Hip hop and homophobia have an interesting relationship, one that is intertwined against the backdrop of cultural difference and a reluctance, particularly in America, to discuss the nature of these issues in any way, shape or form. While society has progressed in leaps and bounds in comparison to other generations in terms of acceptance and tolerance, there is still an overwhelming reluctance amongst the hip hop community and culture to acknowledge this shift in cultural significance. While there are key figures such as Frank Ocean bravely pushing forward the LGBT agenda and raising vital awareness, the industry itself is lagging behind the rest of the U.S., with the Supreme Court decision constitutionally validating same sex marriage. Hip hop has long been associated as an alienating and misogynistic art form, one that has left many demographics out of the picture completely.
Why does this relationship exist? Why must rap music be synonymous with such blatant alienation and vilification? In order to better understand this unique set of circumstances it is wise to examine hip hop culture as a whole. The rap industry draws its roots from suburban life; violence, crime, and a lifestyle that relies heavily on a “gang-banging” mentality, and maintaining a stoic figure to protect your reputation. Homosexuality has never been a part of this lifestyle, and has unsurprisingly been shunned in these environments and neighbourhoods. Education and tolerance regarding these issues and individuals is scarce. As you start to follow the path back through hip hop and its subject matter, homosexuality and misogyny sit hand in hand, and this is one of the most significant causes for the industry we are left with today.
It is horrible to think that even in a modern contemporary context we could have figures at the forefront of the music industry speak out with such vitriol and condemnation specifically towards the transgender community. Chris Brown and Snoop Dogg have a far reaching social impact, and their opinions (be them expressed on social media or not) are directly relayed into the hands of the youth, whose minds are still susceptible to molding. To openly label Caitlyn Jenner as a “science experiment” across their social media platforms threatens to undermine the invaluable progress that is being made throughout the western world, and is quite frankly a disgusting way of voicing their ignorance. Sadly the issues are much further ingrained within the culture; even lowly rappers will happily voice their displeasure at the growing acceptance of transgender culture, with little known artist Erick Sermon going as far to say that hip hop “will never accept transgender rappers”.
We can look back decades and examine the use of derogatory lyrics within hip hop. N.W.A blasted homophobic lyrics out on their iconic Straight Outta Compton album, “I got a boyfriend/ bitch stop lyin’/ dumb-ass hooker ain’t nothin’ but a dyke”. The Beastie Boys even wanted to name one of their albums “Don’t Be a Faggot”. If that doesn’t scream how rife homophobia is deeply ingrained within the culture, nothing will.
The word “faggot” has long been a staple of hip hop language, and often serves as an easy and convenient insult for rappers to undermine their rivals; questioning their affinity for women directly impacts their credibility and stature. This is a culture that embraces an objectification of women, lauded are the achievements of men who sleep with a multitude of women. You only have to look at the subject matter of a staggering percentage of rap music; women, sex, money, alcohol and weed. I’m sure you are familiar with that all too famous rap slogan, “pussy money weed is all a n*gga need“. To openly acknowledge homosexuality seeks to discredit the mantra that has been so heavily ingrained in this lifestyle and culture. Even upon examining the battle rap scene, a niche market in itself, faggot is still the insult of choice, and is always greeted with a snickering response as someone’s masculinity and manhood is questioned for all to see. Artists such as Chingy have had their reputations in the industry tarnished by rumours of relationships with transgender people, and such rumours are now resurfacing and attempting to discredit the mainstream appeal of Tyga. In this day and age, should we really care who a rapper is romantically involved with? The hip hop world is still rife with transphobia; look at how the Tyga story is being reported, “Is Tyga cheating on Kylie Jenner with a Tranny?”. Click bait or not, this is frankly disgusting, and sickening to think that even the media catering to the hip hop industry cannot remain impartial and tolerant.
