Grime star Karnage Kills takes on homophobia, challenges the genre’s macho culture
The young rapper stands out from the rest of grime music, with its violent, anti-gay messages. Instead, he uses his sexuality as a way to deal with the prejudice he has faced since he first uploaded videos to YouTube
Rapper Karnage Kills stands out in the macho world of British 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,” says Kills, 21, with waist-length braids, 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 that originated in the early 2000s, received a mainstream push in Britain last year, spearheaded by stars such as Stormzy who had a No 1 album and was nominated for the prestigious Mercury music prize in 2017. But it has been mired in controversy from the very start.
Last November, Stormzy was forced to apologise 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, using a Jamaican-originated slur for gay and effeminate men.
Kills has toned down his image as he has attempted 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 filled with prejudice – and not just towards the LGBT community. It has often been criticised for portraying women as “hoes” or “bitches”.
Hatred of the LGBT community stretches beyond the grime music world. Rap star Eminem pulled back from homophobic remarks recently on his new album, saying he now regrets using the word “f****t”.
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.”