Words: Thomas Stichbury
Sliding down a pole into hell to give Satan himself a lap dance, Lil Nas X delivered the synapse-sizzling visual of 2021 in his 'MONTERO (Call Me by Your Name)' video. If us homos are destined to burn in the flaming abode of eternal damnation, well, it looks like a real giggle, tbh. The rapper really does have a devil-may-care mentality – and he stands tall as our Person of the Year.
Lil Nas X is at the summit of the Attitude 101 issue, honouring LGBTQ+ people in a range of categories, out now to download and to order globally. The categories are Sport; Politics; Science, Technology, Engineering, and Maths; The Future, supported by Clifford Chance; Media and Broadcast; Travel; Film TV and Music, supported by Taimi; Business, Financial and Legal; Third Sector and the Community; and Fashion, Art and Design supported by Klarna.
Changing the hip-hop/rap game as an openly, joyously gay artist, the 22-year-old superstar, aka Montero Lamar Hill, doesn’t so much nod to his sexuality, as practically bury his face in between the proverbial butt cheeks of his queerness, gleefully stoking the fires of conservative, pearl-clutching critics.
To celebrate his rocket-like rise to the top – three number-one singles in the States; two UK no.1s; critically-acclaimed debut album, MONTERO; Grammy wins; and MTV Music Awards – we caught up with five Black queer musicians making waves on this side of the pond, namely Lava La Rue, Mista Strange, James Indigo, Karnage Kills and DJ Chantelle Ayanna.
They tell us about the paths they’ve forged through the industry, the obstacles they’ve encountered, and how Lil Nas X has redrawn the blueprint for up-and-coming LGBTQ+ POC talent. X marks the spot, indeed.
Lava La Rue – singer-songwriter & rapper
Credit: Elif Gonen
"In the 'MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name)' video, he [Lil Nas X] got accused of promoting Satanism to kids; these people not realising that in the main monotheistic religions, being queer alone is a straight ticket to hell anyway. He presented himself as an angel and a devil... and in the video he was quite literally LOVING himself… That’s what’s so boundary-pushing and, weirdly, to some people, ‘controversial’ – seeing a Black gay man create and express himself with no censorship, on his own terms, and having fun while doing it. It’s a pretty big deal to watch that now, but I hope it inspires people to normalise it."
"I’m inherently part of a beautiful, eclectic, Black, queer music scene and instantly accepted among my peoples, but we also stick together out of support and solidarity of instantly being singled out and fetishised when we really just want to exist freely. While it’s so important to discuss and represent our experiences, sometimes I find it sad that for a lot of my Black gay/lesbian and trans friends, when they are promoting their art, they’re often asked to incorporate talking about their traumas/experiences and identity politics in contexts where it’s not always relevant to the work they are trying to promote."
"More non-Black artists are becoming incredibly successful within Black music categories and winning awards in those spaces than there are Black artists becoming incredibly successful within white-dominated fields like indie/metal/alternative. We won’t see it as an equal playing field until there has been as many Black artists accepted into those 'non-Black' industries as much as we see all the Justin Timberlake’s and Eminem’s who have become millionaires off the foundations of Black music."
Mista Strange – musician
Credit: Planet Strange
"The guy’s got balls; he [Lil Nas X] stands on what he says, and I rate that. I don’t personally listen to his music, but I like how bold he is. He takes the hate and flips the script right back onto them in a funny, idgaf sorta way and I love that… For the kids he represents he is a big inspiration for them and very necessary. There’s kids that want to wear dresses and express themselves differently and they need to see someone like them doing that; especially if they are up-and-coming artists, it can be very powerful seeing someone do what you never thought was possible."
"The scene is definitely homophobic, but it doesn’t stop me from doing anything. I don’t really see myself as any different to the next rapper — like, we’ve all come from the same place, and we’ve all grown up doing the same things — the only difference is I’m gay. From my experience, if you can get past the mental barriers and sometimes the physical ones, the world is your oyster."
"I remember somebody saying that they never actually planned on coming out; they were convinced they had to keep it in for the rest of their life, but after finding out about me, they decided that they might not have to keep it in any more. I mean, reading that had to be one of the most fulfilling moments, because I know where they were and how deep that hole is and to think me and my music helped them get out is a blessing."
James Indigo – rapper & songwriter
“[Lil Nas X] is Black and gay and topping the charts. That alone is pushing boundaries. That alone is inspiring. I wish, growing up, I had had someone like that I could relate to. It would have made me expect myself much earlier.”
“I don’t see myself as a 'gay rapper', I see myself as a rapper that happens to be gay. I hate that we get put into boxes and categorised; I’m just a boy that wants to make music. That being said, I will talk about Black and queer issues because I’m proud to be Black and queer.”
“I get at least a few messages a week from trolls calling me 'gay' or a 'faggot'. I also get called a Satanist a lot, which is bizarre to me; I really think people [believe] because I am gay and in the industry I’m some sort of devil worshipper!”
Karnage Kills – rapper
"I love Lil Nas X. Any representation we have of LGBTQ+ talent winning in this industry is a great thing and will hopefully open doors for more of us to thrive."
"It’s definitely been a lot harder [as a Black queer artist], but there was never an option to do it any other way. I think if I had watered myself down to fit into industry standards, then my music wouldn’t be as authentic as it is. 'Hoe Diaries' is one of my biggest songs [and] people don’t love it because I’m pretending to be straight, they love it because it’s a relatable story, just from a gay man’s perspective."
"I almost see myself as a mirror that’s being held up to society, showing people that gender and expression are two different things; you can be a specific gender but the way you choose to express yourself is completely down to you. There’s so much pressure around gender expectation and it’s holding us back as people. You should be allowed to express yourself without judgement."
Chantelle Ayanna – DJ, producer & historian
Credit: Lisa BHA
"Lil Nas X is for sure a trailblazer. Seeing a Black queer person owning their own expression in the face of backlash has been both beautiful and painful to watch… By having such a huge platform, I think his presence has created space for Black queer artists to see someone they identify with and take confidence from his unapologetic nature."
"Unfortunately, most of us have [encountered homophobia and racism] — at times from people we least expect. Reconciling the way [in which] the world meets you and transforming those experiences into better equipped spaces, which not only empower you, but allow you to thrive are super-important to me."
"I’ve been blessed enough to find myself in the fold of some amazing queer spaces for QTIPOC, including Jungle Kitty, which is run by my good friend Mark-Ashley Dupé, so there has, in a sense, been a buffer between myself and more tense experiences, because I’m moving with that collective. We are all very much on the same wavelength. It’s music first before needing to translate yourself."
Read the full interview and check out the full detailed list in the Attitude 101 issue, out now to download and to order globally. The Attitude 101 issue includes the FREE Attitude 2022 calendar, presented in association with Taimi.