All over the globe, music has been used to platform the voices of different minorities. Whether it’s about racism, sexism, or LGBTQ+ rights, artists have used music to convey their experiences and rally others to support their cause.
In the world of hip hop and R&B, the genre has historically been dominated by cis-male artists, despite queer rappers being present in the community. Many rap songs in the past featured homophobic or transphobic slurs. While the genre and its artists have become more progressive today, LGBTQ+ discrimination is still prominent, especially in more conservative regions worldwide.
In Asia, many countries still criminalize same-sex relations and actively persecute members of the LGBTQ+ community. For example, in the Philippines, the SOGIE (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Expression) Equality Bill has remained stagnant in Congress for almost two decades.
In Malaysia, government-backed discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community has made the country a hostile environment for queer people. Same-sex relations are criminalized in Malaysia, with penalties including up to 20 years in prison and mandatory whipping. Meanwhile, Singapore only decriminalized the British colonial era ban on sex between men in 2022—but continued to reinforce that marriage is still between a man and a woman.
LGBTQ+ rights movements are slowly making strides to undo discriminatory policies, empower fellow queer people, and champion acceptance for the LGBTQ+ community in their countries. Asian governments have also started showing their support for LGBTQ+ rights.
In 2018, India finally decriminalized homosexuality in a landmark ruling made by the Supreme Court. In 2019, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage, and in 2023, same-sex couples were granted full adoption rights. Last year, Thailand took a promising step towards legalizing same-sex unions, with one of the drafts seeking “to replace gendered terms in existing laws and make marriage applicable to all people.”
The progress made in Asia—at least a sense of more progressive views and attitudes towards equality, even if not entirely reflected by institutions and legislations—to protect the rights of LGBTQ+ people is reflected in the region’s music.
In hip hop and R&B, queer artists are slowly coming into the limelight to challenge the genres’ and the region’s conservative outlook on LGBTQ+ people. More and more Asian rappers are also throwing their support behind the LGBTQ+ community, such as Taiwanese rapper E.SO and Indonesia’s RAMENGVRL.
In no particular order, here’s a list of 10 queer Asian hip hop and R&B artists to listen to, Pride Month or not.
Filipino trans artist Stef Aranas first made waves in 2018 as the frontwoman of pop R&B duo Stef & Euge. Since then, she has released three songs as a solo artist, exploring topics like love and friendship.
Not one to shy away from her experiences as a queer Filipina, she released “Live for Love” with Euge in time for Pride Month last 2020. In 2023, she made her comeback with the upbeat track, “QC Gurlz.” With her signature colorful and bright visuals, she continues to carve spaces for trans women in R&B and hip hop.
Focus tracks: “QC Gurlz,” “Don’t Like You Like That”
Tropical Marca, also known as Mark Mascarenhas, is an Indian drag queen and rapper. Their track, “Tropical Queen,” was released on the first anniversary of the decriminalization of same-sex relations in India. It was also released as part of the Rainbow Riots India album compilation, which featured a collection of songs produced by LGBTQ+ artists in India.
In the description of the music video, Rainbow Riots wrote, “This project started when same-sex love was a crime in India, and by the end of it – all Indians are finally free to love. This is not just about the making of the music but about some of the lives that are part of India’s rainbow revolution.”
Focus tracks: “Tropical Queen,” “Wobble”
Indian-Canadian rappers Cartel Madras are best known for their house-inflected hip hop music and self-directed music videos. Composed of sisters Bhagya “Eboshi” Ramesh and Priya “Contra” Ramesh, the duo both identify as queer, with Eboshi identifying as pansexual.
The duo describes their music as “Goonda (loosely translated as “goon”) Rap,” a term coined by the sisters. In an interview with Lifestyle Asia, they shared that they wanted to honor their South Asian heritage and how they want to continue pushing the boundaries of both hip hop and Indian culture. “What we use to not only describe our demeanor as South Asian and South Indian women in the Western rap industry, but it also was a way for us to go rogue, and begin playing with genre within hip hop.”
Focus tracks: “WORKING,” “Goonda Gold,” “Drift”
Filipina femcee SHNTI rose to the mainstream with her hit, “Fuck It (I’m In Love Again).” In 2022, she released her debut EP, ELMNT, which she described in an exclusive interview with HipHopDX Asia as her “best work so far.”
