Music

Syd From The Internet Is Opening Doors In Hip-Hop For Gender-Nonconforming Artists

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Syd Bennett is better known as Syd the Kid, a member of the rabble-rousing hip-hop supercrew Odd Future and futuristic funk band The Internet. Last week, she tweeted out the flyer to her first solo show since dropping “the kid” epithet for her first album Fin. She sent the tweet at 10:57 AM Thursday morning. I got to the venue, a tiny little “upscale dive” called the Resident at 7:30 PM. The show was billed to start at 9:30 PM.

It only took 10 minutes before I confirmed that it’s safe to say Syd has arrived.

The little outdoor patio that doubled as kind of a lounge/waiting room was literally packed from one wall to the next — which boded ill for the interior of the venue, which was actually smaller on the inside (reverse shout-out to Doctor Who). Security closed the doors literally ten minutes after I arrived, and I was told the line was still down the block. So many people showed up, Syd added a second show, and that one was just as packed.

But the thing that struck me as I double fisted old fashioneds and cooled my heels waiting for the interior doors to open was the feeling that pervaded the crowd that this wasn’t just Syd’s moment, it was a moment for every weirdo, oddball, and every gender-nonconforming queer kid of color.

While there have been tons of androgynous artists in other genres — your Bowies, Boy Georges, Princes, Freddie Mercuries — never before had hip-hop felt like a welcoming place for gay kids, for trans kids, for bisexuals kids, for male-presenting females, and feminine males. Now, all at once, it felt as though they’d arrived, that they were visible, and that at last they might be accepted.

“I love Syd. It was her music that first made me realize I might be gay,” one younger fan told me. Others stated their attraction to the tomboyish singer, the only female member of Odd Future, and the only openly gay one at their introduction to the world seven years ago (Frank Ocean’s revelation of bisexuality would come later, and is still a question he hedges even now).

Syd’s inclusion in the group always seemed mystifying; how could she devote so much time and energy to group of goofballs who ran around calling seemingly everyone and everything that moved “f—-t?” Syd was known to shrug it off; in a 2012 interview with LA Weekly she said simply, “If you don’t like it, don’t listen to it.”

In the same interview she confessed to knowing dozens of lesbian artists, saying, “Over the years I’ve come across so many dyke singers, dyke rappers, people with real heart and passion, and it’s a shame that not one of them has made it. And I get it, the world is just now starting to become open about homosexuality.”

Which is why Thursday’s show felt like such a watershed moment, not just for Syd, who is finally well-known enough to rock a mononym on her album cover, completely separate from the band that she spent the majority of her career with (they were in attendance, along with her brother Taco, of course). It was a huge moment for all those artists who had come before, and who will know undoubtedly come after to find that the glass ceiling, while not entirely eradicated yet, has certainly lifted.

Consider Gizzle, born Glenda Proby, a rapper and songwriter from South Central LA. She’s had the privilege to write on many big name artists’ projects, such as Nicki Minaj, P. Diddy, Lupe Fiasco and G-Eazy, and has been signed to Bad Boy Records since 2015, but whose face most of us couldn’t pick out of a crowd.

For that matter, who has had the opportunity to hear from soul singer Tiffany Gouche, who’s been a regular of the LA arthouse scene for the better part of decade, but has yet to receive any mainstream shine? The Inglewood native has received a bit of media coverage here and there, such as this Essence profile from March of this year, but her earnest lyrics and soulful melodies are still largely unheard outside the City of Angels.

Which is exactly why Syd’s moment is meaningful outside of just providing representation for fans who may not see themselves in much of today’s hip-hop music, and indeed might feel excluded with popular rappers like Quavo intimating their discomfort with homosexuality or non-traditional lifestyles.

By showing that a female artist can make songs and videos depicting love for another female like “Cocaine” and “Girl,” with her hair cut short, obviously shopping in the “men’s” sections of her favorite clothing retailers, and still be accepted, welcomed, and find a thriving space in the crowded marketplace that is urban music, it creates more opportunities for queer artists of color to crossover and flourish. Syd, more than any other member of her old crew, represents exactly what an “odd future” looks like, as well as the hope that in the future, today’s “odd” might just be considered normal.

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