The first drill artist to talk about being gay alongside his trapping lifestyle, West London MC Mr Strange brings something totally new to the genre. He came out via the BL@CKBOX YouTube platform earlier this month during a freestyle. Now the Hounslow raised rapper is striving to be defined by his bars and flow rather than his sexuality in a genre known for its casual, unquestioned homophobia.
We talked to him about how music is his “safe space”, his gang past and toxic masculinity in drill.
Why call yourself ‘Mr Strange’?
“It’s a bit of juxtaposition. To a lot of people, I’m going to be strange, but to me, I’m perfectly normal. I’m Mr Strange because to be strange, you are yourself. A lot of people that are seen as strange are themselves, and those who seem normal aren’t. Therefore, being strange is being yourself.”
To what do you aspire?
“I just want spread awareness and love. I want to make it okay to be gay.”
What makes you the right person to do that?
“I wouldn’t say it’s gonna be a breeze, but I definitely am prepared for it and know what I’m up against. I can’t tell you what exactly makes me the right person but I’m full of love, energy, and fire. I’m a caring person that’s seen a lot, been through a lot, and humbled by my experiences. I can’t be stopped. Maybe that’s it?”
How do the qualities you mentioned translate into your music?
“I think that’s what music is there for – in the beginning anyway – to express your life experiences. I obviously have a lot of life experiences in my 20 years. I guess I use that to put in my music, rather than take it out in other ways. Music is that safe space I have to be who I want.”
How did you get into gang life?
“Well, how does anyone get into it? It’s not like I wrote an application! It happens, innit? I was just hanging around with people. You kick ball with your mates, start doing things here and there. And it’s all innocent, it’s very innocent. Before you know it, people are getting stabbed and shot. It’s crazy. It wasn’t necessarily a choice, but once you’re in, you can choose to stay in or leave. It’s obviously not an easy decision, but at the beginning, it’s just innocent kids trying to have fun.”
What music did you grow up on?
“My mum always played a lot of reggae, so I always listened to that and rap like TuPac and Biggie. As I tried to move on and find my own taste, I listened to a load of UK stuff. I listened to grime. I went through stages and listened to things like dubstep.”
What’s some of your favourite bars you’ve written?
“I believe ‘ThInKiNgOvEr’ has some of the realest shit I’ve said on there. Also, a song called ‘Hood Music’ on my Soundcloud too. I said,“If my music only gets like two likes, then I only need like two plays/And to be honest, I could never do fame, because I couldn’t conform to the new ways”. That’s some of the realest shit I have ever said because it’s fine and I’m not all about the streams. I make music to think about.”
When did you know you were gay?
“I’ve always known that I was gay but, as you get older, you realise it in hindsight. As a kid, these feelings were so weird to comprehend, but when you get older, you’re like, “Shit, I was always gay!”. When guys were looking at the prince or the princess [on television] and had a cartoon crush on the princess, I had one on the prince.”
Was it hard to come out?
“Definitely. I don’t think it’s easy for anyone. Even if you’ve got the most loving people around you, it’s still hard because it’s a personal struggle. You can be around gay people, and it could still be hard to come out. We’ve been taught so many gender and sexuality norms as kids that now that make it hard to get over.”
How do you feel about toxic masculinity in drill and also in regards to your sexuality?
“I think it gets in the way of anything with meaning and purpose in life. It prevents people, especially guys, from being themselves. I feel like the main reason most men are depressed is due to sexual frustration. It may be weird but we are sexual beings. Sex and love are synonymous. When someone can’t explore their sexuality, that causes a lot of depression.
“After I came out, I was a lot happier than when I was in the closet. I think the reason why the suicide rate in men is high because they can’t explore themselves, due to this thing that we call toxic masculinity. You don’t have to be this tough guy, you don’t have to conform. I don’t conform and I’m doing just fine.”
How do you think people view UK rappers and drill rappers, and how do you fit into those scenes?
“It’s not even that I want to be portrayed as some road yout. To be honest, I’m not really with all this street shit. But once rappers get past the fact that I’m gay, all they’ll realise is that I’m one of the mandem. We’ve grown up doing the same silly stuff. If you’ve done it, trust me, I’ve done it as well.”
How do you feel about the blogs and memes about you being a gay rapper?
“The majority of people heard me first on Bl@ckbox. At first, everyone was like ‘fuck this kid! This kid ain’t going to go nowhere – a fucking gay rapper?’. I’ve seen Taze on Snapchat laughing at me. Section Boys and all. But the crazy thing is, I was playing them the morning before my freestyle went out. I fuck with Section Boys. I’ve been on to them for ages, and they were taking the piss outta me on Instagram. It’s mad disappointing but I don’t even take it to heart. A lot of these guys are Jamaican, African where, in those countries, you get your head chopped off for these things. So, I can’t really blame them.”