Five years late, I *just* dis­cov­ered The Inter­net, the neo-soul band born out of LA-based rap col­lec­tive Odd Future and front­ed by the open­ly gay Syd. (I blame moth­er­hood — back in 2012 when The Inter­net was burn­ing up the web I, preg­nant with my first child, was on Baby­Cen­ter research­ing breast­feed­ing.)

A wom­an, in a beau­ti­ful falset­to rem­i­nis­cent of Aaliyah, was singing about get­ting away with her beau. The song was every­thing — a gor­geous melody backed by live instru­ments and a dri­ving bass line. 

I was sur­prised and delight­ed by what I found in a sub­se­quent inter­net search. The arrest­ing voice belonged to Syd (born Syd­ney Ben­nett) a black wom­an decked out in a hood­ie, bag­gy jeans and a low fro­hawk, who open­ly iden­ti­fies as gay.

There is a rich his­to­ry of queer black wom­en in the arts — from Lor­raine Hans­ber­ry to Ma Rainey, Josephine Bak­er to Tra­cy Chap­man, Audre Lorde to Alice Walk­er, Me’Shell Nde­geo­cel­lo to Octavia But­ler. But out gay wom­en are hard to come by in main­stream black music today.

Nicki Minaj and Azealia Banks both ref­er­enced their bisex­u­al­i­ty ear­ly in their careers, but the rela­tion­ships they pub­li­cize are with men, lead­ing some cyn­ics to believe the rev­e­la­tions were made to add edge to their image. Many female rap­pers with less vis­i­bil­i­ty are open­ly gay, includ­ing Angel Haze and Young M.A., but open queer­ness in R&B is hard­er to come by. 

The reign­ing image of an R&B star­let is a sexy wom­an singing about the ups and downs of het­ero­sex­u­al love. And while there is a small black les­bian R&B scene it has not attract­ed the atten­tion of Syd, who counts Issa Rae and Regi­na King among her celebri­ty fans and Chloe x Halle among her col­lab­o­ra­tors.

Syd got her start at 14 mak­ing beats and doing sound engi­neer­ing for neigh­bor­hood kids who rapped, includ­ing Odd Future, and even­tu­al­ly became the group’s offi­cial DJ. She began writ­ing and co-pro­duc­ing with Odd Future’s Matt Mar­tians, but only start­ed singing when she couldn’t find peo­ple to hand her songs off to. From Time Mag­a­zine;

“When I start­ed mak­ing music, I just want­ed to be the pro­duc­er who sang the hooks,” she says. “I want­ed to be Phar­rell, hon­est­ly, the one who made the beats and was in the music video with the girls.”…

Mar­tians and Syd—who still put out albums on the Odd Future label, though the group has large­ly dis­band­ed to pur­sue sep­a­rate endeavors—originally intend­ed to make their beats, write their songs and then hand them off to oth­er artists to sing. But when they couldn’t find the right peo­ple, Syd tried singing them herself—and her voice is so aching­ly nat­u­ral it sounds almost like breath­ing.”

Mar­tians and Syd cre­at­ed The Inter­net in late 2011, adding three band mates and cast­ing Syd as a reluc­tant lead singer. But despite her hes­i­tance she emerged a clear star, with gor­geous, airy vocals and mes­mer­iz­ing stage pres­ence. Syd’s tal­ent is unique among the cur­rent crop of bud­ding R&B tal­ent, includ­ing Kehlani, SZA and Tinashe. She is a triple threat — a musi­cian who can sing, write and pro­duce.

Syd, now 24, released her debut album Fin ear­lier this mon­th. It chart­ed on the Bill­board 200 accom­pa­nied by great reviews and heavy social media buzz.

She is aware of her rareness as an open­ly gay female artist with the type of vis­i­bil­i­ty she has, but seems to under­stand the implic­it pow­er of per­ceiv­ing and pro­ject­ing that her sex­u­al iden­ti­ty is nor­mal.

I’ve always been con­scious not to take advan­tage of my sex­u­al ori­en­ta­tion because I don’t think it’s fair and it shouldn’t mat­ter. I don’t see the big deal. Com­ing up I nev­er real­ly acknowl­edged it. It’s like I don’t need to for one, and two it’s like, “Why do I have to?” We’re all just peo­ple any­way. I want­ed peo­ple to find me through my music. Not, “Here’s this gay new artist, if you’re gay you should lis­ten to her.”…

At the end of the day I rep­re­sent myself first and fore­most, and I’m not going to ever pur­pose­ly try and mis­rep­re­sent myself. In doing that I hope that I please all of those who do look up to me or what­ev­er. I’m a good per­son. It’s not con­scious on the effort side of being a role mod­el, but I am flat­tered.

Syd also seems to have a sense of humor about her unique fem­i­nin­i­ty.

At the end of the day, per­haps what’s most excit­ing is that Syd’s music is just real­ly good and tak­ing R&B music in unex­pect­ed places, both cul­tur­al­ly and son­i­cal­ly.

Ladies, are you famil­iar with Syd and her music? Which emerg­ing R&B singers are you excit­ed about?

Black Girl With Long Hair

Leila Noel­lis­te, founder of Black Girl with Long Hair (April 2008). Social media, pop cul­ture and black beau­ty enthu­si­ast. bell hooks’ hair twin…

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6 Comments on "On the Significance of Syd: One of the Best Female R&B Artists to Recently Emerge, and Openly Gay"

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Jessica W

I loooooove The Inter­net & Syd’s voice…I too recent­ly found their album Ego Death & it’s con­stant­ly on play…thank u for this arti­cle bc I did not know about Fin ?

Susie White

I LOVE her voice, it’s like the smoothest most sooth­ing thing I’ve ever heard. love love love Syd

Jaye

Love, love The Inter­net and Syd.….had the same reac­tion when i final­ly saw her to put a face to the vocals.…so glad she’s get­ting the atten­tion she deserves.

Rhi

Wait… Nicki Minaj is bi???

Carmyne Revolver

in the begin­ning she made alot of songs about it. She was named “menage/minaj” because 1. it’s a play on her last name Miraj and 2. Fendi (her orig­i­nal promoter/producer) named her Minaj because “she could eat b*****ches”. I guess he meant lyri­cal­ly but they took it and ran with it.

Jaye

Sad to say, I think it’s one of those things she used to boost her intial fan base and make her­self more appeal­ing to men (Nicki “Menage”, get it?). As soon as she became pop­u­lar you nev­er heard about it again.

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