These queer Black artists are making unapologetic music to bump, grind and cry to
To celebrate Black History Month, PinkNews selects five artists making unapologetically queer Black music for the community.
“Let’s get one thing straight, I’m not.”
The opening bar of “Spaghetti”, CJ Run’s breakthrough hit, immediately sets the tone for their work.
“I write and speak about universal human experiences,” CJ tells PinkNews. “Love, isolation, hedonism, family – all as lived by a Black non-binary 22 year old.”
Barely out of their twenties, CJ has already lived several lives. Born to West African parents in Munich, Germany, they spent their formative pre-teen years in Northampton, England before moving to North Carolina, US, aged 13. It was here that they first realised they were bisexual and subsequently non-binary.
Each of these identities and the intersections therein gives CJ’s music a wide outlook and a global sound, drawing inspiration from hip-hop, Afrobeat, and grime to name a few.
The “politically queer message” of their music is a constant, but CJ says that this leads many of their cis-straight peers to distance themselves from them.
“It’s part of why I feel compelled to work towards better involvement and inclusivity,” they say.
“Being a Black queer musician means doing a lot of things on your own until you can find those you connect with personally and artistically. It’s not impossible, it’s just harder. Still though, I’m enjoying this journey a whole lot.”
Poet turned multidisciplinary artist Dua Saleh named their debut EP Nūr: “Light” in their native Arabic, and a popular gender-neutral name.
It opens with “Sugar Mama”, a tale of seduction set to a hypnotic metronome. Dua sings about a lover wondering about their flavour, “those chocolate coated layers”.
“She looks me up and down / Her p***y melting like a glacier.”
By the end of the five track set you’re in a similar state yourself: this is an exploration of sex delivered with conviction, set to pulsating, innovative alt-R&B production.
Dua. who hails from the Twin Cities, says that their music “is reflective of the lens that [they] navigate the world with”.
“I don’t create music with any particular intention, it falls out of me naturally as an expression of how I’m feeling at the time,” they tell PinkNews.
For Dua, being Black and non-binary mean that they “often operate from a place of survival due to oppression, but can still manage to find joy and self-love”.
“It means knowing that I share a community with people that hold a wealth of experience and creativity,” they say.
“It means that I carry a legacy and power that can not be bridled by the social imaginary. Having all of these multilayered identities means that I have sociopolitical responsibility to share my truth with the world even in the face of adversity.”
Cakes Da Killa.
Cakes Da Killa’s straight-shooting flow has earned him comparisons to Lil’ Kim – though Le1f and Mykki Blanco (who he cites as “foremothers”) might be more appropriate.
The New Jersey-born rapper makes rap that’s unashamedly queer, bustling with wit and charged with eroticism.
Take “Da Good Book”, for example, from his breakthrough mixtape The Eulogy. Cribbing from Frank Ocean, he sings: “I been thinkin’ ’bout dick / Oh na-na-na.”
Many got their first taste of Cakes at the tail-end of 2019, when he appeared on Netflix’s rap competition show Rhythm + Flow.
Judge Cardi B asked him whether he was ready to become “the first gay rapper”, an odd question which Cakes said “hows that even in 2019, people still have these little weird hangups with gay people”.
“But that’s been my life’s work to just be like: ‘Hey, I’m gay. Shut the f**k up,'” he told Them.
With her most recent single, “Funani”, South Africa-born artist Toya Delazy invented an entire new sound specific to her: afro rave.
It’s a bold melding of her native Zulu language with the grime, garage and baseline of her adopted London, layered with lyrics that reflect her experiences as a gender non-conforming queer Black woman.
“It’s the only life I will ever know, at least in this lifetime, so it means everything,” she tells PinkNews, during Black History Month.
Born a princess of the Zulu royal Buthelezi family, Toya has spent her life rebelling against what is expected of her.
She says that “in a world were we we have constantly been erased”, she is proud to be unapologetically Black and queer; to speak “from a place of truth, mixed with an empowering precolonial African heritage”.
“We need things that empower us,” she says. “Things that remind us to keep going and never let up even when the world goes against ones very essence – freedom.”
Non-binary soul pop singer Lex Allen recently returned to music with I.D.E.N.T.I.T.Y, a three-track EP celebrating queer love, joy and the magic of being true to yourself, which perfectly soundtracks Black History Month.
“Growing up I hid my sexuality,” they tell PinkNews. “As I got older, I felt like a piece of me was missing, which made me work through my identity.”
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Lex says that setting themselves free from the gender binary gave them “the courage to create with higher purpose, balance my music with femininity and masculinity, no walls and no limits”.
“My intention is to a create musical space for those who need something to help through the hurt, for people who need to hear something inspiring to help them see their self worth,” they say of their sound.
“I make music for that 5 am listener who needs something loud and maybe a little ratchet to gas them up for their day. My vibes breathe love, self acceptance and liberation.”
Lex says to expect some “fancy s**t” from their upcoming project, tentatively titled Fancy Habits and inspired by the Spice Girls, Michael Jackson and Missy Elliott.
“I’m letting my inner child play with sounds from my youth,” they said. “I guess you can say, I’m going back to my roots.”