Saucy Santana wants more than viral moments, but hip-hop boxes out/in femmes fro : Louder Than A Riot Saucy Santana is part of a new wave of queer artists pushing back against stale standards in hip-hop. Bolstered by the reach of short sound bites on TikTok, the "Material Girl" rapper is not shy about rocking a beat face, trimmed beard, acrylic nails and booty shorts that have become his calling card. But in an industry that values marketability and reinforces masculinity to a toxic level, how can femme-presenting gay men sidestep from being considered viral jokes to become undeniable stars?

Stay in your lane, shawty: Saucy Santana

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RODNEY CARMICHAEL, HOST:

A warning before we begin - this podcast is explicit in every way, and this episode contains homophobic language and references to suicide.

MITCH COPELAND: Tallahassee and Perry is small. So when somebody's doing something with glam and it actually works and it's good quality, you're going to hear about it. And I do hair. So, you know, hair and makeup go hand in hand.

CARMICHAEL: Mitch Copeland is a hairstylist out of Tallahassee, Fla. He's known as the hair physician. And back in 2017, he started to hear about somebody else on the glam scene.

COPELAND: So I used to always be telling people like, oh, who did your makeup? Your makeup cute. And they'd just be like, Santana on the beat, Santana on the beat. And I'm just like, who is that?

CARMICHAEL: What had you heard about it at that point?

COPELAND: That you can go into Santana Boutique - you can get your makeup done. You can get your lashes. He had, like, the real full, like, the T ones - like, the real cute ones. A b**** look at you and be like, oh, who did your minks? Oh, girl, no, these strips. Oh, for real? Yeah.

CARMICHAEL: (Laughter) OK.

COPELAND: So that's something he was known for.

CARMICHAEL: OK. OK.

COPELAND: You can get strips, and you can get an outfit and come out a different b**** - one-stop shop. I've always wanted a Santana beat, and I have never got one.

CARMICHAEL: Santana's reputation definitely preceded him. He had all the sauce. And Mitch - he had to meet him. And finally, the stars aligned.

COPELAND: My first time seeing San, he definitely was in a full face - lashes, makeup. He was actually doing makeup when I first seen - very - like, very first seen him. And he was moving with his clients so fast. And I was just, like, so amazed that I'm like, damn - this boy really don't care. Like, he really out in public with makeup, lashes, beard. Like, I was still kind of - you know, not really - I'm doing the same thing, but I'm not as open.

SIDNEY MADDEN, HOST:

Seeing Saucy show up like this really did something for Mitch. They became fast friends.

COPELAND: Santana gave me a lot of confidence. He gave me a lot of hope that I could be myself. And I seen if people come in here f***ing with him for who he is - if I do this, they're going to - and that's genuinely what I want to do, they're going to rock with me for who I am. So it was, like, a - just a good feeling. And it was a feeling of confirmation that, you know, I could be who I want to be in this world. I could do what I want to do in this world, and it's going to be accepted by somebody.

MADDEN: That acceptance that Santana showed Mitch was life-changing. It inspired Mitch to come out the closet and get all the way into his bag. Together, they took over the Greater Miami glam scene. Even as Santana started booking big names as clients, he took Mitch along. And when Santana made the transition and started rapping, Mitch was right there with him, watching him achieve what he thought couldn't be possible.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MATERIAL GIRL")

SAUCY SANTANA: (Rapping) Material girl. I want Chanel 9 boots. All these n****s steady jocking 'cause they know I'm the truth. Material girl. And I get it from my mammy. Balmain, bust downs - these h*** can't stand me. Material girl. Currently working...

COPELAND: I knew it was going - I knew, like, it was big. And I knew, you know, like, it was popping. But I didn't expect it to take him to stardom because we gay. Stuff like this don't happen for us. Like, we - you know, we be hot for a little minute. We get 15 minutes of fame, and then there's something else.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MADDEN: I'm Sidney Madden.

CARMICHAEL: I'm Rodney Carmichael. And from NPR Music, this is LOUDER THAN A RIOT.

MADDEN: Where we confront the double standard that's become the standard.

CARMICHAEL: On every episode this season, we tackle one unwritten rule of hip-hop that affects the most marginalized among us and holds the entire culture back.

MADDEN: And one that a new generation of rap refuses to stand for. Like the girlies, openly gay rappers are having a moment in hip-hop right now, claiming more space and breaking down homophobic barriers that used to keep them from taking center stage. Saucy Santana is a big part of that.

CARMICHAEL: But if breaking through old barriers means going into overdrive, how far can you really go without a road map?

SAUCY SANTANA: People was like - can we sell - first of all, can we sell him, you know? He's feminine. He's dark-skinned. He's thick. He's gay. He's loud.

CARMICHAEL: We're taking you into Santana's rise in rap and what it means for the new generation of queer rappers to make it on their own terms. On this episode, rule No. 7. - stay in your lane, shawty (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MADDEN: We're in the West Village. We're about to make a custom scent with the material girl himself. Like, what can be more opulent? What could be more luxurious? Tell me, Gabby.

GABBY BULGARELLI, BYLINE: Nothing.

MADDEN: In the humidity of last August, my senior producer, Gabby Bulgarelli, and I waited outside Olfactory, a custom scent studio in New York City. Just as the rain clouds above us parted for the sun, Saucy Santana and his boyfriend Devon pulled up and hopped out a all-black Escalade.

What's up y'all?

SAUCY SANTANA: Hey.

DEVON BUSSELL: How you doing?

MADDEN: What a beautiful - the sun came out.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I know, it's nice out.

BULGARELLI: Just for you.

MADDEN: Yeah.

SAUCY SANTANA: Thank you.

MADDEN: I'm Sidney.

SAUCY SANTANA: Santana.

