Mainstream rap has its first openly gay male artist, after Makonnen, the artist who’s woozy, wobbly paean to the midweek, “Tuesday,” hit the bigtime after it was remixed by Drake, came out on Twitter in the early hours of Friday morning.
Makonnen, born Makonnen Sheran, made the announcement following years of speculation about his sexuality.
In 2015 he told The New York Times: “The rap world thinks I’m gay. A lot of people out there do. They think I’m a homosexual, which is not a problem. I don’t want to say I’m gay, I’m straight, I’m bisexual or any of that, because that’s just… Who cares? All that’s doing is dividing us.”
Makonnen, who was nominated for a Grammy, is closely identified with the New Weird Atlanta rap scene which in recent years has produced iconoclastic stars like Future and Young Thug. Thug—who raps about having sex with women and has several children—is known for messing with traditional concepts of masculinity, including painting his nails and wearing feminine clothing.
There are remarkably few out gay male stars in the hip-hop world; prior to today's declaration by Makonnen, the best-known would have been the producer and rapper Le1f, born Khalif Diouf.
Makonnen’s statement is a huge moment for rap music. Inevitably, the online homophobic abuse has already started, but the majority of voices are saluting the artist for his authenticity and praising him for living his truth. Closeted gay stars will be watching with interest.