These past few weeks, the streets of the United States have borne witness to a spark that has ignited the entire world. The passion of Black people in defending their community’s right to life, safety and freedom has fed a movement of historical proportions. With great pain comes great potential for transformation.
However, while we undertake this fight, we must remember to find ways to heal, ways to center Black resilience and joy. One way to do so is to celebrate and learn from Black art. As June is LGBTQ Pride Month, we would like to introduce (or reintroduce) you to trans and queer Black creatives who are revolutionizing the music industry by breaking thematic, lyrical and sonic barriers. After all, the most marginalized voices are often the ones authoring revolutionary movements and leading change.
Here are a handful of those voices.
- Dua Saleh
Born in Kassala, Sudan and now based in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis–Saint-Paul), Dua Saleh is a non-binary poet, singer-songwriter, and activist. Their alt-R&B tracks are an exploration of gender, sexuality, and religion, among other themes. Last year, Saleh released their debut EP titled Nūr (2019) – “light” in their native Arabic, and a common gender-neutral name. Earlier this month, they released “body cast”, a song on police brutality.
- Janelle Monáe
Kansas-City native Janelle Monáe has spent the past fifteen years crafting an entire sci-fi universe through her music and accompanying visual material, along with establishing an acting career. Her funky, soulful, R&B and hip hop-inspired sound, coupled with her electrifying performances, led Monáe to become Prince’s protégée. In 2018, she released Dirty Computer, an ode to the marginalized, with a personal touch. She came out as queer soon after the release.
- Keiynan Lonsdale
Born in Sydney to a Nigerian father and an Australian mother, Keiynan Lonsdale is a singer-songwriter, actor, and dancer. When he is not busy filming for The CW’s The Flash, Lonsdale creates genre-bending, infectiously-cheerful music. He blends R&B, pop, Afrobeat, and jazz, among others, to celebrate queer love in all its forms – romantic love, platonic love, and self-love. Last month, Lonsdale released his debut album, Rainbow Boy.
- Big Freedia
New Orleans-based Big Freedia – rapper, reality TV star, and interior designer – is known as the “Queen of Bounce”. Indeed, she has helped popularize the hip hop genre of bounce music, native from her hometown. Freedia is also known for her features on Beyoncé’s “Formation” and Drake’s “Nice For What”. Her latest release is the EP Louder
Formerly known as Syd tha Kyd, Syd is a Los Angeles-born singer-songwriter. She is a past member of the alt-hip hop collective Odd Future, which currently includes fellow creatives Tyler, the Creator and Frank Ocean. Syd is also a founding member of the R&B group The Internet. As for her solo career, it features her smooth meld of R&B, hip hop, pop and electronica. In 2017, she released her debut album Fin, which explores themes of gay love and sensuality, as well as her EP Always Never Home.
- Lil Nas X
How could we forget one of the rising stars of 2019? Lil Nas X, of “Old Town Road” fame, is a Grammy-winning, chart-conquering, record-breaking rapper credited for popularizing the genre of “country trap”. The same year, he released his debut, hip hop EP 7, which features the staple track. Having grown up in a conservative community right outside of Atlanta, Georgia, Nas spent most of his life convinced that he would perpetually remain in the closet. That changed soon after his musical career skyrocketed and the digging made by some internet users pressured him to publicly come out as gay. Now that he has reclaimed his narrative, Nas speaks of his sexuality proudly and, according to an interview he did with The Guardian, he intends on exploring his queer identity in his upcoming album.
- Shea Diamond
Little Rock, Arkansas-born and Flint, Michigan-raised, Shea Diamond is a singer-songwriter and trans rights activist. She wrote her song “I Am Her”, an anthem for trans women, while serving a 10-year sentence in an all-men correctional facility after having robbed a convenience store at age 20, in an attempt to fund her gender-affirmation surgery. That incredibly personal and empowering tone permeates Diamond’s entire discography, and so does her soul and R&B sound. She released her debut EP Seen It All in 2018.