MADDEN: Santana.

We wanted to link with Santana specifically to do something fun, something bougie, something a little extra, because that's who Santana is.

SAUCY SANTANA: All right, take it away. What do we do?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: OK. So you're here to make a custom scent.

SAUCY SANTANA: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: You're going to pick one fragrance to work with. When you pick that fragrance...

MADDEN: Dipped in diamonds and wearing all white, head-to-toe Balenciaga, Santana was looking real expensive. And he likes to smell like it, too.

SAUCY SANTANA: OK. So what I look for in a fragrance is very, like, sweet, sexy. I like to smell sexy, but I don't like to smell like sex. You know what I'm saying?

MADDEN: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

SAUCY SANTANA: This smell too good.

(LAUGHTER)

BULGARELLI: I was going to say, did you ever have a Bath and Body Works Warm Vanilla Sugar phase?

MADDEN: Right.

SAUCY SANTANA: Hell, yeah. Duh.

(LAUGHTER)

MADDEN: Right, right.

SAUCY SANTANA: That and Forever Red. Trust.

MADDEN: Clearly, this is the type of stuff that gets Santana in his element. As we chose the scent combos and he started tapping his acrylics on the counter...

(SOUNDBITE OF FINGERNAILS TAPPING)

MADDEN: ...He explained where his love of getting glammed up and sexy started. Santana's mom was a Mary Kay lady, and growing up, he would play in her makeup.

SAUCY SANTANA: I used to be the wrong color. 'Cause my mom is like my boyfriend color. Back then, it was a lot of pink lipstick. I wasn't into - babe, remember that video I just showed you?

BUSSELL: You just showed me last night.

SAUCY SANTANA: Pink lipstick down. It was pink...

BUSSELL: Pink lipstick. Pink hair.

SAUCY SANTANA: Pink hair. Nicki Minaj.

MADDEN: I mean, Nicki Minaj era...

SAUCY SANTANA: Nicki Minaj.

MADDEN: ...You know?

SAUCY SANTANA: It was...

MADDEN: 2009...

SAUCY SANTANA: ...Pink lipstick...

MADDEN: ...2010. Pink wig, thick a**.

SAUCY SANTANA: We wasn't wearing lip liner yet, so I didn't know to calm down your - Kylie Jenner was real big at the time with the nude lipsticks. I was fighting to learn my nude because I would see the nude that Kylie Jenner wore, but I'm like, yeah, me and her not the same skin tone. So I'm like, how do I get my lips nude like hers? 'Cause it's not coming out right. It just kept giving powdered donut.

MADDEN: Do you remember the first time, like, you saw yourself with a full face of makeup? Like, how it made you feel?

SAUCY SANTANA: Even though I knew it was the wrong color, I felt good. It just made you feel like a bad b****. Like, you know, when I was growing up, I used to watch my mom. My mom used to always go to the club. So I used to watch my mama, like, new wigs all the time, in the bathroom, like, come out with her makeup, slay, all that. So I used to be like, oh, Mom, you cold. Like, my mom about to go out. She look good. So it just gave me that, like, you know, you look good. Like, you know, you just feel good. You know, you got your face beat, your hair did, like, you know, you ready to pop out. So that's just what it gave me.

MADDEN: And Santana wanted to give that feeling to other people. And he was good at it. As a makeup artist, some of Santana's clientele, like the City Girls, loved that he could not only beat their face, he could cut up with them, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

SAUCY SANTANA: When the boys see the Chanel, they already know what's happening.

YUNG MIAMI: I'm sick of it.

SAUCY SANTANA: I'm sick of you.

YUNG MIAMI: That purse is crying to get put in.

SAUCY SANTANA: (Laughter).

YUNG MIAMI: That purse crying to get put down. That car - that purse...

SAUCY SANTANA: That's funny.

YUNG MIAMI: That purse had to smell like Black & Milds tricky.

CARMICHAEL: Santana started rapping for fun around February 2019, making a theme song for his friend's podcast and dabbling in viral freestyle challenges.

SAUCY SANTANA: Everybody was like, oh, Santana, I didn't know that you know how to rap. I was like, I didn't know, either. I was just, you know, putting something to the pad.

CARMICHAEL: Santana's friend Mitch didn't know, either.

COPELAND: I was around Santana probably, like, a couple months before he started, like, rapping. I remember when he used to, like, came out with the first rap. I did not believe he wrote it.

CARMICHAEL: Why not?

COPELAND: 'Cause it was so raw. Like, you didn't come up with this. Like, what? Huh?

CARMICHAEL: Now, this was early 2019, around the time that the remix challenge for Blueface's "Thotiana" was blowing up. Cardi, Desiigner, Soulja Boy, all were dropping remixes. And Santana? He made one for fun. It was low key moving online.

COPELAND: Like, he called my phone and then just was - like, he started rapping "Thotiana" to "Thotiana" beat.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THOTIANA")

SAUCY SANTANA: (Rapping) Daddy d***ed me in the lam, but the doors up. Remy Ma and Baby pull up. P***y shining like my watch got you glowed up. Sweet b***h, fruit roll-up. P***y purring like a blunt. Papi smoke up.

COPELAND: I'm like, brother, this s**t raw. Like, what the f**k going on? And he - after he did that, they dropped another song, and I'm just like, bro, what the f**k is going on? Like, I really couldn't believe it was really him. And...

CARMICHAEL: So wait a minute. You had no clue before this that he...

COPELAND: No, like, it came out of nowhere. I'm so serious. Like, it came out of nowhere.

CARMICHAEL: To Mitch, it was wild to hear his friend, who's usually behind the scenes, sliding on the beat like this.

Well, what was he saying in that first one when he called you and rapped it on the phone? What was he saying that made you be like, d**n, this s**t's raw?

