A Hip-Hop Group With An Openly Gay Member Has The #1 Album
On September 21, Brockhampton released Iridescence, the fourth studio album from the group and the first not included in the Saturation series they kicked off in 2017. In fewer than two years since debuting, the group—consisting of rappers/vocalists Kevin Abstract, Bearface, Matt Champion, Joba Don McLennon and Merlyn Wood, plus producers and their creative team—has exploded into the forefront of Rap, particularly among younger demographics. Founded in Texas by 22-year-old Abstract, Brockhampton has received a groundswell of support; the group has sold-out shows on their current tour, both in Australia and New Zealand plus the United States. Known for boundary-pushing music, high-energy stage performances, DIY aesthetic and a unique social-media presence, Brockhampton is easily Hip-Hop’s most exciting group of its size since the Wu-Tang Clan (Brockhampton is even larger, with more than ten members). However, Brockhampton is making history their New York predecessors never did.
Brockhampton has the number-one album in the country, with Iridescence debuting in the top spot on the Billboard 200 charts. According to Billboard, the album (released via RCA Records/Question Everything) moved the equivalent of 101,000 units in its first week, besting Josh Groban and Eminem. Of that sum, approximately 79,000 units were in album sales; the remaining figure includes streaming numbers. It’s a historic accomplishment for a Rap group with an openly gay member. Kevin Abstract has been up-front about his sexuality since coming out as queer in 2016, though he’s stated in a recent interview he doesn’t want to be defined by his orientation alone.
In speaking with ShortList, Abstract discussed the intersection of his personal identity and the responsibility of being the lead member in the self-described “boy band” Brockhampton. “My goal is just to normalize it,” he says of rapping about being gay. “Straight rappers talk about their sexual relationships without warning me. And they are more explicit and violent. I have to express myself and who I am.” He continues, “I don’t want to be a queer icon. I want to be an icon. In order to make a change, I have to exist in a traditionally homophobic space such as Hip-Hop. If I were to just be this queer rapper, who only spoke to queer kids… I don’t think I could as effectively make a change for another young, Black queer kid growing up in Texas.”
Though Hip-Hop is not a complete stranger to varying degrees of sexual orientation, Kevin is certainly the most visible and commercially successful gay rapper the culture has seen. Frank Ocean, an artist who Kevin credits as an inspiration and whose membership in the Odd Future collective draws parallels to Kevin’s role in Brockhampton, penned an open letter speaking to his queer sexuality, in 2012. In 2017, Taylor Bennett came out as bisexual, earning the public acceptance of his brother Chance The Rapper and his growing fan base. Young M.A and The Internet’s Syd have touted lesbianism proudly and JAY-Z recently addressed his mother’s sexuality in a way not seen by a Rap artist of his caliber.
In 2018 (and for many years prior), Hip-Hop has been the world’s dominant popular culture. As such, there being a hot new Rap record on the top of the charts is no surprise. What Kevin Abstract and Brockhampton have done is paired the globe’s most influential genre of music with a growing acceptance of non-straight sexuality. According to Gallup, the estimate of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) population in the United States rose to 4.5%, mostly among millennials. As millennials age and a new crop of young people grows up in an era of greater acceptance, that number could rise as young people feel more comfortable to come out. With tens of millions of young fans around the world, Kevin Abstract is poised to represent a large swath of music fans who have never before seen their reflection in a Hip-Hop artist.