Young Thug’s words foreshadow a change towards wider inclusion and acceptance in hip-hop culture.
Young Thug recently joined a colorful cast of characters like Henry Rollins, Yung Lean, Keith Ape, Kate Moss, Zoe Kravitz and Bella Hadid and Frank Ocean as one of the faces of the A/W16 Calvin Klein campaign. In a brief promotional visual, shot by Tyrone Lebon, the ATL hip-hop phenomenon calmly remarks: “You could be a gangster in a dress, or you could be a gangster in baggy pants. I feel like there’s no such thing as gender.”
This is a huge statement, coming from one of the biggest names in hip-hop today. Many rap fans seem to feel that a rapper should project an aura of machismo and unquestionable heterosexuality. In minds of many hip-hop fans, a credible rapper is only a straight male or female. Older hip-hop is littered with homophobic lyrics. Even a look that defies the traditional baggy hip-hop attire of the past decades causes fans to mock the artist. Remember when 50 Cent refused Danny Brown a deal with G-Unit because Danny Brown wore skinny jeans? ASAP Rocky used to deal with insults while coming up in Harlem because of his unique fashion choices, which were duly recognized as a pinnacle of good taste, when Rocky achieved stardom. Although ASAP Rocky or Danny Brown are both straight cisgender males, the fact that some people think they do not dress as such, causes them to lose credibility/respect among the “less open-minded” music fans.
Young Thug’s career is largely plagued by this problem. His innovative approach to rap and indisputably fire music has often been boycotted by some listeners due to his gender-fluid image. And Thug indeed never steered away from such controversy. He donned a Gucci dress on his cover of the Dazed magazine. There are photos of him wearing a leopard tunic. He said 90% of the clothes he owns are from women’s sections. He wrote ‘sus’ Instagram captions about his friends, calling them “boo” and “lover.” On his Twitter, he wrote “no homo we smokin penises!!!” Numerous bigots on the Internet regularly blast him for his alleged homosexuality, despite the fact that he has a female fianceé.
But Thug managed to achieve success, while staying true to his unique image. He worked with a whole league of rap game heavyweights, which includes respected OGs like Gucci Mane, TI, and Juicy J. This means that these oldschool rappers approved of Thug’s musical style and accepted his look and attitude. Dudes in baggy pants and oversized tees can say that Young Thug is ‘sus’ all they want, but Thugger really has the respect and support of many names in the industry, in addition to quite a few platinum hits under his Hermes belt. Even if he’s wearing a dress, he is still a gangsta, and other people recognize it. The dress is probably also a designer piece, and costs more than their entire outfit.
Although Young Thug himself is heterosexual, his open-mindedness and unique vision can make a significant impact. His nonchalant comment about clothes and gender can reach into the minds of people because he is a cult-like figure. If he says that gender does not exist, and rappers can wear dresses and be ‘gangsta’, people will listen. Support of an accomplished artist like Thug can help hip-hop can become an industry that is more accepting towards non-binary and LGBTQ performers. Young Thug is like the rap game’s answer to Prince or David Bowie – a provocative, but innovative, influential and talented artist, who breaks gender barriers and makes the industry a more open-minded place. If rap fans accepted an oddball like him, chances are, they can accept other “unconventional” artists, too.
Despite that there is still a lot of resentment towards LGBTQ and non-binary hip-hop artists in 2016, this has been changing slowly. LGBT-affiliated acts like Le1f, Mykki Blanco, Cakes da Killa and Zebra Katz have gained a lot of prominence, which would have been quite difficult in the 90s. Macklemore’s “Same Love”, though penned by a straight white man, had gone two times platinum in the US, which is a triumph for LGBT-related music. Though Young Thug may have not intended to make such a grand statement in his Calvin Klein promo, his words and his whole existence, are actually a huge step towards wider inclusion in hip-hop, as well as a sign of wider acceptance of the LGBTQ and non-binary people in general.