COPELAND: It was a verse on the "Thotiana" that I liked it really, really bad. When he said daddy long legs, you're a stroker.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THOTIANA")

SAUCY SANTANA: (Rapping) Got you creaming. Spitting in this p***y got you scheming.

COPELAND: That's so funny because, like, in the gay world, we know what that mean. But, like, to the world, like, daddy long legs, that's a spider, you know? Like, that's, like, the spider with the - yeah (laughter).

CARMICHAEL: All right. No, you got it. Keep going. Keep going.

COPELAND: So, like, that's, like, the spider with, like, the long legs. And in the gay world, when you got a big d**k, like, b***h, you know, you got a third leg. So I'm like, man, this n***a really pushing his feet in, like, what the f**k?

CARMICHAEL: What was meant to be an inside joke was also undeniably clever. Santana's punchlines and metaphors were hitting so hard 'cause he was essentially queering p***y rap. But when he saw the response, Santana got serious.

SAUCY SANTANA: And so once I got enough people like, hey, Santana, Santana, like, you lit, you lit, you lit, I'm like, oh, well, let me try to make - let me try to see if I could seriously do this. So that's what gave me the motivation to write my first song, "Walk Em Like A Dog."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALK EM LIKE A DOG")

SAUCY SANTANA: (Rapping) Baby mama aggravating, walk 'em like a dog. Walk 'em like a dog, sis, walk 'em like a dog. Broke boy been trying to regulate it, walk 'em like a dog. Walk 'em like a dog, sis, walk 'em like a dog.

I recorded my first song in a closet. "Walk Em Like A Dog" I wrote it and rapped it in the closet on my homeboy phone at the time.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALK EM LIKE A DOG")

SAUCY SANTANA: (Rapping) Poor hustler is sad, can't get your trap back. Mad h*** link up, petty b****es so wack. Good c****** I be wanting to snatch my own cat back.

MADDEN: It's a track about running things and not getting ran through. And Saucy was spitting.

CARMICHAEL: "Walk Em Like A Dog" went hella viral to the tune of a million plays in one week. The song went so crazy, Rihanna hit Santana turning up to perform it at her fashion week after-party.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALK EM LIKE A DOG")

SAUCY SANTANA: (Rapping) Don't be telling people we f**k. That's cap. Never heard bars like these, that's tea. I rap. Go off in the booth. That's me. I snap. Tell tired baby mama, pipe down before she get slapped.

CARMICHAEL: What was your sense of what Santana thought making it would be or what his goal was in terms of all this whole thing?

COPELAND: Getting some money. Like, getting some money. That's literally how all this started. He was just trying to get some money.

CARMICHAEL: What's some money, though?

COPELAND: Like some real...

CARMICHAEL: Like, some money is different than - to everybody.

COPELAND: ...Money. Like, it's - you know, getting real money. Like, not having no worries in the world, being able to provide for yourself, provide for your family, you know, like, that type of thing. Like, not really, you know, not struggling, not stressing out about paying the bills, not worrying about how the rent going get paid, not worrying about that stuff, like, really having stability in your, you know, with your bank account, within yourself. I don't care what nobody say. They - oh, money don't buy happiness. I want to find out.

CARMICHAEL: I know that's right (laughter). I agree.

COPELAND: He didn't sing "Walk Em Like A Dog" to me. I seen it on the internet when everybody else seen it. And I'm calling him, I'm like, what the f**k? Like, bro, this is crazy. This is crazy. And I'm literally watching the views. I'm watching his page like crazy. I'm watching the views go up, go up, go up. I'm watching his following go up, go up, go up. I call him and I'm like, b***h, you got the same amount of followers as me. Like, I was the friend with the followers - you know? - and I'm like, what the f**k? And I woke up the next day and he went past me. And I'm like, what the f**k is going on? I'm like, this is crazy. And his life changed from there.

CARMICHAEL: So when he started to go viral, like...

COPELAND: I watched it.

CARMICHAEL: You did?

COPELAND: I watched it.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah.

COPELAND: I did.

CARMICHAEL: What did you think?

COPELAND: It blew my mind. Because I know that things can happen for people overnight, but being around Santana and actually seeing it, it literally, like, it still blows my mind. Like, I still can't believe it sometimes. And he always stay humble. He always is just like, girl, please, like, I just make a little music or whatever. Like, whatever. And I'm like no, b***h, like, you really somebody. Like, my dad is in jail and he's asking me about you. Like, bro, you're not doing nothing small. Like, he took over the internet, and it's still drives me crazy that Santana is who he is today.

MADDEN: Now, see, Santana was right on time with a major shift in the industry, one that we've all been living through. With TikTok ushering in a new era in music discovery and virality, in 2020, the pandemic sent that into overdrive. With everyone stuck inside and bored out of their minds on their phones, people were turning to the app for a hit of dopamine.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAY SO")

DOJA CAT: (Singing) Day to night to morning, keep with me in the moment. I'd let you had I known it...

MADDEN: Every week, it felt like there was another song blowing up...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TAP IN")

SAWEETIE: (Rapping) Waist on thinner. I'mma show you how to bag a...

MADDEN: ...And a dance challenge to go with it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SAVAGE")

MEGAN THEE STALLION: (Rapping) I'm a savage. Classy, bougie, ratchet.

MADDEN: New opportunities for virality, it really leveled the playing field for artists. It broke down the misogynistic gatekeeping that this industry's long been built on by opening it up for acts who've typically been sidelined by hip-hop...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SLUT HIM OUT")

BABY TATE: (Rapping) I'm tryna s**t this n***a out. Gargle on his kids, then spit 'em in his mouth.

