When people think of hip-hop music, names like 50 Cent, Jay-Z, Ludacris, or Lil’ Wayne might spring to mind, along with progenitors of the genre like Grandmaster Flash or the Sugar Hill Gang. Through the course of the four-decade history of hip-hop, its definition as an often hypermasculine (and too often, homo- and transphobic) art form have reverberated with the listening public. Today, however, the landscape of the hip hop nation is changing; artists like Jay-Z (who, with his wife, Beyonce, recently received Vanguard honors at the GLAAD Media Awards [LA]) have publicly stated in words and song, their support for the LGBTQ community. At the crest of the wave, driving the new awareness of diversity, is a journeyman rapper called Shorty Roc, who has assembled a compilation album of highly talented, emerging, out rappers who offer a fresh, nuanced revision of hip-hop for contemporary audiences.
“Now is our time,” Shorty tells The Hollywood Digest, “and this is all about unity.” The Our Youth Award-winning vocalist and composer began his illustrious career 16 years ago, enthralling crowds around NYC’s LGBTQ club scene at such legendary venues as Langston’s and the old Warehouse, where his music gained him a steady, loyal following. Among Shorty’s early work were full-length albums that established him as a performer to watch, and he was prominently featured on trans rapper Foxxjazell’s Ride Or Die Pride Remix, which received great critical acclaim. “I wanted to show that gay rappers could perform just as well as [straight] artists,” Shorty reflects, and he took his act on the road in what was then an unprecedented LGBTQ hip hop tour, entitled Homorevolution. Shorty has long been at the forefront of out hip-hop, describing his work on the 2008 PBS documentary, In The Life, alongside other gay rappers. During that film, an A&R executive of Atlantic Records demurred when asked whether his label would sign an openly gay artist, citing a dearth of numbers and therefore a lack of marketability. Shorty thinks this is no longer the case. “Over the years, we’ve seen more out artists as a whole, and I know people are ready for out hip-hop artists, too,” he notes, adding that the marketplace is ready for a novel approach.
Now, Shorty has created an ambitious fourth major project, with which he and his colleagues intend to steal a march on the music industry. It’s a veritable “who’s who” of LGBTQ hip-hop, reaching into every corner of the community for its blockbuster lineup. Superbly engineered by Swanny River, whose electrifying beats and nonpareil verses have made him a top name in the canons of out hip-hop, each track on the collection pulses with its own unique, mellifluous aura. There’s even a hilarious cameo from nationally famous out funnyman Sampson McCormick (Fuck Boy PSA) to complement the songs of Kevin ‘Kaoz’ Moore and Booder (Full Circle), Anye Elite (Curve), Bugz Gutta, IKP and Kiing Most (Boss Moves), Kin4Life and Butterfly (Shoot), Billy “Bad” Hood (Dat Bag), EarthTone and Damien Crawford (Running), Tavares TV (Just Us), and Pretty Boy Rich’s No Hook. There’s not a single weak moment in the entire record, and Shorty has constructed something special in this first-ever anthology.
“I think it’s important for all of us to come together,” Shorty observes, “and let the world know who we are.” In today’s fraught political climate, with anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and violence resurgent, positive images are needed to encourage today’s LGBTQ youth, for whom Shorty has long been an advocate. Each of the artists featured on All Stars is easily the equal of any “mainstream” talent performing today, and it’s clear what Shorty has cooking here: it’s a showcase vehicle meant to bring out hip-hop into the sunlight, after decades of lingering in the shadowy underground. As a serious step forward, Shorty has crafted what will likely prove to be a sine qua non, encouraging other aspiring rappers, whether gay, lesbian, bi, or trans, to burst forth and unleash their creative spirits on the industry as well. The album was feted at Shorty’s big release party in Brooklyn on April 24 to an enthusiastic reception, and is available now at Spotify and Apple Music. More of this, please, Shorty!