Homo Hop began in the mid to late 90s as a necessary mobilizing tool that allowed openly queer hip hop artists to come together. A major movement then, Homo Hop had its coming out party with festivals like the PeaceOut World Homo Hop Festival, founded in 2001 in Oakland, before making its way to the birthplace of hip hop and the modern LGBT rights movement, New York.
Another major event was the 2006 documentary film Pick Up the Mic, which covered the underground LGBT hip hop scene. Today, Homo Hop is no longer recognized by the LGBT community. Instead, those who were part of the movement are known in the game simply for their skill rather than their orientation. It has become a melding of talented artists, rather than a subcategory of gay rappers and MCs.
Coined by educator, writer, MC, and cofounder of Deep Dickollective, Tim’m T. West, Homo Hop is a term that he doesn’t even like.
“It reflected an effort to give credence to a sub-genre of hip hop that the mainstream was ignoring,” West told 429Magazine.
“It’s not a different kind of hip hop, but places identity at the center of production, which is a blessing and curse. I’m a hip hop artist, ultimately, who happens to be queer. Homo Hop, as a mobilizing medium for queer artists, did, in fact, serve a purpose, initially.”
God Des and She, lesbian rappers that have been active for 10 years as openly gay artists, said their first experience with homo hop was with West and many other artists at the PeaceOut Festival in Oakland.
“It was the first time we all met each other and finally didn’t feel alone,” artist She told 429Magazine. “We found other people doing what we were doing and fell madly in love.”
Gaining traction in more mainstream media outlets, queer artists are celebrating this exposure. Frank Ocean has won two Grammy’s, God Des and She were featured on “The L Word,” and newcomer Le1f has been featured by Rolling Stone, Gawker, and International Business Times, bending gay-bashing terms such as “swisher” and “light in my loafers” into braggadocio.
Many of these LGBT artists are well-educated intellectuals. Despite rap’s “hard” image, many of these artists hold BAs, MBAs, and even PhDs, studying poetics, philosophy, and literature.
Determined to stake their claim in a genre that it all too often associated with anti-gay lyrics and homophobia, queer hip hop artists have shown that they can hold their own.
“Like many queer folk, I too went through periods of secrecy, shame, closetedness, depression, self-denial, etc…because, especially in the 90s, when I was exploring sexual identity, it was still taboo, especially among black men,” said West.
“I could pass for straight, so often I did. It is because of compulsory heteronormativity and feeling like being out wasn’t even an option for a masculine gay man, that I hid my sexuality at times.”
West also came out in order to be a role model for future generations, as someone who was “out, self affirming, and doing his thing creatively.”
And though there has been much talk of homophobia within the hip hop community, West believes the term is used too liberally.
“It’s challenging to be gay in America period,” he said.
“Hip hop culture simply reflects that. There are dictates around masculinity but I think that sometimes lazily gets called homophobia when it’s really more so about gender non-conformity or sexism. I know that my relative acceptance among many straight rappers is because of my ability to pass. It’s messed up, but I think there’s often an unfair blanketing of hip hop as homophobic. I’d listened to lots of Hip-Hop in my lifetime and much of it wasn’t homophobic at all.”
Deadlee, LA-based standout rapper, has worked to generate awareness of the Homo Hop movement. But, like West, he doesn’t think there’s much difference. He told 429Magazine that “there is no real homo hop genre, it’s just hip hop” and goes on to explain that although it was useful at the time, it eventually became a crutch.
West’s Deep Dickollective co-founder, Juba Kalamka, who is also a bisexual artist, activist,and creator of Sugartruck Recordings, suggests that it’s not a suppression of homophobia in the hip hop scene, but a trickle down effect from societal gatekeepers.
“We live in a world culture laden with intersectional oppressions—white supremacy homophobia, misogyny, classism, ableism, ageism and the like—that are aped by people in hip hop cultural contexts but do not generate from them as that particular power is over-cultural and institutional,” he told 429Magazine.
Deadlee maintains the same belief—that the problem lies with mainstream, corporate culture controlling content. “Sex of the hetero variety violence & money became the standard,” he said, and creating rap with a real message became less prominent in mainstream while maintained by independent artists, like God Des and She..
“I felt like the only way I could rap, being white, was having a story to tell from a marginalized, oppressed position to give education … to educate the community,” God Des told 429Magazine.
However, queer hip hop has been gaining support from top artists, like Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg.
“People are learning how to live and get along more, and accept people for who they are and not bash them or hurt them because they’re different,” said Snoop Dogg in an interview with the Salt Lake Tribune.
“I think our impact was great,” said Deadlee. “Out rappers might not be as together or cohesive as a unit [now]but there is a greater number. I get hit up weekly by new, out rappers who thank me for opening doors. We planted a seed and [now]I see the fruits [of our labor].”
He insists that a single hit song will change the trajectory for queer rappers. “The time is now for an openly gay rapper to hit the scene strong” he says. But for some artists, becoming big or mainstream might mean losing authenticity.
Kalamka says the mainstream music industry seeks products that are “uncomplicated, easily digestible, eschews critical thinking and absolutely discourages any interrogation and deconstruction of or challenge to consumerist culture.”
As West’s lyrics say, “Found myself, found hip hop, but he was locked up in a closet/Trying to hide from spittin’ real topics.”
With the current movement towards inclusivity, acceptance, and support, the tide is changing for queer artists who are seeking success for singing their truths in a world willing to listen.