MADDEN: ...Allowing them to take up even more space.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNH UNH")

GLORILLA: (Rapping) They don't want to see no gangster b*****s win. We're in the industry, f****d up let these gangster b*****s in. They say my 15 minutes up, I'm only 15 minutes in.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREAK")

KIDD KENN: (Rapping) P***y so good it’s making him creep. P***y so wet it come with a leak. Yeah, my body so nice when no clothes ain’t on. Your n***a he want him a peek. And your n***a he fine. Your n***a he mine. His face looks just like a seat.

MADDEN: And if there was anyone positioned to ride that wave, it was Sauciana.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOWN SOUF H***")

LIL NAS X: (Rapping) With they a** out.

SAUCY SANTANA: (Rapping) Blow her back out. All the...

COPELAND: He knew like, OK, b***h, this is what's going to take me to where I need to go. This is going to be my ticket out. Like, b***h, let me take this s**t serious. And he literally, like, started just moving, like, elite.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOWN SOUF H***")

SAUCY SANTANA: (Rapping) Get the draw, hit the floor, shake that ass, make it clap now.

LIL NAS X: (Singing) Down south h***, up at late night working. Ten toes down and they won't stop...

CARMICHAEL: Did you see the vision yet at that time?

COPELAND: Yes.

CARMICHAEL: You did?

COPELAND: Santana is my, like, that's my friend. Like, I don't give a f**k what it is he doing. He could call me and say Mitch, girl, I'm finna sell bedazzled pooper scoopers. I'm like, b***h, all right, send me one, I'll put that b***h on Instagram. B***h I'm with it.

CARMICHAEL: It wasn't exactly bedazzled pooper scoopers, though. Santana had diamonds and Birkins on his brain. With Mitch by his side to hype him, Santana knew his next track had to be even sicker. He challenged himself to write down what he really wanted out of this rap life.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MATERIAL GIRL")

SAUCY SANTANA: (Rapping) Who that? Trell? Material girl. I want Chanel 9 boots. All these n****s steady jockin' 'cause they know I'm the truth. Material girl. And I get it from my mammy, Balmain, bust downs, these h**s can't stand me. Material girl. Currently working on a Grammy. Meanwhile, p***y popping with your man in Miami. Material girl. Chanels and pearls, that's the trick that it take to keep the girls.

"Material Girl," I literally was just manifesting the life that I live now. I was fresh at being a rapper, I was ready to just have the lifestyle of the rich and famous - Chanel bags, getting flew out on shopping spree, wearing material things. Like, I want to be a material girl. Like, I want to have my Chanel bags and my Birkin bags and my Balenciaga and all of this. And I want to take trips, and I want to get iced out and all this different kind of stuff. So I really called it, like, my manifestation record.

MADDEN: Santana dropped "Material Girl," and in 2021, the internet snatched it up. It had all the makings of a TikTok-era hit. It's a fun, instant injection of confidence tied all together by Santana's screechy, almost haunting tone. And that lip gloss line twang he puts on it.

What do you think the special Saucy sauce is that makes...

SAUCY SANTANA: The Florida grey accent. Because we say gworl. So I was like, material gworl. And everybody just fell in love with it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MATERIAL GIRL")

SAUCY SANTANA: (Rapping) How much is you paying? I don't speak broke boy language. You can leave with the crew that you came with. Me and my b*****s ain't playing. Ice me out, n***a, like Elsa. Fly me out, private jet, no Delta. You can send your b***h back to the shelter. You ain't got no money...

MADDEN: Santana's tracks were really starting to move. By the beginning of 2022, the hashtag #MaterialGirl had over 500 million views on TikTok. In Santana's grand plan, unsigned hype hits - they were just a stepping stone. Next up on his list - turning those 90-second soundbites into lasting success.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MADDEN: When was the first time you heard of or heard Saucy's music?

SHANTE PARADIGM SMALLS: What is time? Sometime during the pandemic...

(LAUGHTER)

SMALLS: ...Probably, like, 2 or 3 years ago? For me, Saucy Santana came out of nowhere. I mean, I'm assuming people knew about Saucy before, but it was, like, all of a sudden, Saucy Santana was everywhere. And I encountered Saucy Santana on social media - on Instagram.

CARMICHAEL: Shante Paradigm Smalls is a hip-hop scholar and professor who made it their business to show people how queer artists have always been present in hip-hop. They trace this lineage in their book, "Hip-Hop Heresies: Queer Aesthetics In New York."

SMALLS: Santana was part of a - of this wave of women and femmes that have really been, to my mind, saving hip-hop with innovation, with lyrics - you know, who are pushing, innovating and claiming space. And so I feel like that's really been very interesting to me. Sometimes the fun of hip-hop - the, just, club-bangers or just the, like, danceability of it gets just lost. And so I feel like Saucy Santana is one of those who's just like, I'm going to have fun. I'm just going to bring out - this is for the kids. This is for who likes it. And who doesn't like it - bump them, you know?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SMALLS: We need people who just, like, invite people to have fun. You know, ratchet music is like - it's fun. That's our music, you know? And so when I heard the "Walk" song, I would be like - you know, I'd be, like, walking and strutting in my house, pretending like I'm, you know, walking on the runway, pretending I'm in a ball. Even, like, the straightest of the straight dudes...

CARMICHAEL: (Laughter).

SMALLS: ...It gives them a little outlet, too, you know? It's like...

CARMICHAEL: Right.

SMALLS: It's hard to just be a tough guy all the time. And sometimes, you know, in the - maybe it's the privacy of your own home - it's like, oh, I can also just listen to a bop. Like, the fun is also a part of the liberation.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MADDEN: And for Shante, it's not just Santana's sound that's liberating. It's the way he's showing up in the industry.

