By: Christina Santi
June is both LGBT Pride Month and Black Music Month. Pride came to be as a way to commemorate the Stonewall Riots, which occurred in June 1969. A decade later, President Jimmy Carter marked the month as a celebration of African Americans’ influence on the nation’s music. It would be hard to talk about American pop culture without thinking about the impact of the LGBTQ community or Black culture.
Our society has made small strides for both marginalized populations in the decades since the development of the celebratory month. Despite social stigma and lack of equality, Black LGBTQ artists like Frank Ocean, Janelle Monae, Kehlani, Big Freedia and Lil Nas X are breaking barriers being openly queer and having mainstream successes.
To celebrate Black Music Month and Pride, BNC developed a list of LGBTQ musicians who are using their art to speak on their identity as both Black and queer in America. They continue to expand on what Black music is and can be.
Born Josiah Wise, serpentwithfeet, is a 32-year-old singer/songwriter and producer. He grew up in Baltimore in a very Christian household, and began his musical career singing in church. Living in often an unwelcoming environment, he led a closeted life. On his 2018 debut Soil, he used his choirboy background to deliver an experimental gospel-esque record about love shining a light on his queerness. It was important for him to speak his truth and live in his total identity.
“It just needed to be a full conversation, because my day is a queer day. I eat breakfast queer. I walk queer. I think that takes time for a young person,” he told NPR’s Rachel Martin.
Serpent released his second album DEACON on March 26.
Jane “Chika” Oranika is a Grammy-nominated rapper and songwriter hailing from Montgomery, Alabama. She signed to Warner Records in 2019 after garnering attention for her viral social media freestyles and her outspoken nature. The 24-year-old often uses her platform to promote the need for body positivity and inclusivity. She has described herself as “big and [B]lack, gay and vocal.” Chika told Gay Times, “As a queer [B]lack woman raised from immigrants, my entire existence is political.”
In the music video for “Can’t Explain,” Chika put a queer spin on the hit 90s series A Different World. She starred in the video playing the role of Dwayne Wayne trying to woo Whitley.
Vincint is a pop singer and songwriter best known for being a finalist on Season 1 of the FOX singing competition The Four. Born and raised in Philly, he was introduced to music by his father who was in a gospel group. Despite having powerful vocals, Vincint was a shy kid who did not let anyone know he could sing until he was about 8, according to MTV. He wrote his first song at 12. Four years later, at 16, the singer came out. He has been living as an openly gay man since and it is something he prides himself on using his platform for.
“If there are little boys and girls who look like me and happened to be in the LGBTQ life, then they can see that we’re not just the butt of the joke, and we’re not just a fad to be on TV,” he told Riff Magazine in 2020.
In 2020, Vincint was tapped to sing “Be Me” for Season 5 of Netflix’s hit series Queer Eye.
In July 2020, Joy Oladokun was Billboard’s Pride Artist of the Month. She grew up in a religious home in Arizona listening to gospel and country acts, and cites Lauryn Hill and Bob Marley as two of her influences. The singer-songwriter did not come out to her Nigerian parents until recently. Her religious upbringing and her experience as Black queer person were the themes of her second album In Defense of My Own Happiness (the beginnings). “Sunday,” a song on the project, explores the conflict of coming into queerness.
“As a Black woman, the title ‘In Defense of My Own Happiness (vol. 1)’ takes on a different meaning when you’re talking about Black and queer culture,” Oladokun told Go Mag in 2020. “People like me are fighting for absolutely basic rights.”
During America’s racial reckoning that same year she released “I See America,” a song that criticizes systemic racism. It was named one of the best songs of the year by NPR.
Cakes Da Killa
Rashard “Cakes Da Killa” Bradshaw is a New Jersey native whose flare and openness about his sexuality contrasts the misogynistic and often homophobic tropes found in hip hop. But Cakes, who came out in third grade, said his mother always accepted him for who he was and that helped him to be unapologetically himself. He began rapping for fun in high school.
He rose to prominence in 2011 after being featured on the mixtape Downtown Mayhem Vol. 1. Cakes was a staple in the queer rap scene. In 2014, he got mainstream attention after an interview with Ebro Darden on NY’s Hot97, in which the radio personality kept referring to him as a “gay rapper.” The 30-year-old describes himself as a “rapper who just happens to be gay.”
“I came out in the third grade. This is just me being me. People make it sound like it’s controversial and revolutionary, and that’s weird to me,” the rapper told OUT in 2013. “Because in hip-hop you have people glorifying negativity like killing people and not taking care of your kids — and that should be scandalous! That should be what we talk about. An openly gay rapper shouldn’t be breaking news.”
Cakes has since competed on Netflix’s music series Rhythm + Flow and released the album MUVALAND.
ShaGasyia “Shea” Diamond is an R&B singer/songwriter and transgender rights activist. Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, she ran away from home as a teen because her identity was not accepted. While trying to survive, she robbed a store and was incarcerated in men’s prisons for 10 years. It was there that she wrote her first songs, including the trans anthem “I Am Her” and was inspired to live her singing dreams.
“Incarceration was just another battle over my body and mind that sought to correct my femininity and punish me for me for existing outside of cis normalcy,” Shea told Changing Womxn Collective.
The trans artist uses her platform to speak about her struggles as both a transwoman and a Black person in America. Shea most recently appeared on Tom Morello’s (Rage Against the Machine) 2020 protest charity song “Stand Up” alongside Dan Reynolds (Imagine Dragons).