Much of the criticism of the hip hop world has to be attributed to the persona that it attempts to create. In this modern context, it is just not acceptable for artists to maintain a fake public persona at the risk of alienating and discriminating against such a large portion of the population. I’m sure that there is a way to flaunt your masculinity, your wealth, and your love of alcohol and marijuana without having to degrade anyone else and call them a faggot.
Eminem is another stark reminder of the homophobic lyrics that seep into the music industry. 2013 saw Eminem burst back onto the scene with his hard hitting Rap God. The song was a return to the speedy spitting of Marshall Mathers we are accustomed to, but it was not without controversy. The word “faggot” was included in the track, and the term “gay looking” was used as a derogatory insult. Eminem, in an interview with MTV only reiterated the deep seated issues that are still so heavily ingrained in the culture, “I never really equated those words…it was more like calling someone a bitch or a punk or an asshole”. It was not the first time Eminem and homophobic tendencies have been mentioned in the same breath. 2001 saw Eminem come together with Elton John for a rousing rendition of Stan, in order to quash the growing belief that homophobia was rife throughout his music. For such a polarising mainstream figure to be embroiled in such a controversy only highlights the severity of the issue, and the need for greater education on the matter. Should we really be okay with the word faggot being placed into a song in 2013 for no good reason other than to use another word for bitch or asshole?
While it would be easy to write off the hip hop industry as dismissive of any sort of social and political change, this could not be further from the truth. We have seen the ways that groups such as Run The Jewels have pledged their support behind equality and political agendas, while we have seen Kendrick Lamar openly speak out against the corruption of the youth with drugs and unhealthy practices. Depression is an issue that was untouched for what seemed like an eternity, but now we have seen the ways that mental illness is given a platform for discussion amongst the musical world. So the question is blaringly obvious: why hasn’t acceptance and recognition of homosexuality received the same significant shift in opinion? If Kanye West can dedicate his heart and soul into music such as New Slaves, which is arguably one of the most politically outspoken tracks in recent memory (detailing the rise of consumerism and the seemingly brainwashed state of society) then surely we can dedicate some more effort into pushing forward other agendas.
Sure, we can sit here and recount countless examples of older hip hop icons voicing their criticism of the LGBT agenda, but perhaps it would be refreshing to look to the future, because there is a resounding sense of hope. Frank Ocean perhaps took the bravest and most vital step in recent years, penning a beautiful letter in July of 2012 announcing to the world that he was bisexual. Knowing that there would be some backlash, it is an empowering statement to embrace his identity within the public sphere. Fellow label mate and friend Syd tha Kyd is also flying the flag for homosexuality, open declaring her own sexuality. Fellow Odd Future member Tyler, The Creator has also thrown his support behind his friend and peer, even snapping back at critics on his track, Rusty, who believed that he himself produced homophobic music, “saying that I hate gays even though Frank is on ten of my songs“.
The aforementioned poster boy for voicing stupidity over social media, Snoop Dogg was back at it again when addressing Frank’s status within the industry, “Frank Ocean ain’t no rapper. He’s a singer. It’s acceptable in the singing world, but in the rap world I don’t know if it will ever be acceptable because rap is so masculine. It’s like a football team. You can’t be in a locker room full of motherfucking tough-ass dudes, then all of a sudden say, ‘Hey, man, I like you.'” These archaic and ignorant views are a mainstay within the hip hop community, although these days we are more likely to see some artists and their fans celebrating the growth of society, and this new found acceptance that is slowly seeping into our culture. Take Tyler’s “Golf Pride World Wide” movement, a subtle play on the “White Pride World Wide” slogan made infamous by neo-nazis and white supremacists. What better way to ignite debate and spark controversy then by celebrating the advances in equality by tweaking such a hateful slogan and symbol? The antagonistic figure that Tyler is, would stop at nothing to bait those groups who alienate others; “What if a black guy wore this logo on a shirt? Would he be promoting self hate? Would he be taking the power out of a shape? What if a gay guy wore this on a shirt? Would he promoting Homophobia?” The results are a powerful statement and an important message:It has to be mentioned however that Tyler, never one to shy away from controversy, has himself been guilty of lyrics which arguably incite homophobic behaviour and tendencies. Questioned on the subject matter of his mixtape, Bastard, Tyler echoed the sentiment of Eminem when defending the use of the word faggot:
“That’s just a word, you can take the power out of the word…Frank is gay and I use that word all the time. He doesn’t care because he knows me. He knows when I say that word I’m not thinking of someone’s sexual orientation. It’s just another word that has no meaning”.
