Trailblazing gay rapper Mr Strange has a powerful message for homophobes refusing to accept him
At the start of the year Mr Strange had around 400 Instagram followers, he now has over 17.7k.
He won the majority of those overnight when he became a social media sensation thanks to his drill rap on the YouTube channel [email protected].
Going viral is cool, but what’s more cool is that he did it while rapping about being gay in a notoriously homophobic music genre.
Gay musician: Drill music has a problem with toxic masculinity.
People who know a little about drill music will know that calling Mr Strange’s performance brave is an understatement. LGBT+ representation in music overall may be improving, but within drill it’s near unheard of.
“I don’t think there’s many people that could have done what I’ve done,” he tells me.
“I’m not going to say that I’m the only gay rapper that’s ever existed.
“Even in the UK there’s gay rappers but I guess I’m the first of my kind.”
He describes his kind as someone from the streets, “someone that has been through it, seen stuff and done stuff”.
With deadpan, nihilistic lyrics about gang culture, drill has been accused of inciting violence. Mr Strange believes drill has a problem with toxic masculinity, and it’s made things harder for him.
What attracted him to an industry that’s so against him? It’s his favourite music.
“I like good music but unfortunately all the good music is made by people that are, in the majority, homophobic.” He shrugs with candour.
Also, he’s grown up with it: “It’s the music that I listen to.
“It’s the music that I watch the interviews about. I read the articles. So, for me as a kid this is where I wanted to be, regardless of any of their opinions.”
But that doesn’t mean he’s never had regrets.
One of the lyrics in his [email protected] performance is: “Being gay is looking long, I should have just kept it in.”
Promoters were less keen about Mr Strange after he came out.
When I ask him to elaborate, he recalls the first time he came out in the industry. It was in May last year, when he shared a video called ‘Open the Gates’.
A big personal moment for him. He tells me how he paced around a park for hours hesitating before posting it.
And he had good reason to worry. He describes how after people saw that video and learned that he was gay, progressing became much harder as promoters were less keen to feature him on their websites.
“They had posted a lot of my content before I came out but after I got straight air time off a lot of them. I’d message rappers saying: ‘What do you think of this song?’ And they said: ‘I can’t post that bro’.”
However his recent [email protected] performance may have been the big break he needed to make those people do a U-turn.
“These same people, after my [email protected] came out started messaging me,” he says, and whether he’d felt let down in the past or not, he’ll still work with them now. “What can I say I don’t hold anything against anyone. Nothing has been said directly to me so.”
Besides, it’s easier to forgive people when you’re in a good mood and Mr Strange is laughing.
He has something more to say about those who rejected him: “They should take a deep look inside themselves and think, do you know what…” With a pause and a grin he adds: “yeah they should definitely feel a bit silly.
“You should feel a bit like a d*ckhead! I’m not gonna lie because it’s a bit fake.”
Coy satisfaction aside, at 20 years old, Mr Strange seems wise. He separates the hurt he’s felt from the people behind it.
‘I just think people follow too much and no one’s leading. I hope that I can lead and show people a new way.’
“Then hopefully they can actually follow someone who’s not leading them towards loads of hate. Not everyone’s homophobic.
“They just don’t want to be the odd one out that likes the gay kid.”
His ability to remain detached is less surprising once you learn that he’s grappled with the conflict of enjoying music made by people who’ve sent him homophobic messages.
After his [email protected] was released he tells me one of the artists he’d just listened to called him a “faggot”.
“It’s a bit of a surreal experience to think I was playing you this morning and now you’re saying all these things about me.”
Yet he hasn’t stopped playing their tracks in his car, in fact he last listened to a rapper who was homophobic towards him on the way to meeting me.
Of course, before Mr Strange came out in the rap world he had to tell his friends and family he was gay. Although his family accepted him, he lost most of his friends.
“The hardest part of it was coming out to my friends and slowly losing them all really.” At one point he felt completely alone.
“People were taking the piss out of me and things like that. Just nasty stuff that you don’t expect from the people you’ve grown up with, bearing in mind that I’ve known these people for a long long time.”
Mr Strange is targeted by online trolls for his sexuality.
Sometimes he hated himself.
I used to pray and say I’ll give you my whole life if you just take this away from me just make me straight.
“I just refused to accept it. It made me depressed, it made me anxious.
“It made me ill. At some point or another you have to come out and that’s what I did. That’s what I’m just trying to share with people.”
Fortunately, today he has good friends who he can be himself around (many of them share his music taste, they also skate together).
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Nowadays, most of the homophobia he faces comes from online comments.
He says there is a toxic online culture underneath most drill videos which will drown out any chance of calling out homophobia in the lyrics.
“Who’s going to criticise them? To be a gay person and to criticise a straight rapper. You’re just going to get a load of hate in the comments. If you directly message them they’re not going to take notice of you either.”
But recently he’s become hopeful, he’s noticed a safe space developing underneath his own videos: “You know I like the comments section on my videos because there’s a load of people there from the gay community.
“I noticed this the other day, I thought my comments section is so different from other comment sections. I just see people being themselves. There’s no comment section in the rap scene I feel where you get a load of people talking about being gay.
“So it’s great that people can have a safe space. Where they know that if someone does attack them there’s a hundred other people from the LGBT community that are going to back them.”
Some might warn you not to waste time contributing to online arguments but Mr Strange has different advice: “If you do see someone getting picked on in a comment section go to back them.”
He believes there’s strength in numbers and you should give the right person your vote.