Today, Keanan becomes the second of four acts to be spotlighted by Breakthrough, GAY TIMES and Coke Studio’s campaign to find the very best unsigned LGBTQ+ music talent in the UK and Ireland. As part of the campaign, Breakthrough will offer all four acts a range of exciting paid opportunities comprising a photoshoot with a leading queer photographer, valuable live experience and lasting support propelling them, beyond the summer Pride months, in an industry so few manage to break into. This support will include prestigious festival slots at the likes of Luno presents All Points East, Boardmasters and Longitude, as well as performances at Pride in London and Brighton Pride as part of Coca-Cola’s Parade Float. The four acts were chosen following an online callout that attracted submissions from more than 200 talented artists.
Keanan is an artist who prides himself on telling it like it is – especially when it comes to the tough stuff. One of his most-streamed tracks, the defiant and energising empowerment bop Obstacle, is all about the “hurdles” he has overcome on his way to “owning the top”. “One of the biggest obstacles I’ve faced and continue to face is existing as an openly LGBTQ+ rapper,” he says today. “Even though attitudes are changing, there are still stigmas present. I challenge these stigmas by unapologetically being myself and staying true to who I am as a person and an artist.” The 24-year-old rising star, who performed at GAY TIMES Honours in 2022, believes this uncompromising honesty will “allow people to connect with me and my stories” while also helping “those who judge [to] realise that music has the power to bring us all together”.
You can soak up Keanan’s captivating candour on his dazzling remix of Headie One and Drake’s Only You Freestyle, which went viral on TikTok because he raps about his sexuality with such heart and humour. “Put a gally (woman) on me, that’s sweet,” he spits, “but I don’t want Stacey, I want David.” You can also hear it on Country Boy, a standout track from Keanan’s gleaming 2022 EP Exhibit Green. “Some call me a farmer, so I made my marks like tracks,” he raps, flipping a put-down on its head with witty wordplay. When the song dropped last year, Keanan told GAY TIMES he had “wanted to create [it] for years but never found the right words”. It’s his way of celebrating and in a way reclaiming his upbringing in Cheltenham, a spa town in the rural country of Gloucestershire. “Being from the countryside, trying to break into the industry is tough,” he said at the time. “And I always saw it as a negative, a disadvantage. But with my recent successes with TikTok and other opportunities, I realised that it makes me different and I should be proud of my hometown.”
Keanan says he has been “writing rhymes for as long as I can remember” and always “used to dream of being an artist”. He realised he could turn this dream into a reality as a teenager when he began sharing self-made videos in which he remixed popular tracks by adding his own verses. “These videos started to gain thousands of views which gave me the confidence to finally pursue music,” he recalls. Initially, Keanan approached songwriting in “a very guarded capacity” and “purely created music because I enjoyed how it sounded”. However, following the devastating loss of his mother, the fuel behind his creative fire really intensified. “Music became a form of therapy to me, and it changed how I created music,” he recalls. “I became more self-reflective, more aware, and more open to discuss harder topics and it allowed me to turn something so traumatic into a beautiful tribute.”
Today, with the 2018 debut album Butterfly, 2022 EP Exhibit Green and multiple singles to his name, Keanan says his musical style is “constantly evolving”. Though he loves “to experiment with different sounds and genres”, he points to Nicki Minaj’s 2011 hit Super Bass as a major and enduring influence. “It was one of the first times I really heard pop and rap fused together in such an exciting way and it really sparked something in me,” he says. “Her music, drive and passion has inspired me ever since.” Keanan also says he is inspired by the “immense stage presence” of Beyoncé and Michael Jackson, and admires “rappers such as Stormzy, Drake and Eminem for their versatility and flow.”
Keanan also draws strength from the current crop of LGBTQ+ artists who are knocking down doors and transforming what the industry expects from queer talent. “Growing up watching and listening to Sam Smith develop into the artist they are today has been inspiring,” he says, “along with artists such as MNEK and Lil Nas X who bring their unique flare and style.” Keanan is acutely aware of the importance of LGBTQ+ solidarity, especially as we head into Pride Month. “There are so many [people] who struggle to come to terms with who they are or feel as if they are unable to be who they are,” he says. “Pride creates a safe space where being yourself is celebrated and hopefully gives others hope in a world where inclusion is not always welcome. In time, I hope Pride continues to take us closer to equality, to allow people their freedom and gives people their right to love freely after being denied for so long.”
Performing for his queer peers at GAY TIMES Honours in December is a career highlight he takes pride in looking back on. “The energy was electrifying [and] I felt comfortable to be my full authentic self as an artist – it allowed me to reach new heights,” he says. At the same time, Keanan is always looking forward to the next opportunity to connect with his community of fans. “I have been working on one track in particular for a few months now and I can honestly say it’s one of my best creations,” he teases. “If I had to present one track to describe myself as an artist, it would be this. [It’s] fusing my love for pop and rap together to create funky-disco heaven. It’s fun, fresh and embodies that feel-good feeling which is perfect for the summer.”
As he readies his contender for song of the summer, Kenan has a realistic but uplifting message for queer musicians who want to follow in his footsteps. “Learn what makes you you as an artist and as a person, and accept it,” he says. “Being a queer artist can be really tough. You may be challenged and not everyone will understand you, but that self-confidence will carry you over any obstacle you may face and that unique spark you possess will shine brighter than anyone who tries to dim your light.” Amen to that – Keanan himself is living proof.
Creative Director: Julia Salotti
Senior Producer: Sophie Christophersen
Account Director: Pav Grewal
Executive Creative Director: Josh Fletcher
Sales Director: Tiffany Gumbrell
Art Director / Designer: Jack Rowe
Designer: Yosef Phelan
Photography: Jordan Rossi
Photography Assistants: Doma Dovgialo, Ally Cook, Marcus Lister
Fashion Director: Umar Sarwar
Styling Assistants: Lily Hobson, Bradley Turner
Hair: Louis Byrne, Marc Ramos
Makeup: Byron London, Matilde Ribau
Videographer / Editor: Joe Wood
Sound Recordist: Smiley Sound, Ben Williams
Grade: Studio RM