While it is a positive sentiment to hear that Tyler is not preaching a homophobic way of life, it begs the question of the necessity to use such a word at all. There will be always be negative implications and connotations around the use of the word faggot, and although Tyler is seemingly here to shock and entertain, there has to be a point where the use of homophobic words is done away with. We are seeing a direct contrast in the ways that artists are portraying themselves in public as opposed to their on-track personas. What message is it sending to audiences that Tyler is seemingly supportive of the LGBT community, but could perform tracks from an album that reportedly uses the word faggot over 200 times? It is almost as if some rappers and musicians are afraid to take that final step in terms of tolerance; perhaps they feel that their true acceptance of the matter is something that they need to cover up and hide from no matter how socially and politically inappropriate it is shy away. The word may have no meaning to Tyler, but I am sure it has significant meaning and personal insult for many homosexual people who have been subjected to violence, discrimination and hatred. This is the lesson that the younger generation must take into account, shock value is not worth insulting a large demographic for a quick headline or some new fans.
Still, the hope remains. The track Same Love is an important milestone in the tolerance and recognition amongst homosexuality and transgender issues within the music world. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis gave the world a heartbreaking anthem that detailed the internal struggles of the LGBT community. This is perhaps one of the most glaringly obvious insights into the homosexual community that has been blasted through radios and television sets non stop. To have a hip hop song grace the mainstream community for such an extended period of time was a refreshing moment, one that gave much hope for the future. It would appear that acceptance, regardless of colour, creed and sexual orientation is a train of thought that is slowly gaining momentum amongst this new breed of hip hop star. Even serial female canoodler A$AP Rocky has pledged his support behind equality, urging his fans to follow his mindset of “treating everyone as an equal”.
It would appear that this new hip hop collective is slowly but surely becoming a microcosm of the acceptance and tolerance that is forever gaining momentum and traction amongst the western world as a whole. While the older generations are less likely to have their views swayed, this younger generation preaches a subject matter that is far more open to equality and tolerance; one that is not entirely built upon misogynistic views and practices. While Snoop and Chris Brown are content with their blissful ignorance, there are a few legends of the genre that are attempting to drown out some of the stupidity that their peers preach. Perennial voice of reason within hip-hop and all round nice guy Talib Kweli has voiced his own support for the presence of homosexuality within hip-hop, saying, “There just needs to be a gay rapper- he doesn’t have to be flamboyant, just a rapper who identifies as gay- who’s better than everybody”. DMC, co-founder of your parents favourite rap group, Run DMC, delivered his own rallying cry to the hip hop community, urging the industry to band together and finally do away with this alienating behaviour which is tarnishing the image of the genre itself.
So where do we go from here? How far away are we from seeing openly accepting rappers and a plethora of openly homosexual personalities in the industry? Until the culture is changed completely from the ground up it may be several years until we can see an abundance of acceptance and change throughout. Education appears to be the key; as long as this new generation can preach a mindset and establish a culture that is based upon a foundation of acceptance, we are on the right track. The work of many budding artists is now an inspirational tool to assist troubled youths and remove them from systems which can do them harm. The younger demographic that is now represented in hip hop, through personas such as Chance the Rapper, represent the majority of younger mindsets; we simply do not care about sexual orientation, or the colour of your skin. We are just here to enjoy the music, and at the end of the day, isn’t that all that matters?