Taylor Bennett can pinpoint the moment he knew he was ready to come out to the world as bisexual.
“It was the day before I turned 21,” says the musician, brother of Chance the Rapper and artist in his own right. “I was in Malibu and realized I felt like this for a while. I thought that being 21 is a huge step for manhood and being officially grown up. I realized I have a lot of fans that are younger than me, and I know they're probably struggling -- I want them to be able to look at their favorite artist or someone to even look up to in the black community, in hip-hop, that's not afraid to be themselves and tell them it's all right. Always be yourself, always be strong.”
The Chicago native publicly -- and succinctly -- came out as bisexual in a series of tweets in January. “My birthday is tomorrow & moving into next year I'd like to be more open about myself to help others that struggle with the same issues,” he wrote. “Growing up I've always felt indifferent about my sexuality & being attracted 2 one sex & today I would like to openly come out to my fans. I do recognize myself as a bisexual male & do & have always openly supported the gay community & will keep doing so in 2017. #ThankYou.”
It takes a lot of courage to be out and open in the hip-hop community, and yet Bennett comes off as fearless. It’s an attitude that’s carried over to the jubilance of his EPs and mixtapes, most recently Restoration of an American Idol that he released in Feb. 2017. You can hear similarities between Bennett and his brother -- they draw from the same pool of collaborators, like Donnie Trumpet and "iSpy" hitmaker Kyle -- and yet it’s the perspective and stance that differs.
Bennett is open and honest in his own way, intending to connect with his fans by being true to who he is. “I think a lot of times, in a lot of situations, all somebody needs to be themselves is support,” he says. There's a reason coming out doesn’t read as difficult for Bennett: His family was supportive, and his friends questioned him about why he didn’t tell them sooner.
And yet, hip-hop has a history of homophobia that runs to its roots, and he found himself braving hurtful comments from strangers on social media. “Somebody said, ‘This is why AIDS exists because y'all don't keep that s--t on one side,’” he continues. “People won't like you for being different. I also think a lot of those people think they can't be different. Eventually, you create an image and perception of yourself where you can't be that person, because if you’re not that person, then you're not being true to yourself and people don't know you. I think that's one of the big reasons I came out because my thing is, how can you support someone when you don't know them?”
The support has been overwhelming, particularly in hip-hop, given what he views as a turning tide in attitudes towards the LGBTQ community. He cites Migos, Lil Yachty and Young Thug as rappers that are turning stereotypes on their heads by “embracing being themselves and dressing the way you want to dress and talking the way you want to talk, and if you have a problem with it, then f--k you.” Still, he says, “I think hip-hop is pretty homophobic… But at the same time, you have to be yourself, and I think hip-hop is definitely getting towards the age where we're stepping out of the idea of being thugs and being this created stereotype that the system of America, I would say, has made us.”
For Bennett, bucking the idea of what someone should or shouldn’t be has been prevalent throughout his life. Hailing from West Chatham in Chicago, he always had a love of school, initially having dreams of becoming a forensic scientist but gravitated towards music, soaking in alternative artists like Regina Spektor and Death Cab for Cutie. He would rap with Chance as they grew up, but ventured out on his own in 2013, releasing his debut mixtape The Taylor Bennett Show and following it five months later with Mainstream Music.
Looking back on his musical maturation, he can see the progression from beginner to a more seasoned visionary. “I didn't expect to be a rapper, but it was my first attempt at trying to be a successful artist, and really making a project,” he recalls. To Bennett, The Taylor Bennett Show was rooted in storytelling, while Mainstream Music tried too much at once. Broad Shoulders, which arrived in Dec. 2015, brought him back to the beginning, but it was with Restoration of an American Idol that he feels like he truly came into his own.
For now, he’s out performing on the road and recording a mixtape of remixes, featuring takes on Kanye West’s “Real Friends” and Childish Gambino’s “Redbone,” that may or may not see the light of day. But, as he learned from Chance, he plans on keeping it as real as possible. “I think I've learned a lot,” he says. “One of the main things I learned was always be yourself, put 100 percent of your music into it. Don't stop for somebody else.”
Check out Taylor Bennett's remix of Kendrick Lamar's "Feel" below: