Their names certainly sound hip-hop: Kaoz, Foxxjazell, Shorty Roc. And so do their song titles: “Ride or Die, Boy.” “Pop Dam Thengs,” “Stop N Drop.” But these rappers don’t get airplay on the biggest hip-hop radio stations, or coverage in magazines like Vibe or The Source. You won’t find their names among the artists signed by Eminem’s Shady Records, Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Record or Def Jam Recordings.
These rappers are openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. In the machismo-saturated world of rap and hip-hop, where the phrase “no homo” is bandied about in conversation and songs by rappers dispelling rumors that they are homosexual, stardom for these wannabe hip hop stars seems nearly unattainable.
“It goes against hip-hop culture,” said Camilo Arenivar, founder of outhiphop.com, the largest directory for openly out rappers in the U.S. “Mainstream hip-hop culture does not embrace being out gay.” Outhiphop.com currently lists 124 U.S.-based gay artists on its site. In the late 1990s, there were about a dozen in the U.S., he said.
Arenivar founded the website in 2008 to give openly out rap artists a platform after the only site for gay rap artists, gayhiphop.com, had closed. The site has reopened in the meantime. Arenivar also organized the first hip-hop tour for LGBT rap artists, the HomoRevolution Tour, in 2007, that hit 10 cities.
But Arenivar may be swimming upstream, those familiar with the rap world say. “The way things are right now, I don’t think it’s possible for a gay rapper to become successful,” said James Peterson, associate professor for English and Africana studies at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa. Homophobia is still deeply rooted in society, he said, especially in the African-American community because of history. “In order to compensate for white supremacy during slavery, its hyper masculinity has become a lingua franca.”
In 2007, PBS broadcast the documentary “Beyond Beats And Rhymes,” about machismo and the sexism of the hip-hop business. Producer Byron Hurt interviewed many rap icons and high-ranking hip-hop businessmen, including Busta Rhymes, who has more than a dozen gold or platinum albums. When Hurt asked Rhymes whether he thought a gay rapper could be accepted in hip-hop culture, Rhymes left the room.
“It was always an uncomfortable topic,” said Hurt in a telephone interview. “I generally waited until the end of my interviews with questions about it.” Hurt said a gay rapper who wants to be successful will have to be very bold, hard-nosed and able to withstand withering criticism.
Foxxjazell Jackson fits that description. The 27-year-old from Los Angeles is a flamboyant transgender hip-hop artist. She said the opposition she still faces often made her very angry at the beginning of her career. “They can do certain things and I can’t because I’m transgender,” she said. “No matter the single that you have there, you’re stuck because of that stigma.”
Asked why record labels and radio stations don’t show interest in gay music, Kevin Moore, a 31-year-old gay rapper from Mineapolis, who goes by the name Kaoz, said “I don’t think that the quality of our music is bad. “On the contrary, quality is getting better. At this point, we can’t afford people misrepresenting us.”
Representatives from Eminem’s Shady Records, Universal Music Group — the parent company of Sean Combs’ Bad Boy Entertainment — Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records and Def Jam Recordings did not return calls and e-mails requesting comments on what they think about LGBT rappers entering mainstream. The editors-in-chief of VIBE and The Source, two popular hip-hop magazines, and Hot 97, a big hip-hop radio station in New York, likewise did not respond to interview requests.
Kim Kane, an anchor at Power 105.1, another New York rap station, did have this to say: “The commercialized hip-hop is very misogynist and sexist, and it’s homophobic,” she said. But she draws a clear line between the aggressive, commercial type of hip-hop and original hip-hop culture, which she said is about love and peace. Kane added that she has never been in any staff meetings at the station where homophobic and sexist messages in rap songs had been discussed. She hopes that she will be in music when the first LGBT rap artist becomes successful.
Many gay rappers behave as rough and tough as commercial rap artists, spitting and cursing in their songs, with guns blazing and sirens wailing in the background. “We LGBT rappers have to be very careful in order to not alienate people,” said rapper Kaoz. “We won’t see high-power sexually driven pictures.”
Peterson, the Bucknell professor, said that lesbian rappers who are bisexual stand the best chance to enter rap mainstream, because they are still available for men. “As long as Nicki Minaj has sex with another woman and acts for the entertainment of men, it’s fine.” Nicki Minaj, whose legal name is Onika Tanya Maraj, has implied in some of her songs that she is bisexual, but later denied it in interviews.
Outhiphop.com founder Arenivar believes the first gay rapper is to break into the mainstream will be someone who came out before hitting the big time, like Adam Lambert, the runner-up in the 2009 “American Idol” television show.
So far, almost none of the LGBT rappers can live on their music. Kaoz works as a health educator for a community-based organization, Shorty Roc as a service coordinator for a health insurance company. Only Foxxjazell can entirely concentrate on her music. She has two investors who were a great support for realizing her second album “Boy, Girl, Whateva.”
Shorty Roc, the stage name of Devalle Jerome Boone, is out and believes he is well placed to break into the hip-hop world. To improve his chances, the 33-year-old gay rapper from New York wants to include scantily-clad women in his first music video that he is about to shoot in Brooklyn. “It’s like playing chess,” said Shorty Roc. “The moment record labels find out that we are marketable, our time has come.”