Straight Black men have dominated the rap industry since its inception. However, non-black artists like Eminem and Macklemore and female acts like Nicki Minaj and Cardi B have gained prominence and broken records, proving that the genre has room for diversity. But these opportunities have rarely, if ever been afforded to femme, queer rappers — a demographic that doesn't see much support from the industry outside Pride Month.
Each year, artists like Big Freedia, Cakes Da Killa and Mykki Blanco are highlighted on Pride Month playlists alongside queens from Drag Race and tried and true gay anthems from divas like Diana Ross and Lady Gaga. DeAndre Clark, better known as Drebae, was quickly included on many those playlists after his debut performance at San Francisco Pride, where he performed alongside singer-songwriter Kehlani. Drebae joined Kehlani on stage after her performance, and he performed his single “Elegant,” which has already been streamed on multiple platforms over 1,000,000 times.
If Drebae hasn’t infiltrated your Twitter timeline at least once, you’re not using the app correctly. Before gaining attention for his ferocious rap lyrics, he was known for producing viral, relatable tweets, and for having a natural aptitude with a makeup brush. This rapper has over 88,000 followers on Twitter, and it isn’t uncommon to see one his tweets meme’d and posted across other platforms.
Just moments before Drebae’s performance at San Francisco Pride, he opened up online about his decision to stop wearing makeup and stop expressing his femininity so freely. “The no makeup era is coming,” he tweeted after one his favorite rappers told him to give up the Fenty Beauty if he wanted to succeed in the rap industry.
“In other words, he told me to stop being myself if I wanted to be taken seriously as an artist," the 21-year-old rapper explains to Billboard, reflecting on the choice he made before the San Francisco Pride performance. "I considered it carefully and decided that he’s probably right… I had to make a choice. Do I go as my feminine self for my first performance? Or do I go as a caricature some straight-passing gay person?” Upon contemplation, he says he "chose the former, obviously. I wasn’t ready to let it all go.”
Drebae’s total package — his long lashes and periwinkle nails, lip gloss, fur coat, and a face full makeup — captivated the crowd. “I was on cloud nine," he relates. "Tens thousands people were reaching their arms out to me, enjoying my music. I finally felt appreciated.” However, when Pride Month concluded, Drebae’s moment euphoria ended abruptly: “As soon as July first came, people packed up their rainbow flags, Pride playlists, and put my feminine ass right back on the shelf, just like they do to other feminine, gay rappers every year.”
Recently, Cakes da Killa replied to a tweet, where a fan wrote: “remember to listen to cakes da Killa this pride month.” He replied “And also every other month. I gotta pay my bills the entire year.”
Drebae agrees. “It would be nice to have my art celebrated all year, but that isn’t a luxury for rappers like me. Now, I’m back to the drawing boards, desperately trying to figure out what my next move is. It’s exhausting. I want to exist after Pride Month. I deserve to exist after Pride Month.
“I think the biggest challenge being a femme rapper is dealing with the ignorance that comes with it," he continues. "This genre has a history plaguing catchy songs with homophobic jabs. This is why us femme rappers aren’t welcomed. Also, people only support us when it’s safe. Can anyone name a successful movement that was successful because it was safe? Nothing revolutionary is safe. LGBTQ people didn’t get Pride Month because through safety.”
Finally, Drebae says the key to enacting change in the hip-hop community is putting forth a continued effort to support LGBTQ rappers for all 12 months: “Consistency is key to any movement. If you only support femme, gay rappers during Pride Month, you’re a big part the problem. If you want us to win, support us year-round. Book us at your parties, give us journalistic spin. Keep that same energy you had during Pride Month.”