Nonbinary rapper Imp / Courtesy photo

Nonbinary Rapper Imp is Expanding the Boundaries of Rap

As a lifelong fanatic of hip-hop and rap music, I’ve struggled to deconstruct the role hip-hop music and culture has played in my suppression as a queer listener. While the majority of hip-hop and rap music doesn’t contain blatant, anti-gay subject matter, it would be misguided to pretend homophobia hasn’t infiltrated the genre.

 

Rap is my first love, and hip-hop is more than just music to me. It has been the sound of Black culture for roughly four decades, and I don’t think it’s something I could ever turn my back on.

 

Instead, I have hope that the genre I love can be further molded into something that embraces the LGBTQ community. There are many young artists whose music is going against the grain of societal norms. One such artist is local queer producer/MC Imp, who spoke to Georgia Voice about their artistry and thoughts on LGBTQ inclusion in rap.

 

The artist got their start in music as a battle rapper early in high school.

 

“I was in one of my classes and this kid was rapping obnoxiously loud and started dissing me in class, and I was like, ‘I don’t ever want to have to deal with this again,’” they said. “I was like, ‘[Battle rapping] is kind of silly. I would rather get into recording.’”

 

The battling spirit still lives on in their music. Imp has a brash style with bold subject matter. They cover issues from race and classism to sexism and gender identity in a blistering medley of lyrics supercharged with an extensive vocabulary.

 

Imp has stirred up revolution in their music dating all the way back to their first full-length album, 2018’s “Hell If I Know.” The album starts with a monologue stating, “This is our last chance. We have nothing left but threats. We’ve fought for them, and they hate us … All we have left is the threat of a fight we hope they don’t want.”

 

When asked about what was going on in their life in 2018 to inspire this project, Imp replied, “Well, I was reading a lot of X-Men comics. That quote [the intro monologue] is actually taken from an X-Men comic.”

 

Imp has always been an avid reader, not only of comics, but also of history. In 2018, Imp had many thoughts about all of the ongoing targeting and killing of youth that didn’t fit the “hegemonic persuasion.” They were also very mindful of censorship in education in school systems when it came to revolutions.

 

“Historically, revolutions aren’t taught in school unless it’s the American Revolution or the Civil War … There’s never any mention of the Rent riots or Stonewall or the Jamaican Revolution or the Haitian Revolution, etc.,” they said.

 

While Imp is vocal about the struggles against oppression in their music, their contribution to the culture may be instrumental in revolutionizing the genre itself. Mainstream rap and hip-hop are historically plagued with misogyny and homophobia that can leave a sour taste in the mouth of many members of the LGBTQ community.

 

When questioned about this struggle, Imp used one of their favorite artists and biggest influences as an example.

 

“Lupe Fiasco said some homophobic things in his latest album, and I’m still a fan of his work,” they said. “The difference is allowing myself to like problematic things because no one is perfect … Like, I can say I like this piece, but here are things I don’t like about this work and its creator … I can like and accept things that are flawed.”

 

“Children of the Atom” is a full-length album that eloquently weaves class struggle and the queer experience into the allegory of mutant oppression in X-Men comics. Imp uses comic outtakes on multiple tracks to speak on the paranoia that plagues common hetero society and in turn puts members of the queer and other oppressed communities in danger. However, as meticulously written as these tracks are, “I use they/them pronouns btw” is more direct and impactful than most rap songs you will come across, as it bypasses many of the metaphors characteristic of lyrical rap music and instead adopts a cut and dried approach.

 

“Closeted or obvious, check the stats, we out here. Y’all safe too, we’re tryin’ to live without fear,” Imp raps on the track.

 

“I use they/them pronouns btw” was one of the oldest written songs as Imp prepared to release the album in 2020, and it almost didn’t make the cut.

 

“I tussled with the idea of if I even wanted to release the song, honestly, just because of how transphobic a lot of the hip-hop scene is,” they said.

 

The producer of the song’s final version, Kaffo, The Sensei, urged Imp to include the track, saying, “This is something you would want to hear if you were out and about looking for new stuff, right?”

 

“That’s a valid point to make,” Imp replied. “I’ll do it for the weird nonbinary kid who needs this, because I’d need it.”

You can listen to Imp’s music, including a new album next month, on Bandcamp, Spotify, and Apple Music. Keep up with them on Instagram @theuncannyimp.