SMALLS: But one of the things I really noticed was not just Saucy Santana's lyrics, not just Saucy Santana's vocal quality, you know, which was, like, kind of unapologetically femme - right? - as a delivery and flow style, but Saucy Santana's body.

MADDEN: Yep.

(SOUNDBITE OF PODCAST, "THE BOOTLEG KEV PODCAST")

SAUCY SANTANA: Dudes get - well, gay boys get BBLs now. Dudes is - yes.

BOOTLEG KEV: So you're telling me gay guys get the fake a**?

SAUCY SANTANA: Yeah.

BOOTLEG KEV: You've seen this?

SAUCY SANTANA: I got one.

BOOTLEG KEV: You got a BBL.

SAUCY SANTANA: (Laughter).

BOOTLEG KEV: Yeah, I saw you working on stage unapologetically, as you should, at Rolling Loud.

SAUCY SANTANA: Outside - uh-huh.

BOOTLEG KEV: Uh-huh. And I was like, sh**, man - dude's got cheeks. Pause - you know what I mean?

SAUCY SANTANA: Pause (laughter).

BOOTLEG KEV: Dude's got some cheeks, though, you know what I mean?

SMALLS: You know, Saucy Santana is not just femme or feminine. He's got the BBL. He's got the body, you know? It's the body. It's not just, I'm a feminine gay man. I have a woman's shape, you know? He's like...

MADDEN: Right.

SMALLS: He's giving us the girdle. He's giving us the this and the that. He's giving us the bob. He's giving us the makeup. He's giving us the nails. So I think that that is something pretty radical because - and yet, he's, like, you know, I'm a feminine gay man. I'm not trans. And I think that that's, like, a pretty challenging spot to occupy, and it's a very powerful one.

CARMICHAEL: So much of rap has been about maintaining a hypermasculine facade. Santana's friend Mitch has seen in real time how powerful Santana's influence is for others, just like it was for him when they first met.

COPELAND: He's given a lot of fat femme boys the confidence to get out here and wear they lashes, get out here and wear they makeup. Pop your sh**. Put your clothes on. Just say, you know, like, you somebody. You're not counted out. He makes it very easy for people to be themselves because he's his self. And when you get around somebody like that with energy so transferable, you don't have no choice but to, you know, get to be motivated and be inspired by it. So I definitely feel like he's changed the culture in both lanes.

SMALLS: But Saucy Santana - it was already, like, clockable - you know, meaning people could...

MADDEN: Yeah.

SMALLS: He was legible as a queer person. And so I think he was like, well, then let's make that part of the package, which I think is really, really smart. I think Black artists in particular are navigating so many different hurdles that it makes sense that some want or choose to find more security before they say, you know, I'm a queer person, because it can derail careers. It's not a guarantee that they're going to be embraced - because of racism, because of the ways that artists are marketed, just because of their own exhaustion with dealing with industry stuff.

MADDEN: 'Cause let's not get it twisted. Santana breaking through does not mean hip-hop has magically transformed.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. Back in 2021, Boosie went on a homophobic tear on Instagram Live saying, he would beat up Lil Nas X and that Nas X should, quote, "do the world a huge favor by committing suicide."

MADDEN: And a lot of times when people do come in contact with an artist's queerness, they treat them like a sideshow act, like last year when TDE's Isaiah Rashad - he was outed from a leaked sex tape, the rapper sat down with Joe Budden of all people for his first and only press op about it. And Budden's interview approach was OD queerphobic.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "A CONVERSATION WITH ISAIAH RASHAD & JOE BUDDEN")

JOE BUDDEN: I didn't watch it when everybody else did. I didn't care. Like, it's not my business. What everybody do is what they do. God forbid if n****s was just taping me behind closed doors.

ISAIAH RASHAD: Yeah.

BUDDEN: But then I thought it - I shouldn't come to an interview without watching it. And I watched it.

(LAUGHTER)

RASHAD: You stupid as hell, bro.

BUDDEN: I got to be well versed.

RASHAD: Come on, bro.

BUDDEN: I got to be well-informed with my s***.

RASHAD: Come on, bro.

MADDEN: In the interview, Isaiah looks visibly uncomfortable multiple times, and he speaks about having suicidal thoughts since being outed. And instead of getting empathy from Budden, Budden sensationalized it by talking about how the sex tape was probably boosting Isaiah's metrics. He turned the whole thing into a joke.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)

BUDDEN: Are you flirting with me?

RASHAD: Chill the f*** out.

BUDDEN: (Laughter) Don't you f*****g make me blush on this interview.

RASHAD: Chill, bro.

MADDEN: Moments like this just prove old-school queerphobia still reigns in rap.

CARMICHAEL: But it still hasn't stopped more queer rappers from taking up space and making noise - Young M.A., Kidd Kenn, Miss Boogie, Lil Nas X being the biggest - and according to Shante, there's a couple of key reasons for that.

SMALLS: One, I think artists are much more savvy about their social media presence and knowing how to leverage that. So they have - people have teams now. They know how to manipulate the machine, the social media machine. There's more money. So there's more of an infrastructural support for Black queer content which is very interesting. Just like there's more infrastructural support for Black women's content.

MADDEN: That infrastructure is so important whether it's access to money up front, having a corporation handle all the politics, or the overall industry stamp that comes with being signed by a major label. So while Santana had TikTok on lock, he still wasn't feeling that.

SAUCY SANTANA: I had seen so many people come behind me where they, like, make a song or just do - just yeah - just come up with a song. People are getting deals left and right. Boom. Especially girls. And I was like, OK, I did it already a few times. What's the holdup? I definitely had to work harder to prove myself because this is something that hasn't been done before. So people had to know, hey, he don't just go viral or hey, that's not just Young Miami best friend or, you know, oh, hey, he's funny or whatever. I had to let people know, like, no, I got my own career and my own entity. I'm talented, and I'm going to make this work. And that's what I did.

