From N.W.A. to Eminem, rap has never had much truck with taboos. But despite a history of pushing the edge to the center, there's one boundary the music is still struggling to cross. "I've stopped thinking about reaching straight people," says Captain Magik, 28, a self-described "young, gay, and proud" Cleveland MC with a raspy, Nas-like flow. "I had enough problems at my day job when I came out. How can I expect support from something as homophobic as hip-hop?"
He's not the only one looking for answers. More than a decade after artists like Man Parrish, Deep Dickollective, and Rainbow Flava introduced gay voices to the hip-hop underground, a new generation of rappers are still struggling to escape from their subcultural ghetto.
It's not for lack of effort. Recent months have seen releases from self-proclaimed "homo-hoppers" such as Magik, Nano Reyes, Bry'Nt, Last Offence, and QPid that were big-upped on gay websites. But interested observers note that despite the aforementioned artists' racial diversity, radio-ready beats, and often subtle storytelling ("I'm rapping about trouble with my family, not about sucking dicks," says Magik), a double whammy of cultural discomfort and business pessimism is proving stubbornly insurmountable. "The major labels say it won't sell, so they don't try," says Juba Kalamka, coproprietor of the long-running gay-rap label Sugartruck. "It's a self-fulfilling prophecy."
While Last Offence recognizes the unlikely crossover capacity of a track like his "So Magical" (which features the line "Can I fuck your pretty ass?"), he wonders why the majors haven't tried to market their music to the gay community. "People talk a lot about the first mainstream gay rapper," says the L.A. native, "but what if I could sell a million records to gay people?"
Radio and TV have been equally unwelcoming. The nationally syndicated gay-friendly Radio With a Twist offers no rap-specific content. ("The topics on our show are gay-oriented, and the interviews are with gay celebrities," says DJ Ben Harvey, "but the music our listeners want is your typical Rihanna/Chris Brown/Akon stuff .") And last year, MTV's LGBT-targeted Logo channel passed on Urban Raiders, a reality show featuring gay rap veterans like Tori Fixx and Deadlee, in which aspiring MCs would compete for the chance to record an album. "They told us it was too 'high concept,' " says coproducer Camilo Arenivar.
According to rap blogger and XXL online columnist Byron Crawford, gay rappers shouldn't hold their breath for a breakthrough. "The culture of mainstream rap is about masculinity and aggression," he says. "That style is not conducive to a gay rapper's success."