Her track, “Rhythm” featuring LIAB Studios labelmate Yorko, plays with the irony of how male rappers make songs about women. The unapologetic rapper shared, “It’s a sexy track that other male rappers [typically do] and I did it as a woman because women can [make songs about other women too.]”
Focus tracks: “YUH” ft. Waiian, “ELMNT,” “Rhythm”
Singaporean R&B artist Alex Asha’ari is a non-binary singer-songwriter who has spoken out about LGBTQ+ discrimination within the Muslim community.
In their song, “Take this pain,” they open up about their struggles with their sexual and gender identity as well as their religious beliefs.
View this post on Instagram
During the pandemic, they also started Skrrrt Central, a multimedia platform to empower young creatives in Singapore. They also hosted a podcast where they discussed with fellow queer Muslims how they reconciled their sexuality and their faith, as well as growing up queer in the Muslim community.
Focus tracks: “Drip,” “Tanpamu”
Queer R&B singer alextbh made waves as an openly queer musician hailing from conservative Malaysia. Their music video for “Moments,” off their 2020 EP The Chase, alludes to queer relationships.
Focus tracks: “still mine,” “Stoop So Low,” “Superstore”
Hailing from Cebu, Philippines, singer-songwriter Dom Guyot unapologetically highlights queer love through his self-directed music videos. When he’s not directing, he’s choreographing his own stage performances.
The music video for his breakout track, “Ambitions” featuring fellow Cebuana R&B singer Jolianne tells the story of a queer couple celebrating their anniversary together.
Earlier this month, the singer released “MAYARI,” his ode to challenging beauty standards in the Philippines. He launched the song with a Mayari Moon Ball featuring fellow R&B artists Denise Julia, Jolianne, and more.
Focus tracks: “Ambitions” ft. Jolianne, “guho,” “I Miss U”
Singaporean rapper The G3sha made local headlines in 2019 with the release of “I’m OK,” where he detailed his experiences of being a closeted gay man in the country. Four years later, he continues to make songs exploring different sides of his sexual orientation.
The music videos for “BOYS” and “Tank Top” unapologetically lean into his sexuality—complete with flashy neon lights, dressing up in drag, and showcasing the different sub-communities in gay culture.
Focus tracks: “BOYS,” “Tank Top”
Thai rapper SUGXR BVBBLE is considered as the first openly queer hip hop artist in the country.
Their debut song, “Bong,” showcases SUGXR BVBBLE challenging gender norms with their colorful outfits and lyrics about loving yourself. SUGXR BVBBLE’s latest release, “Sleeping Beauty,” loosely alludes to their sexual orientation with the line, “Waiting for the prince but everything it was a [liar] / No prince for the boy, that’s right the prince is for the girl.”
Last year, Bangkok held its first Pride Parade in 16 years. The country’s LGBTQ+ movements have continued to lobby for anti-discrimination laws and the legalization of same-sex unions, which have been struggling to get past Congress. The country’s LGBTQ+ community continues to rally for the protection of their rights until this day.
Focus tracks: “Bong,” “FIRST”
With her brand of explicit and unapologetic bars, Filipino trans rapper Pette Shabu’s hard-hitting tracks are full of witty callouts with maximalist electronic instrumentation.
For this year’s Pride Month, she teamed up with Manila Community Radio for her debut set on the online radio. In the description for the show, Manila Community Radio writes, “[Pette Shabu] curates a cathartic and unapologetic mix of powerful techno with a sprinkle of Kylie Minogue that embody trans rage.”
View this post on Instagram
Focus tracks: “bulbulin ka na,” “boom bap bading freestyle.m4a”
R&B and hip hop are rooted in challenging the status quo. As Pride Month comes and goes, the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in Asia and around the world continues. These artists—along with queer Asian artists across different genres—lend their voices with the hopes of building a world where they can love and express themselves freely.
Header image credit: Cartel Madras, Stef Aranas, Pette Shabu, SHNTI, SUGXR BVBBLE, Tropical Marca, and Dom Guyot/Instagram