up around a strong communities of color, especially Black and Puerto Rican people, but also queer people in NYC are some of the most important aspects of her teenage years. She got her start performing at queer nightclubs in NYC, which later developed her into a the globally known musician that she is today. The first mixtape Destiny Frasqueri released under the name “Princess Nokia” is called Metallic Butterfly, produced by OWWWL’s, which she released independently on Soundcloud in 2014, claiming her musical influences were not only growing up in Spanish Harlem, but also queer rave/vogue culture, industrial house, Dragon Ball Z, dancehall-y afrobeats, Taina, Yaki hair weaves and ambient electronica. She often speaks about how she has always been a “misfit-not a typical clean-cut young lady, always a bit rough around the edges, always a bit messy” listening to not only the hip-hop of the 90s like Kriss Kross, but riot-grrrl influences like Bikini Kill, bands like Sublime, and Slipknot and being immersed into the DIY Punk scene as well. Destiny Nicole Frasqueri is not only a musician but also the co-founder, with Milan Libin in 2013, of a urban feminist collective called Smart Girl Radio Club, where she has released a series of podcasts about her life and is quoted saying she co-founded it; “so I could have my own space when I was co-existing within a lot of white cis male spaces … where I could talk about urban feminism, sexuality, relationships, spirituality, music, art, and interview people and laugh and make fun of myself”. This only mirrors the essence and attitude that Princess Nokia exhibits at shows, where she calls all females and femme people to the front, and creates a safe space full of energetic and positive feminine energy, where femme people do not have to be afraid and can take up space like men do when they attend concerts. She blew up on Twitter for punching a white boy in the face for harassing her while performing at charity fashion show at Cambridge University because he was grabbing her while she was on stage and yelling dirty obscenities like “show me your titties” and came out saying that it was an incident where her safety and
Princess Nokia released the music videos for “Tomboy” and “Brujas” and dropped her album 1992, which is a musical masterpiece, young feminist hip-hop heads like myself were inspired. In the music video for “Tomboy”, Princess Nokia not only reveals her “little titties and fat belly” with friends to drivers passing-by on a bridge in Manhattan, but is filmed smoking a blunt in a stairwell, playing basketball and skating around the city, seemingly traditionally activities that only young boys and male rappers do. The music video “Brujas” incorporates clips of the artist herself, among other black and brown women reimagining a scene from the movie the Craft, a nod to the Yoruba religion and the female water goddess Yemaya, on the track she raps;
“I’m the Black a-Rican bruja straight out from the Yoruba
And my people come from Africa diaspora, Cuba
And you mix that Arawak, that original people
I’m that Black Native American, I vanquish all evil
I’m the Black a-Rican bruja straight out from the Yoruba
And my ancestors Nigerian, my grandmas was brujas
And I come from an island and it’s called Puerto Rico
And it’s one of the smallest but it got the most people.”
As a result of the success of the 1992 album, she is currently on her third sold out world tour in less than two years performing tracks from the same record, which is extremely rare for any artist. I see her clearest inspiration as Hip-Hop music and in one of her lyrics she raps;
“I changed rap forever, man/It’s me who had the biggest plan/
Ain’t no average bitch, I’ve been the man/I’ve been the G.O.A.T, eatin’ off the land/
It’s me who took the weirdo shit/To another level, and I’m killin’ it/They ain’t want me, that’s beginnin’ -ish/Now I’m too hot and they suck my dick”
Thus, even though Princess Nokia is quite literally, is almost single-handedly changing the face of Hip-Hop, not only by being a queer Nuyorican artist and model for high fashion brands like Calvin Klein, going on world tours, getting written about all over social, political musical blogs, punching white men in the face, paying homage to her culture through her hard hitting lyrics and music, creating explicitly feminist digital and concert spaces, AND throwing soup on a racist on the NYC subway; she is receiving almost none of the credit for doing so. Why is this? While she never sites homophobia as a reason for her lack of noteriority in the Hip-Hop realm, she does say that when Hip-Hop bloggers write about her, she is always oversexualized, and people call her lyrics “wack” or say that she is “corny and narcissistic”, when really she’s out here carving and creating an entirely new space not only for women, but for queer people in Hip-Hop as well.
Questions: Would you agree that Princess Nokia is changing the face of Hip-Hop not only by the very presence of her physical body in an overwhelmingly male-dominated industry but also because she actually creates that space for feminine people at her concerts? How can we as fans of Hip-Hop culture encourage others to be more accepting of unique artists like Princess Nokia and Cupcakke if we want the culture to be less problematic?