CARMICHAEL: He started meeting with label reps, but the conversations didn't really go anywhere. A lot of that had to do with people not knowing what to do with him.

SAUCY SANTANA: I seen people, like, come out with one - like, one song. They go viral, and they get, like, a deal and their label back them up and all that. I had to keep - I had "Walk Em Like A Dog." I had "Material Girl." I had "Here We Go." I had "Back It Up." I had "Up & Down." I had several songs that were - I had "Walk." I had several songs that was hits when I had seen so many people just come out with one song, and they'd be like, OK, come over here. We finna get you a record deal. And I was like, dang, I did that, like, five times already.

J GRAND: And this is what happens in the music industry too - right? - when, you know, you have revolutionary artists that people aren't - I don't know what I can do with this, or I don't know what I can do with him or her.

MADDEN: That's J Grand, senior vice president of A&R at RCA Records.

GRAND: So Santana's so raw that I don't know if everybody got Santana when I first discussed Santana, I don't know, two years ago. Whatever it was, I think there's a creative aesthetic that some people get and some people don't. And he is edgy, so I could see a group of people that are very artistic for, you know, let's call it, like, a jazzy edge, like, a highly musically-inclined forward-thinking progressive may not be ready to hear, you know, the raw s*** that Santana is bringing to the table with "Walk" and "Material Girl." You know, it's - neither one of those are Mozart.

MADDEN: Yo, from the way J Grand talks about him, it's clear that he sees the value in cashing in on Santana's social capital even if he doesn't all the way get it himself. Like, calling Saucy edgy - that's not only a flattening term that's been used for Black artists for decades, there's some femmephobia peeking through in his words, too. That's the hostility towards feminine presenting people. And it's a good look into how industry heads think about rappers who don't fit into their mold.

Do you think a lot of had - a lot of it had to do with, like, fear, people not knowing what they would do...

SAUCY SANTANA: Yes. Of course. People not knowing what it is, people not knowing how long I would last because, you know, rap is so fast nowadays, so - I only been rapping since 2019. So, you know, people was like, can we sell - first of all, can we sell him? You know, he's feminine. He's dark-skinned. He's thick. He's gay. He's loud. You know, can we sell that? Will people, you know, buy into it?

CARMICHAEL: Those questions followed him into label meetings, and Santana saw the catch-22. The same thing that was setting him apart was exactly what the industry was trying to change about him.

SAUCY SANTANA: Like, somebody suggested that I acted as if I was bisexual. And I was like, no. My fans already - I had got a big fan base really fast because I just - from being myself. I always been like this, so during high school. Everybody loves Santana in the hood. Everybody loves Santana wherever I go. So people had already fell in love with Santana. For me to double back around and be like, oh, hu-huh, like, that's - I don't like corny s***. And to me, that was corny. Why am I playing bisexual? I'm gay. And I'm Santana. I'm still getting my nails done. My face still going to be beat. I don't have to play like I'm bisexual, like I have a girlfriend, to impress nobody.

CARMICHAEL: Boardroom conversations like this highlight the industry's lack of imagination, but they also peel back the layers on how label execs seek marketability in the ambiguity. The industry wants to be able to exploit Santana's identity in either direction. They can't imagine letting him rock as he is.

SAUCY SANTANA: Some people are afraid of other people opinions, how will people look if you back - if you, you know, support Saucy Santana, and some people are just afraid of what they don't understand. So I think that's a natural thing for people because I'm like that. If I see something, I'm like, what is that? I don't know. Get that out of my face. I don't want that, and don't even give it a chance just because it's foreign. I don't know.

COPELAND: With him being heavyset and with him being, you know, flamboyant, they all - the world shut them type of gays out. You know, like, most people - like, if you go on certain sites or you go on certain people's Instagrams, to certain gay boys' Twitter, it'll have it in their bio. No fat, no femmes. Like, huh? You get what I'm saying? So with Santana being, you know, femme and to them, fat, you know, he two and one. He's automatically X'ed out. So it's just like, oh, he don't get no credibility. So to see somebody to be fat and femme getting the love that they get, like, that's big for the - that's big for me because that's my friend and I know it makes him feel amazing. Santana has never been nobody with low self-esteem, but it's like, he's still human.

CARMICHAEL: That's like a - it feels like a really big double standard that an artist like Santana has to deal with.

COPELAND: Yes. And especially with him because he's a boy wearing a wig and wearing makeup. So that's all the more reason why they're going to micromanage everything and micro-criticize everything. You have no room for a f*** up at all.

CARMICHAEL: Well, talk about that a little bit.

COPELAND: Because you're a boy. Like, we boys, when any, like - you can't look a fool, and we don't participate in clown s***. So - and this is really - that's his life for real. Like, it's not a gag. It's not a gimmick. It's not a Instagram joke. It's not a - you know, like, this is really his life. He always telling me, Mitch, take pride in your look because it's like, we're gay. And not saying that we're not supposed to do it because it's not no rules and girls supposed to do this, girls supposed to do that, but it's not normal for us to wear makeup, for a guy to wear a full face of makeup, lashes, nails.

So if you're going to do it, do it right or do it - and do it better than the girls because they already mad at you for doing it. So when you put on your lace, your lace need to be sickening, the best-quality hair, the best person to melt that b***h down. When you're wearing makeup, your makeup need to be tea. Like, your makeup don't need to look throwed away, like, none of that because that gives people more s*** to talk about. You're already standing out, so at least stand out and stand out and do - and be looking good and stand out and be something to talk about.

MADDEN: That double standard Mitch is breaking down rings a lot like the one that women entering the game face. But here's the difference. Whereas women in rap have historically only been allowed to exist in very specific spaces in very specific ways, openly gay, openly femme men like Santana haven't been allowed to exist at all.

