LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Rapper Karnage Kills stands out in the macho world of grime music - by taking on homophobia one lyric at a time.
A rising star in the growing genre of urban music that mixes garage and rap, Kills wants to use his sexuality to address the prejudices he has faced all his life.
“Grime is very homophobic,” Kills, 21, with waist-length braids, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in his dressing room before a recent London show.
“In grime you don’t see people looking like me, you see a lot of kind of very hyper (masculine) men. It’s not strange to see homophobia, it’s not strange to see the gay community being shunned. It’s something that happens all the time.”
Grime, a genre of electronic dance music, came into the mainstream in Britain last year, spearheaded by stars such as Stormzy who had a number one album and was nominated the prestigious Mercury music prize in 2017.
But it has been mired in controversy from the very start.
Last November, Stormzy was forced to apologize after homophobic tweets he had written when he was younger emerged.
In a statement Stormzy said the comments he made were “unacceptable and disgusting, full stop ... these are attitudes I’ve left in the past”.
He declined to comment for this article.
Kills, whose real name is Karnell Murray, said he faced homophobia right from the start of his career when he was posting videos on social media.
“All the comments all consisted of batty boy, batty boys are sick,” said the London-born musician.
Kills has toned down his image as he attempts chart success. Earlier videos show Kills in a tight red PVC catsuit. At a gig in London this month, he wore a more sober black tracksuit.
“I want people to focus on my musical talent, and not just the shock factor of Karnage,” said Kills, applying his lipstick in a smeared mirror backstage.
Kills still stands out in a sector of the industry riven with prejudice – not just towards the LGBT+ community. It has often been criticized for portraying women as “ho” or “bitches”.
Hatred of the LGBT+ community stretches beyond the grime music world.
Rap star Eminem rowed back from homophobic remarks recently on his new album, saying he now regrets using the word “faggot”.
Out music stars are still relatively rare, although recently singers Miley Cyrus, Troye Sivan and Olly Alexander of band Years & Years have all been open about their sexuality.
This is why it is important to be a role model in the grime music world, said Kills. And homophobia does not dissuade him.
“I live for the backlash to be honest because, not being funny, it shows that I’m getting out there more,” Kills said.
“I have people message me (on social media) saying: ‘Oh you’re so gay’. But you found me and you’ve taken the time to come into my Instagram to tell me how gay I am.”
Reporting By Hugo Greenhalgh, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org