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Hip Hop Homophobia Meets a Challenge


Rapper Cakes Da Killa– born Rashard Bradshaw in Englewood, New Jersey– frolics out onto the stage at the Cameo Gallery in the heart of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, wearing a leopard print short-sleeve sheer top with fitted blue two-textured jeans.

“Cakey on some other sh–, f— your baby mother sh—,’’ the 24-year-old sizzles during his four-song set. “And I spit sh– to make a homophobe a hypocrite.”

Cakes Da Killa is a performer in a popular showcase featuring a slew of underground artists who follow a common thread: they’re mostly dressed in drag, flamingly flamboyant, and dedicated to maintaining the energy level at one hundred percent.

The place is packed wall to wall. At around 1 a.m., Queens rap crew House of La Dosha enters the stage, to screams of “La-Dooooooooo-sha!”

Adam Radakovich, who also goes by the name of Cunty Crawford LaDosha, is decked out in a fiery red wig and silver glittery skin-tight low-cut pants, squeezed over a black v-cut T-shirt. With his thin and groomed appearance, he could’ve easily passed for a woman, if not for the patch of hair on his chin that formed his goatee.

Cakes Da Killa and House of LaDosha’s performances highlight the juxtaposition of hyper-feminine and flamboyant homosexuality with the hardcore, assertive rap aesthetic. They are substantial evidence that the two are not as mutually exclusive as the typical orthodox, hyper-masculine hip-hop image would suggest. This comes into vivid focus when LaDosha performs a rendition of Meek Mills’ exuberantly gruff 2012 anthem, “Dreams and Nightmares,” in which references to drugs and Rolexes are replaced with mentions of supermodels and Vogue: “I think I’m Kate Moss/ Naomi Campbell/ Up in French Vogue/ You know the pose.”

[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”#b72492″ class=”” size=”25″]”What people don’t understand, or maybe tend to forget, is that hip-hop and the culture is way more than just rap. It’s an all-encompassing creative space expressed through music, visuals, dance, writing, and fashion.” – Fashion designer Andy McMann[/pullquote]

The delivery of the verses is so bold and fearless that you get a feeling these guys would go toe to toe in a blunt rolling challenge with Meek, all without breaking a nail.

“If there’s ever been a time for an artist to go against the grain when it comes to rap and the hip-hop community, the time is now,” Cakes Da Killa says, as he takes a sip from a water bottle he’s gripping in his manicured hands, displaying his matte black nails. “I’m not going to lie: acceptance for queers in rap outside of [New York] isn’t really there, even at an underground level…up here, the awareness is growing, and lines are definitely being blurred when it comes to fashion….Mainstream rappers seem to be taking a page out of our book when it comes to dressing… yes, us queens’ handbook.”

He chuckles as he speaks. But his statement rings true. The genre is moving further and further left, and the lines between mainstream prominence and underground unorthodoxies are blurring.

Take Lil B, who racked up tons of YouTube hits and critical acclaim when he titled his album “I’m Gay.” A$AP Rocky, the hardcore self-proclaimed “Fashion Killa” labeling himself “pretty,” or Blood Gang member Young Thug, who recently announced that he buys most of his clothes from the women’s section, are just some mainstream hip-hop’s realities that don’t quite mesh with textbook hip-hop definitions. Today’s generation of rappers who are fashion trendsetters and risk-takers have opened up a new idea of black masculinity within this genre.

“Kanye steps out in a kilt, and the whole word stops,” said said fashion designer and stylist Andy McMann. “They’re like, ‘Oh, he’s wearing a skirt, he must be gay’…. A$AP [Rocky] steps out in a Denis Gagnon knee-length leather shirt, and the community calls him gay for wearing a dress.”

When McMann was growing up in Brooklyn, his neighbors considered him to be gay, due to his sense of style, which always favored inspiration from high fashion menswear runway looks.

“What people don’t understand, or maybe tend to forget, is that hip-hop and the culture is way more than just rap,” he said. “It’s an all-encompassing creative space expressed through music, visuals, dance, writing, and fashion.”

“High-end brands and off-the-runway looks that we see artists bringing to the forefront represent a lifestyle people in the ‘hood aim to own, not necessarily [a rapper’s] sexuality.”

As high fashion cultivated by gay designers proliferates in hip-hop, there’s been some predictable backlash. When VH1’s Love and Hip Hop, one of the leading reality television shows watched by African-Americans, depicts a storyline of a closeted gay rapper in a heterosexual relationship struggling between his desire to be famous, and to please his gay lover, it seems easy to praise superficial gestures of gay acceptance, without demanding that be reflected in more mainstream culture. When it comes to radio spins, co-signs, straight rappers and gay rappers sharing stages, or gay rappers inking deals with record labels, mainstream music culture tends to sing a different tune.

With misogyny and homophobia one of the prominent characteristics of hip-hop, it is hard to say if the industry will leave these ideologies behind. In the broader music industry, scaling up the genre of rappers who belong to this queer-loving subculture to the mainstream may be a tenuous idea. Though the rap industry and its audience are leaning towards acceptance of a wider range of artist, the trend calls into question whether gay male rappers and audiences will find mainstream success.

Rappers like Jayceon, also known as L3nf, accept the challenge inherit in making music within an industry historically antagonistic toward his sexuality. He’s not very interested in tired questions like: “Do you think the world is ready for a gay rapper?”

“I’ve never felt the need to do the whole ‘come out the closet’ thing,” Jayceon said. “I’m West Indian; my dad’s Trinidadian, mom’s Jamaican; and everyone is always saying how my Caribbean culture has some of the most homophobic people. But in my household I always knew I was different, and it was okay.”

As he develops his new mixtape, L3nf is working hard to create a balance between party-ready and sexually political music. He cites Cakes Da Killa and Cunty Crawford LaDosha as rappers he admires, but also fears being compared with them, and consequently pigeonholed.

“I really don’t want to come out, and people be like, ‘Look at him trying to be like Bjork or Cakes,’’’ L3nf explained, while sitting in a hipster bar on 14th Street. “The goal for me is to rap about my life being both gay and black, and the meaning behind having those two identities We’re all living out loud, in our truths and rapping about what holds authentic to who we are.”

L3nf said he very much wanted to see Cakes Da Killa perform at the Cameo Gallery, but was still trying to see if his friends would be down to go with him into the city. Two weeks later, I spotted a tall lanky figure there, a New York Yankees cap. L3nf was standing in front of the huge crowd, screaming, with his hands in the air, as Cakes Da Killa took the stage.


About Post Author

About the Author

Tatiana Vickerie

Professor: Mary D'Ambrosio
Class: Magazine Writing