How Queer Latine Artists Are Disrupting Urbano’s Homophobia

·6 min read

To celebrate queerness in any real way is to understand that trendsetting and culture-making is always bottom-up, not the other way around. We’ve seen this on the small screen, with the success of blockbusters like “P-Valley” and “POSE,” but we’re also increasingly witnessing this from queer game-changers in música urbana.

“I dare to say that 90% of the audiovisual aesthetics of popular culture today have queer origins,” Puerto Rican transgender rapper and fan of the FX series, Villano Antillano, tells Refinery29 Somos. “And it is certainly cishetero and white figures who have profited from the creativity of Black queer artists.”

In recent years, Antillano and other queer Latines in música urbana, a complicated and imperfect umbrella term for reggaeton, Latin trap, dembow, R&B en Español, and other Latin genres with underground origins, iterate how gay, sexually fluid, and nonbinary people continue to disrupt popular culture and make revolutionary homes out of the very spaces hellbent on snuffing them out.

In 2018, after Anuel AA released the disturbingly homophobic “Intocable,” Antillano turned the Puerto Rican rapper’s “Real Hasta La Muerte” motto on its head by responding with a diss track titled “Pato Hasta La Muerte.” The song evolved into an anthem of sorts for many throughout the urban music scene who’ve experienced violence and discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.

As a consequence, Anuel received widespread backlash for the aforementioned track and its anti-gay and misogynistic content. In his disparaging lyrics, Anuel singled out Noris “La Taína” Díaz Pérez, a well-known Puerto Rican TV host and ‘90s model, for living with HIV, and put down citizens who lost their homes during Hurricane María. The uproar was so extreme that promoters canceled Anuel’s first concert in Puerto Rico. He was forced to apologize profusely less than 48 hours after the song’s release. One year later, Latin trap singer Kevin Fret, credited as the genre’s first openly gay artist, was shot and killed in the Santurce neighborhood of San Juan. His death sparked suspicions of foul play and highlighted the rash of violence sweeping the archipelago’s most vulnerable.

I dare to say that 90% of the audiovisual aesthetics of popular culture today have queer origins. And it is certainly cishetero and white figures who have profited from the creativity of Black queer artists.

Villano Antillano

For all of urban Latin’s entrenched homophobia and anti-Blackness, however, Antillano understands small advances are happening every day. Last year alone saw the crowning of Brazilian singer-rapper Gloria Groove as the first drag queen to enter Billboard’s global charts with the carnivalesque “A Queda.” The music video has amassed more than 135 million YouTube views to date, and her latest album, “Lady Daleste,” named after slain Brazilian funk rapper MC Daleste, also topped Spotify’s Top Albums Debut Chart.

In Colombia, Quibdó artist, and one of the few visible Black lesbian women in the Latin music industry, Mabiland’s 2021 “Niñxs Rotxs” not only challenged Spanish-language semantics, it deepened and enriched her lane in R&B en Español. A testament to the changing tides in música urbana, Mabiland was able to use the traditionally male-centric genres of R&B and neo-soul to develop a framework from which other queer Black Latines can draw and identify.

“The most revolutionary spaces have all centered on women,” Antillano adds, acknowledging today’s boldest music movers and shakers. “It’s often women who center and emphasize our stories, who help to ensure queer artists can live with the kind of security that the rest of society takes for granted.”

Though one of the first queer artists to take a stance against urbana’s blatant misogyny and ancient heteronormativity, Antillano isn’t the only one who gets that even radical movements are rarely exempt from the very biases, inequalities, and discriminations they’re against. In the capital of dembow, where a subterranean music scene unique to Santo Domingo’s barrios continues to shape the Latin music industry at large, bajo mundo culture celebrates the beauty of “urbana” without sugarcoating its inherent challenges.

There will always be taboos, but it’s not the same as yesterday. More and more queer artists are being listened to, not just looked at.

Red 6xteen

“I was born and raised in what you would call el bajo mundo, but what some of us Dominicans simply know as una zona pa rapar o barrial,” quips rapper Red 6xteen, referring to the sex work zones and drug enterprises notorious throughout her region. “Coming up in that environment has literally influenced every part of who I am: my character, my vocabulary, and my composure. These are the elements that not only continuously feed my muse, but also our culture and our ‘hoods.”

On the other end of the line, the young mom and “ZAZA” artist, who only recently came out as bisexual to family and friends, considers how much more creative marginalized voices have to be, and how it’s that kind of genius that drives Dominican notoriety and culture. “The richest, most vibrant and connected parts of the Dominican Republic are on the block and in el barrio. Artists like Tokischa are representations of that, no matter how some might view it,” she tells Somos, discussing the almost universal influence of some of her colleagues. “There will always be taboos, but it’s not the same as yesterday. More and more queer artists are being listened to, not just looked at.”

And she’s right. Since her 2020 ode to pussy in “El Rey De La Popola,” Tokischa’s explicit tongue tactics have garnered ears around the world. One of the most recognizable voices (and moans) of dembow music and the bajo mundo allegiance, Tokischa treats her stage and platform like one giant Dominican teteo where bad bitches unite freely over sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. While the concept of sexual fluidity or expression isn’t new for Tokischa, the language around certain labels are — and the material gworls serve as the North Star to her queerdom. “It’s so inspiring seeing the drag queens, all the effort they put into their looks — they’re so empowered. It makes me want to cry sometimes,” she told Billboard this Pride month. “Now that I’m here in the United States, I want to hang out within the queer community and learn more. It’s something new for me.”

Red 6xteen can relate. For longer than she could recall, homophobia had dwelled within and around underground culture, and yet here she was, singing a different tune. “I had to witness artists like me growing up be hindered by the fear of being their full selves,” she says. “It feels good to be open and not be denied today.”

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