Queer rapper Le1f is summer's hot new look. Plus: Teengirl Fantasy, Gatekeeper, 5kinandbone5, more
SUPER EGO Summer has been carrying a look. A killer neon queer hip-hop wave is splashing across better dance floors, raiding classic i-D magazine spreads, relaunched Boy of London lines, and cheeky RHLS lookbooks (or anything coming out of former SF club kid Frankie Sharp's insane Tuesday night Westgay party in Manhattan or our own Future| Perfect, Stay Gold, or Swagger Like Us), and soundtracked by ghetto gothic vogue beats and freaky Internet-pastiche rappers. Who knew vogue dramatics and a retro-MS Paint aesthetic would save hip-hop? Somehow a rupture opened in the forcefield and a way ahead appeared.
"I'm totally coming from the Internet, I can be honest about it," emblematic star Le1f tells me over the phone from his home in NYC, when I ask him about his look and feel. (He's performing at the Lights Down Low party Sat/11, 10pm-4am, $10–$18 at Monarch, 101 Sixth St., SF, www.monarchsf.com) "It is what it it is, and very natural to me. I'm very much about digital mystique, completely inspired by open source culture. I wanted to be an avatar when I grew up."
The whip-smart MC has indeed become an avatar of a kind. On the strength of his bass-a-holic, fiercely gay mixtape Dark York, which dropped last April and tapped bleeding-edge producers Ngunguzungu, Booody, Cybergiga, and Morris, and especially track "Wut?," produced by SF's 5kinandbone5, with its brilliant accompanying video, Le1f has been branded as the face of the "new queer hip-hop," if that's even a thing. In a post-Frank Ocean world, it's been hilarious watching larger media awkwardly trying to address this whole gay thing. In some cases, critics have been surprised that a gay rapper's voice can be so low. (Le1f often sounds exactly like 80 percent of the black gay men I know, which is what's so completely refreshing about him blowing up.)
"I've seen the comments, and although I can't directly address anyone's personal audio-homophobia, I will say that I do play with different voices and characters — and maybe people are bugging when I'm in my erotic creepy zone. I'm only getting deeper and darker, though."
I guess why not let new queer hip-hop be a thing, when Le1f is lightening our loafers and intriguing fellow DIY homo-cosmic rappers like Zebra Katz, House of Ladosha, and Mykki Blanco are getting second looks. (Maybe some of the media shine will rub off on our own totally worthy Micah Tron.) Still, there are no outright political statements here — "Conscious rap is not my favorite type of rap," Le1f has said — nor is there a desire to work in the still-lively, decades-old homo-hop tradition. The new queer hip-hop deal is more about doing your own hyperreal thing, posting alien emoticons from another dimension to killer abstract beats and feeling sexy about it.
Le1f studied dance for most of his life and received advanced training at Wesleyan University (he's responsible for the beats behind fellow Wesleyan rappers Das Racist's "Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell"), yet told me, "I always wanted to be a rapper. I mean, I was a gay kid at a boarding school, it was the furthest escape I could think of. " He cites influences from Missy Elliot to seminal vogue DJ MikeQ, but when it comes to traditional hip-hop audiences and their reactions to all the awesome weird that seems to be flooding into the scene lately, Le1f says, "I really have no connections whatsoever to those crowds or those types of performers. I'm sure they have a scene, and that's great for them — just like my scene is vibrant and right for me."