A Defiant Emergence: The Reappropriation of Hip Hop Music by Queer Artists of Color

Laing, Lorenzo [Browse]
Senior thesis
125 pages


Stack, Carol [Browse]
Princeton University. Department of Sociology [Browse]
Class year
Restrictions note
Walk-in Access. This thesis can only be viewed on computer terminals at the Mudd Manuscript Library.
Summary note
Within the past few years, a small group of openly gay black male artists have begun gaining attention and traction in hip hop music. Considering the acceleration of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights nationwide and the rapid, positive shift in attitudes toward individuals with queer identities, the timing of their rise is not so surprising. However, given the rigidity of heteronormativity in the genre’s mainstream and its historically homophobic foundations, hip hop as a space in which queer artists can exist seems paradoxical. This thesis explores how five such artist—Big Freedia, Cakes Da Killa, Fly Young Red, Le1f, and Mykki Blanco—have incorporated themselves into a genre in which their identities appear antithetical. Based on an analysis of their lyrics and performances, I argue that they strategically work within conventional thematic frameworks of hip hop, which are more deeply rooted in traditions of hegemonic American masculinity. In the process, they simultaneously integrate the realities of their sexual identity to an extent that differs little from heterosexual rappers but remains taboo in mainstream hip hop. Considering this in conjunction with interviews they have conducted with media outlets, I contend that one of the greatest challenges these artists face comes not from obstacles within the structure of hip hop itself but from having to transcend the assumptions and expectations that come with being labeled a ‘gay rapper.’ As this study’s findings show, the qualitative and quantitative differences in their lyrics, performances, and public personas offer significant evidence in support of the heterogeneity they so adamantly claim.

Supplementary Information