Slowly, potently and with the power of pride and inclusivity, hip-hop artists and country singers, at the top echelons of their respective charts, are showing their true colors.
Rapper and producer, Tyler, the Creator, saw his new album “IGOR” rise to number one on the Billboard Pop and Hip-Hop charts released last week.
Tyler has always been an oddball who toyed with any-and-all notions of sexuality. On his 2011 album, “Goblin,” Tyler used the word fag or faggot 10 times. He once told the UK music newspaper, NME, “I’m not homophobic. I just think faggot hits and hurts people. It hits. And ‘gay’ just means you’re stupid….But I don’t hate gay people.”
Tyler was hardly the only artist to use this language, but when he came out in 2017’s Flower Boy, it was a surprise.
He said in 2015, “I tried to come out the damn closet like four days ago and no one cared.” Still, at first, it was hard to know if Tyler was speaking his truth or simply trolling, but lyrics like, “I been kissing white boys since 2004” on the track “I Ain’t Got Time!” speak volumes.
While it’s hard to know if the LGBTQ community will forgive Tyler for his past lyrics, it is clear he is moving forward, especially when listening to “IGOR” where an emotional resonance is paramount. Topics of loss and discovery roar in songs like “NEW MAGIC WAND” and “EARFQUAKE.” Tyler seems to be moving through being gay/queer and into a frank discussion of his emotions and passions in a way he hadn’t historically.
Out rapper and producer Kevin Abstract, a founding member of the hip-hop ensemble, Brockhampton, has a solo career — where his lyrics go deeply into personal experience and sexuality.
“Arizona Baby,” his newest album, speaks of his religious upbringing in a Mormon family (who learned that Abstract was gay from the video for his 2016 single, “Empty”). The album also takes a humorous look at his queerness. “I’m still tryna fuck every Mormon,” he rap-sings on his new album’s gospel-tinged “Use Me,” while, on the aggressive opening song “Big Wheels,” he yells, “I’m a power bottom like a Freemason / Y’all stuck playin’, that’s complacent, I’m cum-chasin’.”
Chamber-folk cellist/violinist and soul-hop’s Kelsey Lu’s debut album “Blood,” features collaborations with Skrillex and Jamie xx.
Released through Sony, the album comes across like a classicist’s take on Solange’s brand of Expressionist empowerment and sonic atmospheres.
Like Abstract, the out player was raised on hardcore religion — as a Jehovah’s Witness in Charlotte, North Carolina. Unlike Abstract, her lyrics don’t explicitly speak to her sexual orientation. What exists in her music is a vibe of serenity and composition, even when she’s heading for the disco like in “Poor Fake” and “Foreign Car” — songs that, with the use of eerie classical strings, are reminiscent of another out musician, the late Arthur Russell.
On the country side of the ledger, several LGBTQ performers manage to make statements on their sexuality.
Milwaukee drag queen Trixie Mattel may be best known as the winner of the third season of RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars. But, her musical talents, leaning toward hokey country and western, are formidable, and her songwriting is shockingly earnest and ridiculously melodic. For that reason, her second album, “One Stone,” released in 2018, is worth savoring.
Orville Peck, the out, masked Roy Orbison-esque crooner with an outlaw country lilt to all his proceedings, is also a stitch. There’s a tang to his twang that is catty as it is cool. Yet, all that doesn’t stop his newly released album, “Pony,” from being thoroughly engaging in the very best of country’s traditionalism.
One nonbinary artist — from Philadelphia, no less — whose new album may ride both waves, country and hip-hop, is Shamir.
Carrying on the tradition started by Lavender Country, Shamir’s new album (his first was the electro-pop “Ratchet”), “Be the Yee, Here Comes the Haw,” holds the same level of lo-fi theatricality and yearning emotionalism all his best works do.
2019 is shaping up to be a fine year for risky LGBTQ music outside and inside the mainstream.