Music News and Interviews

JPEGMAFIA, Abdu Ali and Gender Nonconformity in Hip-Hop

JPEGMAFIA on the cover of his 2019 release All My Heroes Are Cornballs
Abdu Ali on the cover of their album Fiyah!!!

It is no secret that hip-hop values masculinity. The most popular rappers – even those who are not men – display traditionally masculine traits such as self-reliance, power, and aggressiveness (note I am not saying these traits are necessarily masculine, however, in a historical sense they have been presented as such). However, where there is an established norm there will undoubtedly be resistance to that norm. In this post, I will be exploring two artists who challenge the established norms of gender within the hip-hop genre.

Since his rise to popularity after the release of Veteran in 2018, JPEGMAFIA has become a favorite for hip-hop bloggers (whom he has no shortage of choice words for). People like to praise his experimental production choices and confrontational lyrics, but I don’t see many talking about the defiance of gender norms within his music. Nowhere is this more apparent than his 2019 release All My Heroes Are Cornballs. Though he makes some of the most aggressive music I’ve ever heard, Peggy appears notably vulnerable on this album. From wearing flowy silk clothing on the album’s cover to adopting a feminine persona in songs like “Jesus Forgive Me, I Am A Thot” and “Thot Tactics”, JPEGMAFIA has shown he is unconcerned with traditional constructions of masculinity.

JPEGMAFIA collaborator Abdu Ali is similarly unconcerned with gender conventions. As an unapologetically black and queer artist, they embody the masculine and feminine in a way that is both captivating and memorable. I had the privilege of seeing them live when they opened for Peggy at his 2019 A Tribute to Buttermilk Jesus show in New York. Their stage presence was unmatched – at one point, I remember they entered the crowd and had us all sit down before screaming at the top of our lungs. It was a truly visceral experience.

There you have it. This was by no means an exhaustive list of artists defying gender norms in hip-hop, only a few that I find the most exciting. The fact that even mainstream artists – such as Tyler, the Creator, Young Thug, Princess Nokia, and Lil Uzi Vert – are exploring these themes seems indicative of a shift in the culture, and who knows? Maybe one day we will see the dismantling of gender norms in hip-hop once and for all.

– DJ Mango