On September 27th, at a small punky gay bar in New York City, a handful of the most impressively stylish individuals The Big Apple has ever seen gathered for an intimate show. The assembly was held in honor of the launch of FUTUREHOOD, a new record label featuring predominantly LGBTQ and POC talent making music in a handful of genres from experimental electronica to straight up hip hop. Hosted by nightlife legend Kevin Aviance, the evening became a rather jubilant celebration of what may or may not be considered a new movement in music, with a hero from the past ushering in the next generation of superstars.
While hip hop specifically has a long history of homophobia, the music industry at large may be just as guilty. While musicians, artists, and rappers who happen to be queer have been making waves in the underground, we've yet to see any out and proud stars break through to true mainstream success. In fact, it was only last week that rapper Mykki Blanco discussed they're fears about the music industry’s homophobia: “I still wonder if the industry is going to give [queer artists] a glass ceiling, you know?" they asked. "Is the industry gonna let [a queer artist] be as big as a [Justin] Bieber?"
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of all of this is that music by sexual minorities is quite often, by most metrics, simply just as good as (if not far better than) the material frequently heard on the radio. If major record labels aren't giving LGBTQ artists the attention they deserve, it certainly seems like queers are working hard at getting our work out on our own terms. FUTUREHOOD's releases are just one example of the many newly burgeoning labels which are owned and operated by queer people of color. Just this summer for example, legendary vogue and ballroom DJ MikeQ's label dropped their first compilation, stunning critics with gorgeously produced, club-ready tracks.
Meanwhile Brooklyn-based DJ Gooddroid is in the process of launching her club and ballroom sub-label, Materia. And just next week, Doom Dab will be putting together a similarly strong showcase, featuring a handful of LGBTQ artists (and we're exclusively debuting a new track from that compilation, right here).
While four examples hardly makes a full movement, rapper and FUTUREHOOD co-founder Mister Wallace (whose stunning music video for the track "It Girl" we shared back in August) sees these stirrings in the underground as the beginnings of something bigger.
"I'm hearing a lot of POC talk about creating businesses that cater to people of color that are aware of the politics and the policies of some of these clubs where these things go on," they said to me a few days after the showcase. "I think that that is all part of a need to build economic wealth within this community that has been disparaged for so long ... I think that people are just becoming smart entrepreneurs and are taking things into their own hands because the industry has shown that, by and large, it can't handle these artists."
"In some ways they are also happening because of one another, they influence one another," they continued. "Once you see something like yourself existing in the world it helps you create more of yourself in the world. That's why FUTUREHOOD exists. We want people like us to see examples of themselves not only surviving but thriving and creating beautiful art."
"LGBT people, specifically LGBT people of color, have been creating culture for years and that culture they create is also underrepresented by them. If you look at the house and techno scene of today, the majority of the DJs that are making money and traveling are white and typically straight or heterosexual," Wallace added. "This is something that started in black gay clubs in Chicago ... It was important for us to create a space where all of these queer artists that we're meeting on the road and at our shows and through our lives — there needs to be a place for all these people to go. There just isn't a home for them in the sense of having a support group, a record label, representation of themselves in this industry."
"That being said, we are open to everyone and anyone who makes really good music and wants to change the world, wants to heal the world. It's about experiencing, healing, identifying, and expressing all of one's true self."
aCe, a fellow FUTUREHOOD co-founder and member of the duo Banjee Report (alongside Wallace) had some thoughts to add to the conversation.
"We're not interested in acceptance or a crossover," said aCe. "It's like the opposite."
"The straight world needs to play catch up to the queer rap world. We need accessibility so that people can come to our side. We stopped chasing the signs of being accepted and that's the whole idea behind FUTUREHOOD."
"Look at Kaycee Ortiz," they added, alluding to the standout performer of the showcase on Tuesday night. While each artist's presentation was cause for celebration, it was Ortiz, a toweringly tall trans woman with the poise and grace of a Greek goddess and the ferosity of Lil Kim, who stole the show. "You have this female rapper – people say they miss Kim or old Nicki [Minaj] and then you have this mixtape that's the southern female rap record — possibly of the year."
aCe isn't exaggerating either. Kaycee's debut mixtape Beach Street serves both devastatingly fierce bars and a touching personal narrative of perseverance: "Damaged people are dangerous because we know we can survive / I don't need you anyway like Mary J. I'm doing just fine — bitch," Kaycee says on "Queen of Hearts," recontextualizing a quote from writer Josephine Hart.
"I feel it is important that artists all over the spectrum have a platform to showcase their talent," said Ortiz, reflecting on they're work with FUTUREHOOD. "This is the season of the LGBT — especially the trans movement. This is something fresh and new, a perspective that hasn't been heard yet. We have a different twist to bring to the table."
"But at the same time I don't want to box myself in to strictly being a queer artist. I don't want to be trapped under that label. I don't want to be considered a queer, gay or LGBT rapper... I'm just a rapper, just like Drake or Kanye [West]. I don't want all those labels attached to me. I feel that really limits your audience."
Indeed, queer artists have often resisted segregation, hoping to be ackowledged not for their sexuality but their skill level. Besides, the experiences these artists are sharing are hardly exclusive to queer people:
"My music is my story. I write about my life, what I've experienced," Ortiz continued. "I didn't sell drugs or gang bang, but I did sing in the church choir ... so thats what I sing about. I think of the country air, the way the dirt felt under my feet, I put myself in a moment."
aCe tracks the tug of war between wanting to feel supported by and supportive of the LGBTQ community but also wanting to be recognized more for your talent all the way back to the AIDS crisis:
"There's a part of me that wants to restore the creative energy that once thrived in the queer community that the [AIDS] crisis eliminated," they said. "The crisis didn't just end lives. It put a lot of fear in us. There was fear of intimacy and that fear of connection. I think that fear of creativity made the queer community kind of bland after a while, which is understandable. Now we're headed in a new direction and it's not fear based."
For rapper F. Virtue, who attended the showcase on Tuesday, sexuality means something else entirely. Signed to FiveSe7en Music, Virtue is one of the few openly gays in his crew: "I thought nobody would want to associate with me because they would be too insecure to outwardly work with a gay rapper in such a traditionally homophobic culture," reminisced Virtue. "The whole f*cking world is racist and homophobic - but I see the music industry as getting better because they no longer have the strength to control us."
Virtue sees hope in the increasing visibility of LGBTQ artists on these new labels: "It's everything I dreamt of as a kid," they said. "Growing up making music without LGBTQ musicians in the scene to look up to made it harder to accept [myself]. I just wanted to be straight so bad for so long and that's so sad and disgusting — no one should have to feel that way."
"The explosion of these labels creates a safer and more open environment for all LGBTQ musicians. We now have a home, a family, a scene of our own. We are making our way for ourselves with our own rules and holy sh*t I feel bad for the poor souls that try to stop us now."
While the FUTUREHOOD showcase closed with roaring applause, approving finger wags, and enthusiastic snaps from the audience, Kevin Aviance's face glossed over in a moment of what looked like inspiration. "Back in the day f*ggots had our own music," they said.
"I think we're getting it back now."
Follow these artists on social media:
FUTUREHOOD: Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube; Mister Wallace: Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram; aCe: Twitter, Instagram; Banjee Report: Tumblr; Kaycee Ortiz: Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube; F. Virtue: Soundcloud, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube
[Photo: Eric Shorey]