Grandmaster Flash‘s The Message was the first mainstream hip-hop song ever. It marked the genesis of hip-hop’s global domination. It also spoke of a mentally ill, homeless woman who “used to be a fag hag,” and described a victim of prison rape as an “undercover fag.”
DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince went triple platinum with the lyrics, “All the filthy, stinky, nasty people be quiet, all the homeboys that got AIDS be quiet, all the girls out there that don’t like guys be quiet.” Hall of Famer Ice Cube spat the line, “Dumb-ass hooker ain’t nothin’ but a dyke,” in N.W.A‘s Gangsta Gangsta.
Compared to its alumni, 2017’s class of hip-hop is unrecognisably diverse and accepting. Not only are gay slurs increasingly rare in lyrics, but you’ve got openly gay and bisexual rappers and hip-hop affiliates like Syd, Frank Ocean, Angel Haze, Mykki Blanco, Taylor Bennett (Chance the Rapper‘s brother) and Kaytranada. You’ve got Tyler, The Creator – once a pig rolling in the mud of homophobic, violent, pro-rape lyrics – re-appropriating Nazi symbols for anti-homophobia merchandise. You’ve got Aesop Rock donating profits from his North Carolina concert to an LGBT support group. Last year, Vic Mensa released pro-same-sex marriage track Free Love featuring bisexual singer Halsey and gay rapper Le1f. Trap king Young Thug himself is proudly gender fluid, his frilly, powder blue dress making for perhaps the most talked-about album cover of 2016.
On January 20 this year, Drake-affiliated Atlanta rapper ILoveMakonnen came out. The announcement was warmly welcomed with praise and love from hip-hop artists and most of his fans. This came as no surprise. Tolerance is, for the most part, the norm today.
And since y'all love breaking news, here's some old news to break, I'm gay. And now I've told u about my life, maybe u can go life yours❤
— American Makonnen (@iLoveMakonnen5D) January 20, 2017
So when rappers-of-the-moment Migos made homophobic comments against ILoveMakonnen in their new Rolling Stone interview, it actually came as a surprise. Not only did they call him “wack”, they appeared baffled by the support he’d received.
Citing Quavo’s love of diversity in Atlanta, including Young Thug and Lil Yachty, the paragraph from Rolling Stone reads: “And so I’m surprised by Migos’ reaction when I mention iLoveMakonnen, the local MC who just came out as gay on Twitter. “Damn, Makonnen!” Quavo bellows after an awkward interlude. I mention support I saw online for Makonnen’s decision. “They supported him?” Quavo asks, raising an eyebrow. “That’s because the world is fucked up,” says Offset. “This world is not right,” Takeoff says. “We ain’t saying it’s nothing wrong with the gays,” says Quavo. But he suggests that Makonnen’s sexuality undermines his credibility, given the fact that “he first came out talking about trapping and selling Molly, doing all that.” He frowns. “That’s wack, bro.””
Frankly, their argument makes such little sense it’s comical: why would being gay, making trap, and selling Molly be necessarily opposing? For starters, the gay community embraced MDMA decades before it was popularised in hip-hop.
Sure, many have been quick to note that Migos aren’t exactly champions of conscious, thoughtful, socially aware music – and they’d be right. More still noted their devotion to Christianity – also true.
But how is that relevant?
Plenty of their ATL contemporaries, like Thugga and Makonnen himself, are just as, if not more lyrically vapid and trap-centric than Migos. Many of their peers are openly religious too, like Chance the Rapper and Kendrick Lamar. Yet they are not homophobic.
Even reddit’s volatile hip-hop community were quick to note how stupid that comment was with some class satire – and that’s saying something:
It’s unfortunate that Migos are making these comments now, given how brightly the spotlight is shining on them in the wake of Bad and Boujee and new album Culture, which debuted at no. 1 on the Billboard charts. It’s unfortunate that they’re spreading a message of intolerance, but more than that, it’s unfortunate for their career – and this fact alone shows how far hip-hop has come.
That they’ve been slammed for these comments demonstrates an seismic shift toward tolerance and against ignorance. Ten, fifteen years ago, those comments would have been overlooked. (Well, ten years ago they wouldn’t have made those comments, because Makonnen wouldn’t have come out in the first place.)
In full damage control mode, the trio have now denounced their comments, but it’s too late, and their reply doesn’t really address the quote anyway. There’s no reading between the lines of “the world is not right.” The damage is done. When Rich Homie Quan said he “don’t fuck with no fucking faggots,” Young Thug’s response was to simply joke that his career was now over.
There’s only been a handful of instances lately where hip-hop has been this ignorant. Each time has been received with immense backlash, like when Snoop Dogg and Chris Brown ridiculed Caitlyn Jenner, or when Azealia Banks, herself a bisexual rapper, was repeatedly caught out for aggressive homophobia. So while each of these comments are individual disappointments, their consistent damnation signifies huge, positive change.
Obviously this won’t be the end of Migos’ career, but it’ll be very, very surprising – and damaging – if they make homophobic comments again. Hopefully this will encourage them to rethink their values, ingrained as they are, and to make a positive change in their lives.
Hip-hop still has a long way to go, but incidents like these remind us that we’re getting there.
Image: Theo Wenner