Meet the exciting 2SLGBTQ rappers taking over Canada right now
Artists including DijahSB, Backxwash, Kimmortal and more are leading change in the country's hip-hop scene
Written by Kyle Mullin.
A December 2022 episode of Showtime's The L Word: Generation Q opens with an intense orgy and an equally sensual soundtrack. The song that invites viewers into the scene is Vancouver non-binary rapper Kimmortal's latest single, "This Dyke," marking their first big TV song placement. They were thrilled by the opportunity because they have been watching The L Word "since I was a baby queer." It's also monumental as it illustrates Canada's current, exciting rise of 2SLGBTQ hip hop like never before.
A few months prior, Toronto R&B and hip-hop duo TRP.P scored a sleeper hit with the song and music video for "Doin' it for Me," in which pronoun representation and danceable rhythms are equally and irresistibly robust. "I feel like there's a huge influx of great queer talent in this country, especially in hip hop and R&B," says Truss, TRP.P's trans producer and instrumentalist. "It's almost impossible to escape us, and it feels like the community here is getting stronger because of that."
Truss's bandmate, Phoenix Pagliacci, adds: "I definitely feel the waves of support here as a queer artist; it's refreshing to see live music promoters, playlist curators and radio stations being so inclusive and innovative. We're seeing queer artists getting great opportunities. The wave is inevitably going to consume mainstream music not only in Canada, but everywhere."
That sentiment is echoed by Toronto non-binary rapper DijahSB, who recently dropped "Khadijah," a single off their next EP, Living Simple. It's a breezy ode to love that just happens to have a queer perspective, as if this is a new day where that's finally commonplace. On it, DijahSB puts a fresh spin on Jay-Z's classic "Girls, Girls, Girls" lyrics by spitting, "Had a light-skinned girl broke my heart in the winter/ had a dark-skin girl broke my heart, she's a singer." As one of our country's most acclaimed and widely covered up-and-comers — who also had a song featured on a major Android commercial last year — DijahSB can attest to how "in Canada, we're not afraid to champion queer artists because we exist. We're here. And we do get support."
Compelling as DijashSB's point is, Canada arguably trails America when it comes to 2SLGBTQ breakthroughs in hip hop — after all, the genre was born in the U.S. 50 years ago this year, and conversations around homophobia and representation have been happening there for decades. In that time, Lil Nas X became an icon after coming out in 2019; gender fluid New Orleans rapper Big Freedia broke into the mainstream on hits with Beyoncé and Drake in recent years; and Grammy winner Tyler, the Creator rapped about "kissing white boys since 2004" on his 2017 song "Aint' Got Time," and long alluded to being queer. And yet, Canada has been holding its own in recent years. In addition to Kimmortal, TRP.P and DijahSB's work, transgender rap-rocker Backxwash won the 2020 Polaris Music Prize for her album God has Nothing to do With This Leave Him out of It, and Juno Award-winning Toronto MC Haviah Mighty openly wrote about a woman love interest on recent song "Coulda Been U."
Hip hop exists in the same world as everything else does. So of course it has a ways to go. Just like everything else.- Myst Milano
"I don't think homophobia is a hip-hop exclusive thing," says Myst Milano. The invigoratingly bold, Edmonton-born, Toronto-based rapper and producer who deftly entwines Lil' Kim-esque raunch and MF Doom-worthy double entendres with lo-fi house, '90s house and ballroom adds: "Hip hop exists in the same world as everything else does. So of course it has a ways to go. Just like everything else."
Many of the MCs interviewed concur, including Lex Leosis. The Toronto rapper, who delved into her bisexuality on the 2020 song "Gemini," says, "I am bisexual and queer. But I am also white and recognize I am a guest in hip hop. I don't speak to where hip hop needs to go." She thinks every musical genre has been guilty of heteronormativity, if not outright hate. "Some people push a narrative about hip hop in that regard that isn't true."
"Growing up listening to hip hop means you get to also grow with hip hop," says Pagliacci, also a member of the now-paused rap supergroup the Sorority with Leosis, Haviah Mighty and Keysha Freshh. A prime example for her: Jay-Z's infamous homophobic verses, only to supportively rap about his mother coming out over a decade later. A year after Jay-Z opened up about his mother on his 2017 album, 4:44, his mother, Gloria Carter, was honoured by the GLAAD Awards, where she said in a speech: ""This mother looks into her child's eyes, and in this case, that child is embraced and exalted by a community that has traditionally not been accepting of 2SLGBTQ people. She says, 'Son, this is me' … if that doesn't accelerate acceptance, what does?"
When it comes to evolution in hip hop, Truss thinks back to his childhood. "I can't imagine what six-year-old, pre-transition, tomboy-me would feel like seeing Young MA on 106 & Park, after being made fun of for wearing 'boy shoes,'" he says, referring to the "Ooouuu" rapper's appearance on the famous music video show. Sixteen years passed between Truss being bullied about his shoes, and Young MA's 106 appearance, and the TRP.P producer began his transition two years after that.
I never realized, until then, that it's about more than just the music. That I could do a lot for the community.- DijahSB, on being thanked by fans for boosting queer visibility
"Representation matters, and there's no use in dwelling on what was," he explains. "We should continue to push the culture forward. And representation for everybody helps do that." The power of that representation is clear for many of the MCs interviewed. Fans have thanked DijahSB, for instance, for boosting queer visibility, and even providing lyrical solace. "That is beyond anything I dreamed of," they say. "I never realized, until then, that it's about more than just the music. That I could do a lot for the community."
Two-Spirit MCs have their own nuanced experience in 2SLGBTQ hip hop. Two-Spirit, a term in Indigenous communities for a person who identifies as having both masculine and feminine traits, is how Winnipeg-born, Plains Cree rapper TheRa11n identifies, though she says she doesn't put that at the forefront of "my main persona when I'm writing a track." She also doesn't shy away from it. On "Come Over," over a beat by producer DJ Shub, she raps about "meeting a fancy female dancer at a powwow and falling in love. That's not something that has been promoted in the past in powwow country. But today there are females dancing in men's categories. It's more fluid now."
"But Two-Spirit people have always been looked at in a higher light, as a gift from the creator," TheRa11n, who has a new EP coming this year, says, adding: "We have wisdom and knowledge because we carry both sexes' traits."
But there are still growing pains. For Leosis, bringing her boyfriend to a recent show got awkward. "A girl got all upset afterwards at the merch table, saying 'I thought you were queer,'" to which Leosis responded, "'I am. But I'm dating a man right now. I'm bisexual.' And she thought that was weird! It can confuse people. But also: that's part of representation."
Kimmortal adds that they hope to see more queer festivals showcasing queer MCs, and more labels or collectives that are queer-led. "That would change the game," says Kimmortal, as opposed to the current cis-white, queer allies who are appreciated, but too often dominate. More representation onstage and backstage would lead to less "explaining where we're coming from."
"The goal is always more material stability," says Myst Milano. "Especially for Black queer artists. It's always been that these Black artists get their creativity taken advantage of. And then get left in the dust."
They hope more mainstream representation "results in more material wealth and stability and opportunities for these artists."
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