Quebec queer hip-hop is slow to come out of the closet
Gay rapper Lil Nas X is one of the most successful artists in the world. In Quebec, the queer hip-hop scene is increasingly emerging, but remains very marginal. Why is that?
“Unfortunately, hip-hop is not always an artistic environment conducive to people being comfortable or proud to show their true [queer] identity,” says Antoine-Samuel Mauffette Alavo. , a journalist specializing in hip-hop.
Despite the diversity that reigns in the hip-hop milieu, it remains rather misogynistic and homophobic, he believes. Just think of the beatmakerKaytranada, first known on the hip-hop scene, who waited to join a mainstream music scene to come out of the closet.
Even more taboo among men
Given the toxic masculinity that still reigns in the industry, everything suggests that 'it's easier to break through for someone who identifies as a woman than for someone who identifies as a man.
“Most queer hip-hop artists in Quebec are not necessarily cisgender men. We see more women, non-binary people or trans people,” remarks Mags of the queersoul group with touches of hip-hop Strange Froots.
She believes that since the beginnings of hip-hop, a genre that comes from traditionally tougher backgrounds, women with a more masculine attitude have been much more accepted than men with so-called more feminine mannerisms.
Strange Froots Mags/Photo: Courtesy
As proof, in the French-speaking world, no one seems to make a case of the fact that the popular rapper Sarahmée is part of the LGBTQ2S + community. It must be said, however, that his sexual orientation is not put forward in his artistic approach.
More militant in this area, the newcomer Calamine, a lesbian and feminist rapper, is also experiencing a nice emerging success.
“I don’t feel like other rappers feel attacked by me or that I question them. There is no hostility towards me”, she testifies.
She admits that she does not know any French-speaking gay cisgender rapper.
Rapper Calamine and her beatmaker, Kèthe Magané, both proudly queer and active in the Quebec hip-hop community. Photo: Adrian Giraud
Canadian musical institutions increasingly tend to promote sexual diversity in hip-hop, observes specialist Antoine-Samuel Mauffette Alavo.
Hip-hop artists from LGBTQ2S+ community have received prestigious awards. In 2021, Calamine was crowned Révélation Radio-Canada in rap. In 2020, the Polaris Music Prize, rewarding the best Canadian album of the year, was awarded to Montreal trans rapper of Zambian origin Backxwash.
Backxwash/Photo: Mechant Vaporwave
“The institutions are making an effort. Perhaps the music industry specific to Quebec rap should follow, but for that, artists need to come out of the shadows so that we can encourage and celebrate them, ”said Antoine-Samuel Mauffette Alavo.
In a separate group
But it's not so easy for everyone world.
Mags, of Strange Froots, says that while many queer artists rap, there are far fewer opportunities to show off.
“It's been my dream since I was little to join the mainstream industrysays Blxck Cxsper, a trans rapper from Montreal, but he thinks that it is precisely his gender identity that prevents him from achieving this status.
“I know people from mainstream industry who would be ashamed to associate with me publicly,” he continues. I'm going to speak in my music isn't going to appeal to a non-queer audience, and so they're not going to offer me a stage.”
Thus, Montreal’s small pool of queer hip-hop artists find themselves on an alternative stage performing at LGBTQ2S+ events rallying their community, the only type of event where they get some exposure. < /p>
These events are strongly linked to drag and ballroom culture as well as house music.
This scene is also predominantly English-speaking. The rapper believes that it is much easier for queer artists to have visibility on the English-speaking scene, which is inspired by what we see in big cities like New York or London.
“These are spaces where you can feel safe and where you can be a whole person. When you go to non-queer spaces, you become THE queer person. Our individuality is erased”, testifies Blxck Cxsper.
The rapper however finds it a shame to be hired only for this type of event. He believes that his music could conquer other audiences.
“Art is subjective. My songs can be about feeling different, falling in love, losing someone, and everyone can relate to that without having to share my reality as a trans person.”
Blxck Cxsper/Photo: Meatball
There is also a security issue. While Blxck Cxsper indicates that he would feel safe in non-queer hip-hop circles, he cannot say that this would be the case for others around him.
Mags of Strange Froots believes there is still more education to be done to make mainstream hip-hop spaces truly safe for queer artists.
Hope for the future
The global success of a rapper like Lil Nas X, however, allows Blxck Cxsper to hope that things will change, even in Quebec.
“It takes a person like Lil Nas X to lead the way. In the future, a rapper will be able to present himself as being gay without his orientation defining his identity”, he believes.
As Calamine indicates, hip-hop is at the base a militant movement of uprising against the forces in place. Queer struggles can easily be part of his battles.