Last week, a freestyle hit UK rap Twitter and immediately thrust Mr Strange into the limelight. With passion and skilful delivery, he rapped about the LGBTQ+ experience and the struggles of coming out, ending with the statement, “I love who I am, I’m tryna open the gates and show the world it don’t matter if you’re gay or straight ’cos love is love and real is real.”
There have been many LGBTQ+ rappers over the years, but this is the first time an openly gay male rapper has made this level of impact on the contemporary UK scene. The clip has been watched by over a million people and gained him 15,000 Instagram followers almost overnight.
The 20-year-old from west London has already been making music for a number of years and has a few Soundcloud releases under his belt. “My music is definitely therapeutic – when I go into the booth there’s a release,” he tells The Face. “I can express myself entirely, I say what I want however I want. That’s a blessing.”
The viral clip of Mr Strange is from his BL@CKBOX freestyle – a platform which helped springboard the careers of Dave, Abra Cadabra and J Hus. “BL@CKBOX didn’t know much about me before the freestyle so it surprised everyone,” Mr Strange says. “But they say they’re the ‘people’s channel’ and I see a lot of diversity on there.” In recent months BL@CKBOX have also hosted music from a broad range of female artists, an under-18s cypher and shared the story of Larko, a songwriter with cerebral palsy who uses other vocalists to perform his music. “I saw that video and thought you know what? If anyone’s going to share this freestyle it’ll be them.”
Since going live, there’s been an outpour of positive comments celebrating Mr Strange’s bravery and talent. But there’s also been plenty of trolls. Take a quick scroll through Instagram. The supportive comments will tug at your heartstrings, while the hate might make you lose faith in humanity. But Mr Strange takes it all in his stride.
“Anyone can make an account with zero followers and zero pictures to come and comment, I just scroll past,” he says. “I don’t give the hate much thought. How can I when there’s been so much love? I can’t explain how overwhelming it’s been, it’s amazing to see so many people relate.”
“I’m thick-skinned but my sexuality wasn’t always something I could wear on my chest. It’s come with time and God prepared me for this.” Aside from the occasional troll or two, the discrimination and homophobia he’s come up against in the music game has been more implied than explicit. Like a soft form of black balling, his messages would get left on read and emails left ignored.
“When it comes to the music scene we all listen to and belong to it’s been a bit of a tricky one, no one really wanted to accept me and some still don’t. Without naming names, none of the main platforms wanted to be the first to endorse me.”
“Before this freestyle I’d reached out to people I looked up to and some of my favourite rappers have said truly nasty things about me,” he says. “I’ve seen all sorts of comments and had conversations with all kinds of people in the industry, no one wanted to show love.”
“To be honest they didn’t want to take notice, but I’ve always had this drive in me. God willing it works out.”
I ask Mr Strange if in 2020, the UK rap scene is ready to accept an openly gay rapper, his words are clear: “They’re really not. But one day they will be, if I’ve got anything to do with it.”