Black UK Rappers on Being LGBTQIA+ in Hip Hop

In light of the controversy created around the release of Lil Nas X’s MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name) music video, BRICKS speaks to James Indigo, Mista Strange and Karnage Kills about their experiences with Christianity and the reality of being a Black and gay rapper in the UK.

WORDS Emily Phillips

Following the release of Lil Nas X’s MONTERO (Call Me By Your Name) sensual song and music video on 26th March, the proudly gay rapper has been met with a sea of support online. But he has also received extreme backlash for its controversial visuals depicting him giving Satan a lap dance before casually snapping the devil’s neck and taking control of the underworld. And, although the rumors were refuted, for a moment it seemed so contentious that it was going to be pulled from streaming platforms and moved to PornHub (and even was for a brief moment) – dubbed the “Montero” takedown. 

However, Lil Nas X clapped back at critics and his experience with Christianity, bringing attention to the reality of being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community as a raised-Christain rapper.  “I spent my entire teenage years hating myself because of the shitt y’all preached would happen to me because i was gay,” he tweeted on 27th March. “So I hope you are mad, stay mad, feel the same anger you teach us to have towards ourselves.” 

It’s not surprising that Lil Nas X and his unapologetic Montero production and general disposition was met with animosity. Christianity – the religion comprehended in the music video – has often been reprehensive to homosexuality, and within the music industry its far too often that LGBTQIA+ musicians, especially rappers, and especially if they’re Black, face utter contempt, malice and discrimination for simply expressing themselves – and its no different here in the UK. 

BRICKS spoke to gay rapper James Indigo, drill’s ‘first’ openly gay musician Mista Strange and femme grime artist Karnage Kills to discuss their encounters with religion respective to their sexuality, the reality of being both Black and Gay in the HipHop industry, and what its been like as a growing artist on the UK music scene.

James Indigo

Has religion played a role in your life? If so how has this affected your experience as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community?

Religion has played such a big part in my life and it still does today. I grew up in a catholic household, I would go to Sunday school and read the bible. It affected me because I would have family members say to me that gay people will burn in hell and that gays are pretty much scum and sick in the head. I remember being really young and having gay feelings and automatically being scared thinking that it was the devil. I was scared to speak up because I felt ashamed.

What was it like for you when you came out? 

I was outed when I was 19. I used to be best friends with a girl that was close to my family, She came from a Jehovah witness background. I remember telling her before I told my family. I remember being so scared. It’s crazy how telling someone” I am gay” can be so nerve-racking. Anyway, I told her and she seemed fine about it. Then a few days later I get a call from 3 members of my family saying that the girl I used to be friends with told them I was gay before I could. and when I confronted her, her words were, “I had to tell them your dirty little secret”.

That was the first time in my life I was like wow, religion can really change people. But my family loves me for who I am.

It’s amazing when I get messages from people saying because of me they feel comfortable expressing who they are.

James Indigo

Rap can be a very hyper-masculine genre – from the ground up it has often been centered around this narrative – so how has the industry received you? 

The industry thus far has been great to me. Obviously, it comes with its ups and downs, being gay and doing rap can be difficult because it’s harder to break into the industry, but I love a challenge. It’s amazing when I get messages from people saying because of me they feel comfortable expressing who they are. I had a black teen message me saying that because of me they came out to their parents. I always wished growing up I could look up to someone I could relate to. 

What has your experience been like as a BIPOC person in hip hop? 

I have had a lot of homophobic abuse and people telling me that you “can’t be black and do rap”  People have said I’m putting shame on the black community. But I also have people that love what I do and love my art and it’s given people hope that if I can do it then they can do it too.

Mista Strange

Has religion played a role in your life? If so how has this affected your experience as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community? 

Religion has always been a big part of my life but now more so just God – I view the two as separate. I started my “religious journey” as a Christian I wanted answers and despite not being from a religious family I felt most connected to Christianity and so that’s what I did; I found a church and started going to Sunday service. From there I really embarked on my own journey with God and formed what is now the most important relationship in my life. A relationship with God is a relationship with self, and God loves everyone despite what some may tell you. 

A relationship with God is a relationship with self, and God loves everyone despite what some may tell you. 

Mista Strange

Religion has often been very hostile towards LGBTQIA+ people, how do you feel about this? 