COPELAND: If San would have been a girl, he would have been a billionaire right now. Let's just talk about the accolades. Let's just - like, I'm just being so serious here. And this is, like, the conversation - this is why I don't get into conversation when it comes to my friend because it'll piss me off. But if he would have been a girl, after "Walk Em Like A Dog," it would have been house on the hill, living next door to Bill Gates - like that if he would have been a female. Like, the stuff that he's done in these three years, like, b****es ain't doing that s***.

CARMICHAEL: Mitch is not alone in his assessment. In fact, it's part of a larger trend that often finds two of the most marginalized identities in hip-hop pitted against each other - cishet Black women and femme-presenting queer men. Shante thinks a lot about this.

SMALLS: In some ways, the kind of industry walls that Santana is facing are the same ones that Black women are facing - dark-skinned Black women are facing, actually - the way - the transactional nature, the extractive nature, the discarding. I think, like, competition for Black men's attention sometimes causes them to weaponize homophobia or patriarchy against each other. And I think that that's really hard. It's hard to see who the real enemy is because you're seeing people that look like you get ahead of you and you're not seeing the people who are making those decisions.

MADDEN: Like Moya Bailey told us in the first episode, misogynoir is equal opportunity in how it's deployed, so is femmephobia. It leaves the girls and the gays fighting over the smallest slice of the pie.

SMALLS: I see the kinds of conversations that happen online. I see the kind of conversations that happen in community. And because of Black women, particularly dark-skinned Black women's exclusion from the category of women and of feminine, sometimes they feel like gay men swoop up and are able to claim that. I think that Mitch is, you know, speaking to something that's definitely true, but it's operating simultaneously with basically trying to exclude both or lessen the impact of both groups.

There are some great reasons to be signed and to have structural - infrastructural support, but I think that those tensions do arise when you're fighting over resources that actually aren't limited but are made to seem limited and it's made to seem like there are limited spots. One thing I ask of Black people is to be committed to loving Black people, to be committed to supporting other Black people, to be committed to kind of anti-colonial ways of trying to navigate this very colonial, capitalist space.

CARMICHAEL: And that's the common ground that women and queer rappers share. Both are getting bigger looks than ever due to the power of virality. Both have virality used against them, like they're only good enough for 15 minutes of fame. But for queer artists, there's another rule at play - keeping that gay s*** at a distance and staying in your lane - because if we really think about what we're saying with the virality label, we're using a word normally saved for contagion, something powerful but also seen as dangerous, in need of containment. And if you can quarantine queerness to virality, then you can keep it from spreading. You can pretend it's not already the foundation of the culture.

SAUCY SANTANA: You don't consider Nicki Minaj a viral rapper. You don't consider Gucci Mane a viral rapper. You don't consider Cardi B a viral rapper. Like, you know? So I'm like, I don't know what's the viral thing. I have people had to take that out of my intros. Take that out because I'm not no viral rapper. I'm a rapper like everybody else. I made several songs. I made several hits. I made several impacts on people all over the world. That's not viral. I'm just - I am who I am.

MADDEN: Yeah.

CARMICHAEL: So now it's time to turn that viral wave into a way of life. Santana's clearly ready to take that next step. But the question is, is the industry?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GRAND: I would always say, is this a jump-on-the-table artist, right?

CARMICHAEL: This is J Grand from RCA Records again.

GRAND: Do I actually jump on the table and say, we're signing this f***ing artist? Like, this artist is a star, or, I know what to do to make sure that we have a star artist. I've got the vision. Santana is definitely one of those artists where you're like, I get it, so let's do it.

COPELAND: When he got signed, I was super-excited, but it's like, damn, finally.

CARMICHAEL: On March 22, 2022, Santana's best friend was in the room with him when he inked the deal with RCA Records.

COPELAND: And to be a part of that moment just meant so much to be in a room with people that actually believe in him. And if nobody believes in my best friend, I believe in my best friend. If nobody's going to stand beside him, I'm going to stand beside him. And it's just like, you can't - why not? You get what I'm saying? So, like, the day that he signed, it was just, like, an amazing feeling. And they let me give him, like, a little speech. They were just like, yo, it's up from here, b****. Like, they don't let you in the door, hoe. Like, let's do it.

CARMICHAEL: Yeah.

COPELAND: Let's do it.

CARMICHAEL: You were just talking about he should have been signed. How late?

COPELAND: How late?

CARMICHAEL: Yeah.

COPELAND: How late is he?

CARMICHAEL: Yeah. How late was the industry?

COPELAND: It's 2022. The industry is three years late, period. 2019, when he did a million streams in a f***ing week - if that would have been a female, they would have been had her signed two days later, putting a chain on her neck. The industry is three years late. It's cool, though, because he right on time.

MADDEN: Since signing with RCA, Santana's been moving. He dropped another track, called "Booty."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOOTY")

SAUCY SANTANA: (Rapping) Who else throw it back like this? What else make them mad like this? What else make them act like this? Yeah, I know you like my booty, booty, booty, booty, booty, booty, booty, booty, booty, booty, booty, booty. Yeah, I know you like my booty, booty, booty, booty, booty, booty, booty, booty, booty, booty, booty, booty, booty. Yeah, I know you like my...

MADDEN: He went on tour with Lizzo and Latto.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SAUCY SANTANA: Y'all ready to get ratchet?

(APPLAUSE)

SAUCY SANTANA: What about dog walkers in this b****?

