Richie Ruperto was a teen when a guest appearance on the Tyra Banks Show in 2008 for a segment on anti-LGBTQ bullying afforded him the opportunity of meeting voguing legend Benny Ninja (coach on America’s Next Top Model). Shortly thereafter, the openly gay teen of Puerto Rican and Italian decent entered the world of hip hop music as Loco Ninja. Now 23 years old, Loco — as he is known by friends and fans — has not only secured a faithfull following of fans, he has also collaborated with such artists as Lumidee and America’s Next Top Model All-Star winner Lisa D’amato. He spoke with xQsí Magazine about his experiences being one of the few openly gay Latino rap artists.
XQSÍ: What was it like growing up in East Harlem?
LOCO NINJA: Growing up for me was a nightmare in a way, always felt like someone was out to get me even when they weren’t because I was use to random strangers or students picking on me. But I turned my life around by taking control of myself and how I took on the world. It’s a much better situation now.
XQSÍ: In other interviews, you have described yourself as “obviously gay.” How was being visibly queer received in your community?
LN: Me being gay was never accepted growing up in the Washington Projects located in Spanish Harlem. It was a struggle trying to find my place in my neighborhood and sometimes even at home. My step dad was so masculine and hard on me so I sometimes felt I was cornered everywhere i went. Then i would walk out my apartment building and get called “Faggot, homo, etc”.
XQSÍ: How was coming out to your family?
LN: I first came out to my mom. I was so uncomfortable but I was sort of in a situation where I had to yell it at her when she called me in her room to ask about my lesbian cousin and what she was seeing going on in my cousin’s life, and it turned into my problem which ended with me yelling at her and saying I was [gay] as well and she threw me out her room. She never stopped loving me for a second though. she just needed a moment. She then called me back to talk and comfort me. My whole family is accepting of my lifestyle and its an amazing feeling. I am so blessed.
My family instantly accepted me because they always knew about my sexuality. They felt I was but no one really talked about it till after I came out at the age of 14. They would joke with me about it and say how i wanted to play with barbies more then hot wheels.
XQSÍ: Luckily you had the support of your family. How were you able to surpass the other obstacles in your way?
LN: I Think i started to surpass the obstacles when I started to attend schools that were dedicated to the arts — theatre production, dance and of course vocal classes. It was a home away from home. But in my situation, it was home period because what we called home, our world was not home.
XQSÍ: How would you describe your music?
LN: My music is pretty much inspired by the streets, struggles and strengths. Everything I’ve ever been through even when I’m being sassy, sarcastic and serious. I have this shady sassy sound people tell me, But i think its funny. I do feel that way sometimes, I got so much anger in me sometimes so I just let it out through my music.
XQSÍ: Why hip hop?
LN: I was born and raised in the inner city of New york. So I was raised on this type of culture and music. My family played everything from “Afrika bambaataa” to “B.I.G” and in between. So I grew up with all these problems and stories which started with me writing poetry, rhymes and then i eventually started to rap on the stoop on the block where I was raised.
XQSÍ: How has being Latino influenced your music?
LN: Being Latin, I was also raised with all these legendary artist like Tito Puente, Selena, and of course “BIG Pun” so it was obvious that it would be a huge part of my life. I Attended Tito Puente performing arts school where I took many classes focused on the arts. Just like hip-hop inspired me, it’s the same as my Latin upbringing.
XQSÍ: Despite not having a record deal yet, you are still able to get fans that follow you and love your music. What’s is it about your music that is unique?
LN: I think my music is unique because I’m very outspoken, crazy and my mouth can somewhat be out of control so I keep who I am as a person apart of my music, so its fun, crazy and people tell me all the time — including girls — that I bring out this gay crazy sassy person hidden in them. (laughs)
I also had a time where I starred on reality television show, so a lot of my fans and supporters come from there. They love my music and they continue to support what I do. That’s the best part of making music.
XQSÍ: Do you feel your music speaks or resonates with a queer and/or Latin@ experience?
LN: I do feel it resonates with both queer and Latin youth, and people in general because everything I speak about is real experiences from love, pain, hate and Life, sometimes even sex but in a way everyone can relate. (laughs)
XQSÍ: What are some of the challenges you have faced as an openly gay Latino rapper in a predominantly straight black male run music genre?
LN: I’ve only faced people turning me down from venues and studios and stopping me from collaborating with straight artist, but haven’t been through anything drastic as of now. I make music for my fans and because it’s something I love to do, so there’s nothing anyone can stop me from doing. I will always dust off what people have to say. And i will continue to try and break barriers as long as I’m alive. I could never stop. Music lives in me.
XQSÍ: Have you experienced any other forms of discrimination in the music industry?
LN: I have in different ways. Some people don’t want to work with me. They would hear my music and say it’s dope then they find out I’m gay and pull out from projects and stuff. Then I’ve had artist curse me out for reaching out on social sites, wanting to collab and work with them. It only fuels me to fight harder and become better as an MC.
XQSÍ: It seems it’s not easy being openly queer in the music industry. Why is it important to you then to be out as a proud gay rapper?
I think that myself, as a human being, I’ve always stood strong to who I’ve become and who I’ve been so I have nothing to hide and never would hide. I wouldn’t want to act like someone I’m not. I love being honest about who I am, so it’s only right I would be me in my music career.Either way I couldn’t hide being gay or being an out rapper. It’s obvious. (Laughs).
XQSÍ: Lastly, what advice do you have for queer youth that would like to get into music?
LN: Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not good enough. It’s those who tell you you’re not good enough that can’t live out their dreams. Stay consistent with your dream and your art. Also respect yourself as an artist and be sure of who you are because anyone will try and break you. But if you know who you are, you will be just fine.
Photos courtesy of the artist.