Finding a Place in Homophobic Hip-Hop

Four Bay Area lesbians are rising stars in a genre that has long-shunned LGBT artists. (Hear a cool playlist of their music, too!)

(Photo by Jessica Christian)

It’s an unusually warm Sunday in October, and half a dozen women mill around the Chabot Space and Science Center in East Oakland, in a room designed to look like a Mission Control. Dressed in black latex, metallic fabrics, and colorful wigs, the women pound away on large, clunky keyboards, mouthing silent words into disconnected landline phones and scribbling gibberish into notebooks.

Suddenly, they stop what they’re doing and glance up, their eyes directed to the front of the room, where a 5-foot-4-inch woman stands. Except for her rainbow-tinted cyclops sunglasses, she’s dressed entirely in black and silver, and her short brown hair is woven into tight braids that hug her skull. Even though the silver gleams on her shoulders are actually drainage grates, and the “armor” on her elbows is rollerblading pads, her DIY outfit has done the trick.

JenRo looks like a futuristic astronaut from a faraway planet.

Arms straight at her sides, like a soldier, she clears her throat and begins her monologue: “Planet Earth, do you read me? Straight people, can you hear me? Animals, can you hear me? We’re calling all people, not just lesbians, who want to come to Planet Z. We’re coming back to collect our allies. Do not be afraid. You have not been left behind. You will not be left out of the party. Planet Z is here for you.”

They’re filming a music video for the lead single of JenRo’s album, Planet Z. The song tells the tale of a fictional future in which every nation sends its lesbians to the faraway world. It’s not clear why they’ve chosen to do so, but it’s ostensibly for homophobic reasons. And yet their plans backfire. Planet Z ends up becoming the place to be, where parties go on for days, and everyone has a grand old time. Pretty soon, people of all sexual orientations are boarding spaceships headed for Planet Z, deserting the now-dull Earth en masse.

Despite the fact that Planet Z was intended only for lesbians, the planet’s occupants welcome newcomers with open arms. In the video, JenRo and her specially equipped cadre of assistants return to Earth to scoop up those who have been left behind.

Though she admits it’s a silly premise, the idea of a utopian society in which lesbians are the leaders and not the outcasts is something the 33-year-old — who pairs her raps with eclectic soundscapes, that range from smooth R&B cuts to upbeat, bass-heavy and hyphy-influenced bangers — has been thinking about for a while.

“As a lesbian, I feel like I’m on another level or planet than everyone else,” she says. “But Planet Z is where you can be yourself and just have fun no matter who you are.”

In many ways, this is a goal not only for JenRo, but for other Bay Area lesbian rappers as well. Artists like Blimes Brixton, YSD, and Babii Cris may not have devised a theoretical planet to escape to, but they’ve made names for themselves in other ways, and not just as queer or female rappers, but as rappers in general. And though they’re by no means the only queer emcees in the region, they represent the struggles and hardships that artists with similar backgrounds must go through, even in the relatively left-leaning Bay Area.

“I want to prove to the world that, first and foremost, we are humans,” JenRo says. “And we want to be taken with as much value as any other rapper, artist, or singer.”

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