Photo by Ryan McGinley for Converse.
Music / Brockhampton

Brockhampton and Kevin Abstract Address Homophobia in Rap Head-On

In December 2017, YFN Lucci dropped “Boss Life” featuring Offset, a member of the Atlanta-based rap trio known as Migos. Many fans criticized Offset’s verse for being inappropriate, referring to one particular line: “Pinky ring crystal clear, 40k spent on a private Lear / 60k solitaire / I cannot vibe with queers,” he raps. In a Rolling Stone interview just ten months earlier, Offset, as well as the other two members of Migos, Quavo and Takeoff, expressed their disapproval towards all of the support fans were showing fellow Atlanta star ILoveMakonnen, who had recently come out as gay on Twitter. “They supported him?” Quavo questioned. “That’s because the world is f**ked up,” said Offset. “The world is not right,” Takeoff expressed, “That’s wack, bro.”

Hip-hop has been plagued by homophobia ever since its conception. Artists like Snoop Dogg, the Beastie Boys, Eminem, T.I., Common, Rick Ross, Busta Rhymes, 50 Cent, and many more frequently use homophobic slurs in their lyrics and have made statements, either in song or publicly, that are blatantly anti-LGBTQ. Homophobia has been so normalized in hip-hop culture that many rappers consistently get away with using derogatory terms like “faggot” and “queer” in their songs simply because it has come to be expected in the genre. Though homophobia in rap has improved in the past several years, it clearly persists today. We have one of the most popular rap groups in the world bragging about not “vibing” with the “queers” and claiming that supporting a gay rapper is “wack.” However, Kevin Abstract and his rap group Brockhampton are addressing this issue head-on in the most effective way possible: by being unapologetically gay in their hip-hop and by normalizing queerness in rap. In doing so, they are changing the wider perception of LGBTQ people in the industry, challenging the heteronormativity of rap culture, and making the music accessible to all members of the LGBTQ community.

Brockhampton consists of seven vocalists, three producers, a creative director, a photographer, a webmaster/guitarist, and a manager–all who are equally considered to be members of the group. Of the seven vocalists, there are six rappers: Ameer Vann, Dom McLennon, Merlyn Wood, Matt Champion, Joba, and Kevin Abstract, and while every rapper in the group brings a personalized, unique style, it is Abstract whose image and lyricism are most extraordinary. Abstract is the independent, unapologetic group leader who combines amusing wordplay, epic storytelling, and social commentary to create his own original brand. However, the most significant thing about Abstract as a rapper is the way he talks about himself, or more specifically, how openly and impenitently gay he is.

Abstract’s queerness is purposefully conspicuous, as he often flaunts his sexuality nonchalantly. A prime example of this is how he talks about his sexual encounters and preferences. It’s common today for rappers to brag in their lyrics about their sexual encounters with women and this is generally accepted among the hip-hop community. Kevin Abstract also chooses to rap about his sexual encounters–only, his are with other men. Abstract shows his sexual interest in former One Direction member Zayn Malik as he boasts about “Making out with Zayn in a lawn chair” on “Jello”. He casually talks about both giving and receiving oral sex from other men throughout the Saturation Trilogy and he even expresses his preference for black men over white men, the only exception being Shawn Mendes, in “Star.” Abstract uses explicit and sexual language to challenge the heteronormativity of rap culture while also helping to normalize LGBTQ in the genre.

Kevin Abstract doesn’t limit the expression of his sexuality to his sexual encounters though, as he is not afraid to talk about the vulnerability and insecurity of his romantic life. Throughout his sophomore solo album American Boyfriend as well as on the Saturation trilogy, he frequently talks about the toxic relationships in his past, his experience with heartbreak and loneliness, and his desire for a romantic counterpart who treats him well and accepts him for who he is. Abstract has never been afraid to express his romantic insecurities and ravages in his music, and in doing so, he challenges both the toxic masculinity in rap culture and the heteronormativity of romantic hip-hop.

While Abstract’s care-free expressiveness of his sexuality helps to destigmatize and normalize queerness in hip-hop, equally as important is how he directly addresses his sexuality and his experience with being gay. American Boyfriend explores the insecurities and loneliness of his years in high school and the struggles of growing up as a gay boy in his household and community. He talks about being raised in a heteronormative setting, rapping that “All them baddies my favorite rappers rapped about / Never made sense when them words played in my f**king house.” Later, on the same track, he discusses the emotional toll of growing up in a household where he was assumed to be heterosexual when he says, “Can’t tell my family I’m bi / Can’t tell my mother I’m gay / The hardest part of my day / Is wishing I was fucking straight.” He talks about the same themes throughout the Saturation albums, as he raps in “Junky” from Saturation II, “I told my mom I was gay / Why the f**k she ain’t listen?” and that where he comes from, gay men “get called faggot and killed.” Abstract shares his experience growing up to showcase the struggles and insecurities that come with being gay in a heteronormative society. The fact that he’s using hip-hop as a platform to do so directly challenges the homophobia and the stigmatization of queerness that plagues the genre.

Now all grown-up, Abstract embraces his sexuality, as he unapologetically puts it out for everybody to see.  On “Stupid” he raps “I miss my boyfriend’s fragrance / I’m a faggot, I say it, I scream that shit like I mean it.” He even acknowledges his effort to normalize queerness in hip-hop in “Junky” when he claims that he, “always [raps] about being gay” because there aren’t enough people who “rap and be gay.” He even invites the alleged homophobic killers from his hometown to “Come and cut my head off / And my legs off / And I’m a still be a boss till my head gone.” Kevin Abstract is a gay rapper, he wants everybody to know, and he couldn’t care less if that bothers anybody. By screaming it proudly throughout all of his music, he is both exposing the homophobia that persists in rap culture and encouraging others like him to follow in his footsteps.

Because what Kevin Abstract and Brockhampton are doing is so important and necessary for the evolution of rap music, the recent spike in the group’s popularity is encouraging. Saturation III, which released in December 2017, peaked at #15 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, and #5 on the U.S. Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop chart. The group has received praise and support from Kendrick Lamar, Tyler, the Creator, and more. Their fanbase on social media is strong, as Kevin Abstract has accumulated over two hundred thousand Twitter followers, as has the official Brockhampton Twitter page. Most of the shows on the Love Your Parents tour have sold out, and their fourth studio album, Puppy, which is set to drop in Summer 2018, has gained much anticipation and hype. Brockhampton’s music is fun, popular, and culturally significant for so many reasons, and the recognition and support they have received is a positive sign.

However, though the soaring popularity of the self-proclaimed boyband is encouraging, the continued popularity of artists like Migos despite their multiple instances of outright homophobia is troublesome. Migos’ Culture album from 2017 peaked at #1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart, as did the 2018 sequel Culture II. Though some of what Migos does in their style and lyrics is good for the genre, they should not be given the full-fledged support they receive from the genre and its fans until they their music adapts to be more accessible to and accepting of the LGBTQ community.

If you’re not a fan of hip-hop and you haven’t heard Brockhampton or Kevin Abstract, I strongly recommend that you give the Saturation trilogy and American Boyfriend a listen, as these albums have the potential to change your opinion about the genre. If you do consider yourself a hip-hop fanatic, I urge you to reconsider your outright support for artists like Migos, who are keeping rap homophobic, in favor of Brockhampton, a group that is challenging rap’s heteronormative culture and helping to make the music accessible to all identities.