Born Uzo Emenike, MNEK (pronounced em-en-ee-kay) is a singer, songwriter and producer from London, UK. He has written and produced songs for a multitude of artists, including Beyoncé, H.E.R., Dua Lipa, Zara Larsson, and Madonna. In 2018, MNEK released his debut album Language, a dance-pop and R&B-infused celebration of gay love and Blackness.
Raised in Baltimore, Maryland, Josiah Wise goes by the stage name serpentwithfeet. Having grown up in a strictly Christian household, Wise has used music since his young age to explore his identity as a gay man. In church choir, he discovered gospel music which, along with classical music, greatly inspires his sound. Eventually, Wise developed his own experimental style. He released his debut album soil in 2018, followed by the EP Apparition last month. His work is a brilliant combination of carefully-crafted melodies, beautiful harmonies, and thoughtful lyrics on gay love and heartbreak.
- Zé Taylor
Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Soundcloud rapper Zé Taylor creates music for the gay youth. When he is not studying Behavioral and Social Science in college, Taylor writes songs about sexuality and religion, among other themes. In 2018, he released his mixtape The Gay Agenda, followed by his EP Fruit in 2019.
- Toya Delazy
Durban, South Africa native Toya Delazy is a singer, pianist, dancer and performer. Born a daughter of the Zulu royal Buthelezi family, she crushed the conventional princess image by being her proud, gender non-conforming, queer self. This proclivity to defeat expectations is also apparent in Delazy’s music. In 2013, she released her debut album Due Drop, a fusion of JEHP (Jazz, Electro, Hip hop, and Pop) reminiscent of late-’00s-to-early-’10s synthpop. She moved to London, UK in 2017 and started her own record label. The same year, Delazy released her latest studio album, Uncommodified, on which she paired Zulu lyrics with English garage to create an entirely new genre: Afro rave.
- Lex Allen
Based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Lex Allen is a bisexual and non-binary soul pop singer-songwriter and performer. His sound combines ‘70s pop with modern hip hop and R&B. In 2018, Allen released his debut album Table 7: Seven and Saints. His mystical, multilayered sound will surely captivate your ears and psyche. Allen’s latest release is his 2019 EP I.D.E.N.T.I.T.Y, in which he pays homage to queer love and the idea of being one’s true self.
- Mykki Blanco
Orange County, California-born and North Carolina-raised, Mykki Blanco is a non-binary rapper, spoken word poet and activist. Using a background made up of hip hop and electronica, they paint graphic pictures of sexuality and love. After having released a mixtape and a couple of EPs, Blanco released their debut album Mykki in 2016.
- Princess Nokia
Born Destiny Nicole Frasqueri, Princess Nokia is a rapper, vocalist, and actress of Puerto Rican descent. Born and raised in New York City, she mixes and matches a wide range of genres — emo, punk, hip hop, R&B, and gospel, to name a few — to share her most personal feelings and memories. In 2020, Nokia released two albums on the same day: Everything Sucks and Everything Is Beautiful. With a tinge of nostalgia, she takes the listener on a journey while unapologetically remaining her bisexual, Afro-Latina self.
Port-au-Prince-born and Montreal-based, hip hop DJ and producer Louis Kevin Celestin is known professionally as Kaytranada. He has collaborated with various artists, including Syd, Anderson .Paak, Gorillaz, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, and Kali Uchis. Kaytranada publicly identified himself as gay in a 2016 interview with The Fader. In 2019, he released his second full-length album, Bubba.
Want to get a taste of these musicians’ work? Listen to this playlist.
Wrtier – Attou Mamat
Attou is an artivist of Cameroonian origin living on the unceded territory of the Algonquin Anishnaabeg People. Passionate about poetry and music, she aims to create spaces for reflection and healing through artistic performance. She can usually be found with a pen in her hand, a guitar on her lap or a violin on her shoulder. When she is not devoting herself to the arts, she studies law at McGill University or gets involved in diverse initiatives dedicated to citizen engagement and social justice.