MADDEN: And one of his latest tracks, "Bop Bop," has taken off on TikTok.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOP BOP")

SAUCY SANTANA: (Rapping) When I'm on the scene, all the h*** gon' (ph) jock. Phone gon' ring. Coins don't stop. Clubbing all night - bottles gon' pop. Step up in the spot - bop, bop, bop, bop bop, bop, bop, bop, bop. Step up in the spot - bop, bop, bop, bop, bop, bop, bop, bop, bop. Step up in the spot - bop, bop, bop.

CARMICHAEL: However you want to slice the cake, Santana's the icing.

Do you think that Santana has, like, caused a shift in hip-hop?

SMALLS: No. I don't think that he has caused a shift. But I think that - ask that question in, like, three or four or five years because I think what we might see is the ripple effects, you know, of someone like Saucy Santana who is still in a lot of ways kind of singular. I'm curious if we're going to see more feminine, talented, dark-skinned, thick gay men occupying that space in hip-hop. I would like to see more queer women. I would like to see more trans women. I would like to see people also embrace all the various styles of hip-hop.

CARMICHAEL: Santana feels that too, but he wants it to be even bigger, better and broader.

SAUCY SANTANA: I'm trying to make my space wider. I don't want to be the only gay boy that's a rapper. I want it to be a space for all of us.

MADDEN: Yeah.

SAUCY SANTANA: So for me, that's definitely the goal - to make it wider. I'm not caught up on, like, being the queen or king, or I'm number one. Y'all can't. Like, come on. That's the whole point of me doing this so that way, you know, we go to the BET Awards, and we have best new LGBT artists, or we just have spaces for us like it's normal, like how so many female rappers nowadays - it didn't used to be like that. Well, a long time, it was only Nicki Minaj. Now you've got Nicki, Latto, Rubi Rose, City Girls, Cardi B, Meg Thee Stallion, Doja Cat. Like, it's so many rap girls. DreamDoll. Like, it's so many of them. So I wanted to be the same way for gays.

MADDEN: I love that. Well, that kind of leads into one of my questions I was going to ask, and it's about, what do you want the future of hip-hop to be? And you're just saying more space.

SAUCY SANTANA: Gay as f***. Like, you don't have to be convinced on no girl rapping. You hear a song. She got a good song. You convinced right then and there. Make this the same way.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SAUCY SANTANA: I do this for me and my culture. So in 5 to 10 years, I want it to be one of y'all. I don't want it to be me. I'm already 28 years old, so it's like, you know, I don't plan on trying to be 45 still out here p***y popping on a song, you know. I want it to be y'all 'cause so many other gay boys that's talented and know how to rap and know how to make good songs. You got Kidd Kenn, DreBae, Todrick Hall, so many people. So it's like, yeah, it's room for all of us.

The same way as so many female rappers, I want it to be so many gay rappers. And I want it to be as regular as hell. It's easier for us to kick the door in if a hundred of us are kicking versus if I'm kicking the door by myself. We're more prone to knock the door off the hinges with a hundred of us. With me, I probably could do it. It's going to take me a few years. But with a hundred of us, might take us a day, might take us a few weeks.

MADDEN: The essence of what Santana is talking about is community - gang gang. He's for breaking out of the box of virality not just to break into the mainstream but to break the mainstream, period, for himself and everybody coming after him, using the power that comes in numbers to try and permanently knock down the industry's closed-door policy.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CARMICHAEL: But what happens when the community you've cultivated, a community that uplifts outsiders, gets threatened?

RICO NASTY: I'm not here for the pretty s***. I'm not here for the cute s***. I'm here to make a f*****g difference. I'm here for the people who go right into the motherf*****g flames and get burned.

MADDEN: Rico Nasty takes us through rule No. 8. That's next time on LOUDER THAN A RIOT.

LOUDER THAN A RIOT is hosted by me, Sidney Madden, and Rodney Carmichael. This episode was written by myself, Rodney and Gabby Bulgarelli. And it was produced by LOUDER's senior producer, Gabby Bulgarelli. Our producers are Sam J. Leeds and Mano Sundaresan. Our editor is Soraya Shockley, with additional editing by Sam J. Leeds.

CARMICHAEL: Our engineer is Gilly Moon. Our senior supervising producer is Cher Vincent. Our interns are Jose Sandoval, Teresa Xie and Pilar Galvan. The NPR execs are Keith Jenkins, Yolanda Sangweni and Anya Grundmann.

MADDEN: Original theme by Kassa Overall, remix by Suzi Analogue. And the scoring for this episode was provided by Suzi Analogue. Our digital editors are Jacob Ganz, Sheldon Pearce and Daoud Tyler-Ameen.

CARMICHAEL: Our fact-checker is Will Chase.

MADDEN: If you liked this episode and you want to talk back, hit us up on Twitter. We're @louderthanariot. And if you want to email us, it's louder@npr.org.

CARMICHAEL: From NPR Music, I'm Rodney Carmichael.

MADDEN: And I'm Sidney Madden. And this is LOUDER THAN A RIOT.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MADDEN: And we get to name it today, too.

SAUCY SANTANA: OK.

MADDEN: Yeah. Think about the name - do you want the name...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Did we think of a name?

SAUCY SANTANA: Mine's - I'm going to name mine's heaux.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Heaux? Oh, oh, oh, oh.

SAUCY SANTANA: But you got to spell it H-E-A-U-X.

MADDEN: Yo.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: OK, so do that again. H-E...

SAUCY SANTANA: A-U-X.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: What does heaux smell like? Heaux de heaux?

SAUCY SANTANA: Heaux just give you ho. Like, it gives sweet. It gives sexy. You know what I'm saying? Like, it's like a ho. But just 'cause you smell like a ho don't mean that you a ho. You just want to smell like one, you know? 'Cause n****s love h**s.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Yes, they do.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: I don't know.

(LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: I have a wife.

SAUCY SANTANA: Oh, my God.

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