I would disagree. I think people have been very hostile towards the community; people and not religion. It is only the will of mankind to be hostile towards anyone it chooses not the will of religion and certainly not God and as I said previously God loves everyone and that love is unconditional some people have just been taught wrong and religion has been used to fuel this hate, I wish more gay kids understood and weren’t deterred from God or religion because of the actions of ignorant people. For example I’ll tell you a story; there was a man that used to cut my hair his name is Glory and I have never heard anyone speak on topics of God like this man did with such passion and conviction a true believer he preaches in church a few times a week he was also one of first people I came out to and also one of the few people at the time that loved and accepted me for who I am, a man of God a preacher, but he still loved me and accepted me for who I am and told me God loves me too I’ll never forget that day I randomly bumped into him in my car and we got to talking and I just told him “I’m gay” we then prayed together afterwards and he told me I am Gods child and so his brother and it has been that way ever since. That is the true work of God, only love 

What has your experience been coming out as a BIPOC person? 

I definitely have had a hard time coming out and it’s a shame because I love my culture and I love my heritage and if you ask me the gay community and the black community would get on so well if we just put aside our differences because when you strip away all the other stuff we all are just lit ass human beings.

Karnage Kills

Has religion played a role in your life? If so how has this affected your experience as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community? 

I feel like a lot of black families are religious. I believe in God and have learnt to build my own relationship with him outside of the opinions of others. Sadly I’ve also experienced the stereotypical bible bashers who believe that they’re doing the lord’s work, by reminding you of how revolting your existence is because you’re homosexual. 

I think that where people go wrong is they forget that their life has no more value than another person’s. Everyone is given free will and should be able to express themselves however they see fit as long as they’re not bringing harm to others. People use religion to aid them in brainwashing their children and loved ones to conform to society’s idealistic norms. Babe, it’s 2021!! People can do what the hell they want (no pun intended). I remember going to Church as a boy and having the absolute best time, singing, trying to drink the red wine…it was lovely, and I was still very much gay – I remember this because I always had a crush on the activity workers at Saturday Service!

The main thing is, I had fun and got to learn about something that has carried me through some of the hardest moments of my life. 

Religion has often been very hostile towards LGBTQIA+ people, how do you feel about this?

I want hate to be classed as a mental illness. That voice that encourages you to say something negative about someone or abuse someone for their sexuality, race, gender whatever – It’s NOT OK!! It’s okay to dislike something, but it’s about how you go about expressing it. Throwing slurs, bible quotes on the street (which I’m sure no gay person is a stranger to). It’s dated and people need to get with the times. You’re allowed to keep your opinion silent. Kindness costs nothing.

Rap can be a very hyper-masculine genre – from the ground up it has often been centered around this narrative – so how has the industry received you? 

When I do gigs and have partnered with any platforms like LADbible or Boiler Room the people that I’m in contact with have been queer. I’d love to live in a world where big platforms reach out to collaborate with a queer artist without needing that queer counterpart who probably sourced the artist to begin with.

I’d love to live in a world where big platforms reach out to collaborate with a queer artist without needing that queer counterpart who probably sourced the artist to begin with.

Karnage Kills

Do you feel that as a BIPOC person your experience coming out has been different to that of your white counterparts? Please explain.

Well I can bet my bottom dollar if I was a white boy from bloody Norwich who came out as gay, then decided they wanted to wear makeup, it would be better received. Sadly, that is the reality.

I was talking with my ex about how a white gay guy can walk down the road and people just ignore them, pay them no mind. For Black femmes and trans women it’s actually dangerous on these streets. For some reason we have this target on our backs for just being visible. A lot of men don’t know how to decipher their feelings when they encounter us so they lash out verbally and sometimes violently. To have to walk around with your back up just incase someone sees you and decides they don’t like what they see is awful. That kind of behaviour can cause people to isolate or worse.

I have nothing against white gays – the idea that even in our own community we’re somehow separate is false. We’ve all had to experience hate as LGBT+ people – Yes, when you’re of colour the danger factor is heightened – but we’ve all experienced the struggle.

Karnage Kills, James Indigo and Mista Strange, like Lil Nas X, are catalysts for change, leading the charge one raw track at a time. In a letter 21-year-old Lil Nas X wrote to his 14-year-old self, he revealed a promise he made to himself years prior to never come out about his sexuality. But he’s breaking that promise now and explains the reason: “This will open doors for many other queer people to simply exist. you see this is very scary for me, people will be angry, they will say i’m pushing an agenda. but the truth is, i am. the agenda to make people stay the fuck out of other people’s lives and stop dictating who they should be. sending you love from the future.”

<strong>Emily Phillips</strong>
Emily Phillips

Emily Phillips is a BIPoC Canadian writer presently based in North London. She is a current BA: Fashion Journalism student at University of the Arts London: London College of Fashion. Emily has an insightful, creative, and seductive voice that shines through in her writing. Her work has been published in 10 Magazine and Coeval Magazine, as well as the 2021 book Networked Futures: Online Exhibitions and Digital Hierarchies from the digital art gallery platform isthisit?

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