Rhymes with swag

LGBTQ hip hop artists talk about changing the genre and finding inspiration

Swag is a word many relate to an urban-machismo style synonymous with confidence, flair, and inarguably, hip-hop culture. However, the origins of this bravado-bravura attitude may not lie where you think.

“Gay men invented swag,” Michael Quattlebaum Jr. stated in a 2012 Pitchfork Interview. He’s much better known by his feminine stage name, Mykki Blanco. An active force in the gender bending NYC vogue-ball scene, Blanco is also a major influence on LGBTQ underground hip-hop culture. Rappers like Le1f, and Zebra Katz, and Mykki Blanco have paved the way for other artists to be themselves in a genre that all too often lowers itself to its own homophobic reputation.

Take Ro Walker for example. He’s a 25-year-old Winnipeg-based transgender rapper who is currently promoting his new EP “Walker.” Coming from a spoken-word background, Walker’s hip-hop works are inspired by artists including Jay Z and Macklemore. 

Even if it means opening himself up to unwanted criticism, he embraces the opportunity to express himself through his music. “One thing I’ve found is that being a trans artist means willing to be vulnerable,” Walker says.

Race is often a hot topic in the hip-hop world, but Walker says he’s faced more friction for his trans status than for his race. Regardless, he isn’t worried about audiences connecting with an artist that doesn’t fit the mold of a typical rapper: “It’s the same story, just a different perspective. I’m just a voice searching for a sound.”

To get a feel for the vibe in New York City, the hub of the LGBTQ hip-hop community, the Uniter connected with Cakes da Killa (né Rashard Bradshaw). The 24-year old artist from New Jersey has made a name for himself with his relentlessly aggressive flow and bad-bitch confidence that’s simply part of who he is - Bradshaw came out in the third grade. That said, he isn’t interested in being a crusader for the movement.

“I’m a big supporter of visibility for openly gay people - especially openly gay people of colour, because there’s not a lot of that in the media. So [being known as a gay artist] doesn’t really bother me, but at the same time it needs to be a balance because I’m not an advocate,” Bradshaw says. 

Bradshaw has collaborated with other artists who defy genre stereotypes, and describes the scene as a supportive one: “We have a very mutual respect for each other… it’s definitely all love.”

Though his mixtapes “The Eulogy” and “Hunger Pangs” have attracted critical acclaim for their racy insults and humourously detailed descriptions of gay sex, Bradshaw’s new EP “#IMF” (which stands for In My Feelings) comes from a more mature artist. 

“The inspirations haven’t changed, but the message of the project has,” he says. “Instead of focusing on relationships from a sexual standpoint I wanted to focus on a relationship sort of situation.”

This month he’ll be taking a break from working on his first full-length release and hitting the road with fellow Red Bull Sound Select artist DJ Uniiqu3, stopping at The Good Will Social Club in Winnipeg on Friday, Feb. 27. Cakes says that Winnipegers can expect “a good-ass drunk-ass show”, and after a basic explanation of Festival du Voyager, he’s expecting to see a
lot of beards. 

The show will be a resounding validation of the fact that hip-hop can be for everyone, and according to Bradshaw, might even “make a homophobe a hypocrite”. 

Published in Volume 69, Number 22 of The Uniter (February 25, 2015)

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