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Frank Ocean was not the first
July 27, 2012 12:29 PM   Subscribe

“I am gay, and I’m proud to be called a gay rapper, but it’s not gay rap. That’s not a genre. My goal is always to make songs that a gay dude or a straight dude can listen to and just think, This dude has swag.... The best thing a song can be called is good.” Rapper/producer Le1f, in a short bio article on Fader, which mentions Le1f being swept up with the "more outlandish" (as Fader writer Alex Frank puts it) House of LaDosha and Mykki Blanco. The Guardian has another piece on the rise of gay rappers, but the Amoeba blog was there first in 2008, covering a bit of the New Orleans sissies. More videos and music directly linked inside (and you can assume the music and videos are NSFW).

In the New Orleans Bounce scene, Katey Red, a gay, transvestite MC, was the first artist to perform as an openly gay artist, releasing her album in 1999 (title track). Big Freedia and Sissy Nobby picked up the torch from there. You can dive into the music with 53 minute Sissy Nobby party mixtape, or check out Dre Skull's Sissy Bounce mix.

From there, we travel north to Brooklyn. House of LaDosha is a duo who were earlier associated with the witch house sound, as heard in Witches of Bushwick. Dosha Devistation, half of HoLD, released B/M/F, which was less witchy, but still far from mainstream rap styles. Cokeola of HoLD rapped over a Trap Music track from Gunplay, moving from witch house to trap music, more or less.

Mykki Blanco is the drag persona of Michael David Quattlebaum Jr.. As Quattlebaum, he wrote a book of poetry, which was passed to Mykki and became an EP that is more punk than hip-hop, though there's something of the latter in Join My Militia a song that clearly displays Blanco's use of "hip-hop as a performance medium."

Zebra Katz, stage name of Ojay Morgan, has been big since Rick Owens played the Katz' song on repeat for a Paris fashion show. Katz got to geek out and meet Owens, with the meeting filmed for posterity and education, with Katz mentioning Paris is Burning (wiki; covered previously) as an eye-opening film for him.

And that brings us to Le1f, the Manhattan native who started out as a producer, hanging out with Himanshu from Das Racist, and providing the beats for Combination Pizza Hut And Taco Bell (previously). Later, he produced Nasty for Spank Rock (the track featured Big Freedia, to make this whole journey more circular). Le1f then branched out and started rapping, as seen and heard in his debut video, Wut. If the lyrics or their meanings elude you, Rap Genius has you covered. This track is from Le1f's debut mixtape/album, Dark York (Soundcloud stream with individual track downloads, and a link to download the whole thing).
posted by filthy light thief (16 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great post, cheers.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:57 PM on July 27, 2012


The end of the Join My Militia video is how you use a fucking squid, Fiona
posted by Chipmazing at 1:00 PM on July 27, 2012


I love Le1f's video for "Wut," but I have to admit that I love it mostly for being playful and fun and, yes, gay. I've tried listening to the album and, without video accompaniment, it's kind of underwhelming. So, in a way, I feel that he should be embracing the "gay rap" thing, since it seems to be his biggest ticket to exposure. Maybe that's too cynical.

Zebra Katz, on the other hand, really has something going on. And punk rock has Pansy Division.

I guess I'm saying that I absolutely agree with what Le1f is saying that it's ridiculous that a musician's sexuality would be genre defining and that it should have no bearing on whether or not the music is noteworthy. But then I look at his video and he definitely seems to be playing on gay minstrelry to a certain extent. And more power to him, but it doesn't entirely jibe with what he's saying.
posted by 256 at 1:15 PM on July 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sissy Bounce in the NYTimes.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 1:16 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


That Zebra Katz thing was fantastic.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 1:28 PM on July 27, 2012


There's a strong gay/transgender hip hop scene in New York. I know because that's where a lot of the artists in the Homosexuality and Hip Hop thread on ILX come from.

If Le1f was Korean, you'd pronounce his name "Le-Ill-Eff" or "The Illest", since 1 is "ill" in Korean. Random fact.
posted by subdee at 1:36 PM on July 27, 2012 [1 favorite]


Killer post!

I've found the media coverage of Frank Ocean disconcerting, if only because it shows how little many mainstream media outlets know (or care) about R&B and hip hop, to assume that Frank is the first person in that scene to come out. Did nobody realize that he's the second gay member of OFWGKTA, after Syd tha Kid?

Which makes you wonder why people (that is, GLAAD, and several mainstream recording artists) have called out OF/Tyler the Creator for being homophobic. I don't think a guy who has a collective with two gay members (of nine) is clearly a homophobe. And yet, the idea that his lyrics might be deeper than they appear gets treated with scorn by a lot of these media outlets ("Maybe Tyler will finally grow up a little!" I've heard this absurd, paternalistic shit from both the NY Times and NPR, among others). Maybe if the media gave R&B and hip hop more of a chance, they'd see that it's a lot more welcoming to people of all colors and orientations than it first appears.
posted by sidi hamet at 1:46 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


I've found the media coverage of Frank Ocean disconcerting, if only because it shows how little many mainstream media outlets know (or care) about R&B and hip hop, to assume that Frank is the first person in that scene to come out.

I don't think it was the fact that he came out that was so notable -- it was the way he came out.
posted by hermitosis at 2:02 PM on July 27, 2012


I love Le1f's video for "Wut," but I have to admit that I love it mostly for being playful and fun and, yes, gay.
And how nicely it answers the recent AskMe call for "cute outfit ideas when wearing athletic running shoes"!
posted by feral_goldfish at 2:08 PM on July 27, 2012


Is Frank ocean actually gay? I thought that, by his own account, he was somewhere in the middle of the Kinsey scale.
posted by acb at 2:32 PM on July 27, 2012


I am changing my name to either Mykki Blanco or Michael David Quattlebaum Jr. as both are better than my current one.
posted by marienbad at 4:23 PM on July 27, 2012


Is Frank ocean actually gay?

He's bisexual, but the media haven't come to terms with the existence of bisexual men yet. Maybe next century.
posted by mek at 5:20 PM on July 27, 2012 [3 favorites]


Not just the media, but also (mainstream) hip-hop, which is dominated by masculine, hetero guys talking about how virile they are, and of the women they appreciate. "No Homo" was A Thing. Trying to address bisexuality is probably a long way away.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:28 PM on July 27, 2012


Lots of good stuff here that I hadn't heard yet, thanks posting this.
posted by cali at 10:02 PM on July 27, 2012


Oh my god, the Zebra Katz video was great. Hypnotizing. I was totally unaware of him until now. Thanks for this awesome post.
posted by Falconetti at 5:50 AM on July 28, 2012


Great post, thanks. Diplo also covered the "sissy bounce" scene in his No One Is Safe show recently. His video "Express Yourself" is excellent viewing as well.
posted by nTeleKy at 8:42 AM on July 30, 2012 [1 favorite]


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