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David Needleman

iLoveMakonnen And Big Freedia Talk Visibility In Hip-Hop In 'Billboard's' Pride Issue

" A lot of people in the industry get their creative inspiration from the gays but don’t want to give it up to the gays."

Big Freedia and iLoveMakonnen may have different sounds but their mission to inspire the youth is very much the same.

Freedia, a powerhouse in bounce music and Makonnen, who's journey in hip-hop has taught us many lessons, joined Tegan Quin (of Tegan and Sara fame), Hayley Kiyoko and Adam Lambert for Billboard's inaugural Pride Issue. On Thursday (Aug. 9) the artists discussed their experiences in the music industry as LGBTQIA artists and how they stay true to themselves.

Makonnen gave his fans a deeper understanding of his truth, how he lives confidently free in his own skin, and it is to work in a cis-heterosexual dominated industry. The Grammy-nominated artist spoke to staying visible in an industry where he refuses to let himself be overshadowed, Makonnen knows that his community is on "the main stage of the world."

"A lot of people in the industry get their creative inspiration from the gays but don't want to give it up to the gays. Somebody needs to be talking about these issues and showing that you can be yourself," the 30-year-old said.

Makonnen remained fully ambiguous about his sexuality before officially coming out in early 2017 after being inspired by a late friend of his who passed away the same year. His hit "Tuesday" took over the charts in 2014 leading to a deal with Drake's OVO roster. Makonnen left the label in 2016 and recently released the EP M3.

"That's what really made me come out in my career, and also a lot of my fans. I felt like they'll see a mirror in me. My music goes [to places] where it's not supported to come out as gay, [where] your family will turn their back on you."

Freedia, who has gone on to work with the likes of Drake and Beyonce, gave props to RuPaul for extending an olive branch during his rise to the top.

"That’s how I felt when RuPaul came for me [to collaborate on music in 2012]," Freedia said in relation to mentorship. "That was mother rescue right there. It definitely feels good when you have somebody in the walk of life that you’re in say, “Hey, here’s a helping hand.”

Here are some other takeaways from the chat below.

On Approaching Visibility

Big Freedia: The first 10 years of my journey, I was still figuring out who I was, and then I had to redo it all over again when I became bigger. So instead of saying, “I’m gay and this is me,” I started telling the story through my music. You want to pull back sometimes, but it’s hard. I can’t pull back. I’m 6 foot 3, I’m tall, and I’m gay. I light up the room.

iLoveMakonnen: Same for me. In hip-hop, it wasn’t very supported to come out, so I knew this would be a big thing for me. But we are on the main stage of the world, and to act like [queer artists in hip-hop] don’t exist? A lot of people in the industry get their creative inspiration from the gays but don’t want to give it up to the gays. Somebody needs to be talking about these issues and showing that you can be yourself.

On Accepting The Role As A Queer Activist

Freedia: When I was doing my TV show [Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce aired on Fuse from 2013 to 2017], I was educating the masses as well. All you can do is go out there and be the best you. I get DMs all the time: kids who don’t know how to come out to their parents, parents who don’t know how to deal with their kids who are gay. I try to give the best advice I can. That’s all I can do.

Makonnen: I don’t really feel a pressure -- more like a responsibility. [My fans] look up to me and support me, so when they ask for advice or anything, the least I can do is respond in a Snapchat message or Instagram. We owe those people. They’ll come out [to shows], they’ll buy your merch, they’ll sing all your songs. They really listen to you.

On The Decision To Come Out

Freedia: For me, what’s understood don’t need to be explained. I came out at a very early age. I sat my mom down at my 12th birthday party and told her in front of my friends. She said, “Baby, mama already knows, and I’m going to love you regardless.” Once I got my mom’s support, there was nothing else I needed.

Makonnen: I came out Jan. 20, 2017 -- the day Donald Trump got inaugurated. [The person] who really inspired me was my friend Marcus. He passed away in 2017; he was an older gay guy in Atlanta, and he was black, and [he had] always been out. He was just so strong and fearless. He was like, “Whenever you’re ready, I’m here to support you to get your wings and fly.” That’s what really made me come out in my career, and also a lot of my fans. I felt like they’ll see a mirror in me. My music goes [to places] where it’s not supported to come out as gay, [where] your family will turn their back on you. I just wanted to be the change I wanted to see in the world.

On Important Co-Signs

Makonnen: Lil Peep [who died in 2017]. He was like a new, younger artist [who said], “I still love you and want to work with you.” Actually, I’ve seen a lot of withdrawal and turn-the-other-way [reactions] since coming out, but it is what it is.

Freedia: That’s how I felt when RuPaul came for me [to collaborate on music in 2012]. That was mother rescue right there. It definitely feels good when you have somebody in the walk of life that you’re in say, “Hey, here’s a helping hand.”

Watch the discussion here.

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