What does it mean to be a Black queer male artist in an era when rapper Lil Nas X and his unique brand of camp is a prevailing image of Black LGBTQ2S+ musicianship? Or during a time when the less provocative stylings of a Frank Ocean or Mykal Kilgore seem to garner not as much attention and social media cache as a Saucy Santana or Kidd Kenn? These are the types of questions and considerations Black queer and trans singers, songwriters and performers—especially independent artists—are thinking of as they carve out their own paths in an industry where everyone has an opinion about the music they create and how queerness shows up in their artistry. For R&B singer Lendryx, who came out as bisexual in 2019, the answer is simple: he just wants to create music that feels authentic no matter his identity.
“Our artistry is going to look like a rainbow, too,” says Lendryx. “I’m still figuring myself out, and that will change throughout life. Whatever percentage of that I want to give you is my right as an artist. It’s such a spectrum, so I apply that same grace that I give people’s sexualities to artistry.”
Born Lendryx Deshun Barnes, the Montgomery, Alabama, native says he had a slightly sheltered childhood that led to an unconventional introduction to music. Largely unexposed to secular music, he found a passion for it through playing video games on his Sega Genesis. “Sonic the Hedgehog 3 was a big one for me,” Lendryx says. “I was memorizing every note, every melody, every countermelody, everything.”
His musical exploration expanded when he moved in with his dad in Daytona, Florida, for middle school. Joining the school band, he picked up his first instrument, the trumpet, and fell in love with bands at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU); the unique stylings of HBCU bands and how they interpret music opened his mind to the many ways songs could sound. Then in high school, he found other ways to express musical freedom, joining an R&B group called the Enterprise Playas Clique as well as a praise and worship group and Christian rock band. Music was Lendryx’s entire world until he joined the military in 2012 and his singer-songwriter aspirations took a back seat.
But two years later, at 23, he started releasing original songs and covers on SoundCloud; he’s particularly proud of a mashup of Tyrese’s “Sweet Lady” and Beyoncé’s “No Angel,” which he says is still one of his most popular on the platform. Lendryx released his first album, Player 3, in late 2016. The contemporary R&B project of 19 tracks shows the influences of Jhené Aiko, Drake, Tyrese and Donell Jones. “They don’t get their flowers enough,” Lendryx says of these artists. “And it’s probably because Tyrese has transitioned to more of a big film/TV star (which he doesn’t get enough credit for doing successfully), but all those artists from that 2000s era have such an impact on how I write and sing.”
After leaving the military in 2018, at 27, Lendryx moved to Los Angeles to work in cybersecurity. “Being here in L.A. felt like I could make my own space and be my own person,” he reflects. “That’s what pushed me into being so accepting of my queerness.”
In February 2019, Lendryx quoted Jay-Z in a tweet, “You can’t heal what you never reveal.” Attached to the tweet was a statement that read: “I am bisexual. Admitting and accepting this took many years. I don’t regret the time it took because everyone has their own journey. Even in all of the cold, depressive nights (some ending with self-harm and thoughts of suicide), I have learned that everything happens for a reason. But I cannot do this any longer. I deserve more.”
Today, though, he admits that his relationship to the specific label of “bisexual” is tenuous. “Sometimes I don’t even enjoy using a descriptor,” he says. “I like identifying as queer more than I do anything else because who knows what I’m going to be attracted to in five years or next month. ‘Bisexual’ is [now] something that I use just to make it simple for people.”
Six months after coming out, Lendryx released his EP, Purification—a four-track project to reintroduce himself to the world. Its lead single, “Infinite,” was the first song he wrote after coming out, and explores a new perspective of love. The smooth melodies, guitar strings and midtempo bass meld together in a vulnerable revelation that, he says, “can be interpreted as a love song to someone else or a love song to myself.” Its lyrics detail the tug of war he dealt with while hiding who he was, and the weight that lifted once he allowed himself to be free:
I’ve been hiding how I feel for way too long
Something’s killing me inside, I feel so wrong
All of your good love
All of your sweet touch
I can’t be dreaming
I can’t stop feenin’
I’m beaming, baby.
Creating Purification was cathartic for Lendryx as it allowed him to be his most authentic self in his music for the first time. The second track off the album, “i cried,” for example, is about being worthy of the love he found with his boyfriend since coming out.
“I wrote about an experience with my partner, Nick,” he says. “I still suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts at times, so that sense of worthiness is always on my mind when it comes to being in a relationship.” The slow tempo, contemporary R&B track is relatable; we’ve all dealt with the same fears of feeling like a burden to a loved one and not feeling worthy of the support and comfort they provide.
But along with new music and love came the opportunity to build a community among other creatives in the music industry. In 2019, Lendryx met DJ/producer Amorphous, and the two became friends and fans of each other’s craft. When Amorphous performed his song, “Finally (Cannot Hide It)” with Kelly Rowland on Jimmy Kimmel Live, he called up a few friends, including Lendryx.
“He was like, ‘Hey, I want to showcase Black queerness, Black womanhood on this stage,’” says Lendryx. “Kelly Rowland was such an angel on set; she is a legend in my eyes. It’s so lovely to have friends that put you in a room and speak your praises.”
Since 2019, Lendryx has dropped a handful of singles, including “Whine,” “What U Want” and “Don’t Come Running Back.” The percussion-heavy “I Bet,” however, is a standout. Blending hip-hop and R&B elements, the track is one of Lendryx’s most uptempo offerings—and for that reason, it’s a personal favourite. Featuring a team of other queer independent artists, including Manfre, The Ju, Terrence Léon and GodIsMikey, it’s an infectious anthem about self-confidence.
Currently enrolled in the songwriting program at the Los Angeles College of Music, Lendryx is working on his next project: around 10 tracks under the title II.. Projected to be released this spring, the lead single, “Put Down Your Phone,” is out now and features fellow R&B singer SHAH. The track, sonically reminiscent of classic R&B collabs like Tyrese, Ginuwine and Tank’s TGT, was released on Bi Visibility Day last year. “I honestly did not intend for it to drop on that day,” Lendryx says, “but it just seemed like fate with both of us being bisexual and living in our identities in our own unique ways.”
As for what else audiences can expect from II., Lendryx is keeping his cards close to his chest. But you can best believe, it’ll be a necessary addition to the landscape of Black queer artistry.
“II. will be my best body of work sonically and visually. I want people to listen to it and feel motivated to go after wherever the fuck they want. No matter what you identify as there is a space for you,” he says.