Is Homophobia Dying in Hip Hop?
There once was a time in music where songs were written by the prospective of a heterosexual person who was writing for “everyone” to relate to, and what was interesting about this was that not everyone is a heterosexual human being. There once was a time where we just assumed all musicians that made music were straight and love the opposite sex, because we assume their sexuality by the content of their lyrics, by how they dress and who they hang around, not knowing that many artists in the future would come out in their true form eventually. Welcome to today’s music generation; a generation which is now much more open about their thoughts and inner feelings, a generation that dares to explore such the wonderful and creative world of art, a generation of controversy.
Over the decades of pop music since the ’50s, without a doubt we have seen the world evolve from music to technology and even society. As one thing evolves, another thing develops along with it. It was a rare thing for music to be so controversial as it is now as many things that could be said back then would be regarded as “illegal”, illegal to speak freely to the public how you want. Over the years we’ve heard music that has dared to challenge the music world from artists such as John Lennon who spoke out about peace and the government and at the time it was considered as something that crossed the line. More years going by and we see more and more artists emerge into the industry challenging the whole industry and take music to different directions, breaking rules. Rules were not being followed as musicians felt to freely create music how they want and tell the people what the artist wants. We went from singing romantic love songs from from Smokey Robinson and Marvin Gaye to singing songs with blunt lyrics such as “I wanna fuck you” and “beat that pussy up”, a controversial and daring move. Hip Hop is no stranger to controversy and is constantly living and providing the world with raw material that can shock people. The introduction of N.W.A. who are respectably labelled as the pioneers of gangsta-rap music in the late ’80s who spoke out about the everyday life and challenges of the city of Compton, California, who produced tonnes of provocative music targeting the police and speaking of the harsh reality in the streets. Since then, Hip Hop has been different and run by macho-heterosexual (or so they say) dominant males in the form of thugs and gangsters who claim they truly don’t give a fuck, but quick to call out another man who doesn’t care about anything either by labelling him as a “bitch”, “pussy” and quite commonly a “faggot”.
There is no denial that in Hip Hop, the term “faggot” has been thrown and used all over the place to describe another man and how he is, even if he’s not a homosexual male himself, whether it is used in music or out in the open world in our conversations. To be called “gay” or a “faggot” by another person was the worst thing a man could be called. It’s a way of saying you are the softest of all kinds of soft things in existence. Whether homosexual or heterosexual, it was surely something that was used to offend another human being. The term has been used to describe many things such as fashion, the way one acts, one’s music. A label placed on a person because he is not “hard” enough, or tough enough to take something or portray himself like the stereotypical manly male. However, there have been use of the words and phrases which some claim are not shots towards homosexual males and females or makes them a homophobic person.
In 2011, Californian rapper and front man of the Hip Hop collective Odd Future, Tyler, The Creator broke out into the mainstream with the first single Yonkers taken from his second album entitled Goblin. The song created controversy after mentions of the F-word was present. The song, or the band in general then became a target by the LGBT movement who labelled Tyler a “homophobic”. Fans of the musicians would probably understand what he means when he says “I’m not homophobic,” and still mentions the F-word as it is said as in the same way as the derogatory N-word; both words being said but they don’t use the original literal meaning when used in certain context.
2011 also saw the controversial self-proclaimed most prolific rapper in history, Lil B, who made this announcement at Coachella in the video below,
The announcement of his mixtape which he named I’m Gay (I’m Happy). The project, due of it’s name, received mixed reactions by many fans of The Based God as well as the rest of the hip hop community, especially those that are not fans of his music who “judged a book by it’s cover”. This comes from a rapper who constantly calls himself a “Pretty Bitch” with lyrics such as “Damn, I’m a princess”. Although the reaction in the video above sounded positive, the reaction on social-media sites showed opposite responses and honest thoughts of people who attacked not only him but others, particularly homosexual males. Lil B, often called The Based God, even mentioned that he loves women but he named the album I’m Gay as words do not mean anything. So if the words didn’t mean anything, why was there such a major uproar amongst music fans? This highlighted the homophobia within the Hip Hop community and the rapper did not back down on his pro-gay views and support. Rappers do not often talk about the subject of homosexuality publicly and those that do are considered suspicious or plain-right gay.
Hip Hop is known for the commonly used phrases “pause” and no homo” which are used to defend someone from something which may seem a tad bit questionable in terms of their sexuality. An example of the phrase put to use:
"You’ve got grass stains on your back pocket.. No homo!"
"I want some of that chocolate, bro!" "Pause!"
"Give me a hug, fam! Wait, pause!"
"That’ guy’s outfit looks nice, no homo!"
The phrase has become a little craze of a phrase which many people feel they have to say in order to signify to another person that they are not a homosexual. The question I want to raise is that if you’re around a group of friends who you are comfortable around, that know you so well, must you have to say the phrase so often for people to know that you’re not gay? It is a sign of insecurity, no matter what anyone else thinks of it. If you are comfortable with yourself, you don’t need to say it. If someone takes it the wrong way, then it’s them that makes the assumption and feels uncomfortable with what they thought. Many lines within rap music have been said before this “pause” and “no homo” phrases and have been seen by many fans as gay. Three years ago Complex compiled The 69 Most Pause-Worthy Lyrics in Hip Hop, which noted lyrics which seem questionable to many people and released within a rather homophobic period within Hip Hop. Not saying Complex are homophobic at all but it wouldn’t make a gay artist or fan even comfortable within the community.
Homosexuality may be more accepted if a female came out as a lesbian or a bisexual. Odd Future’s Syd Tha Kyd, who’s a part of the group’s duo with Matt Martians called The Internet. It was known that the singer was a female that likes other females and she decided to come out through her debut music video Cocaine (above), which saw her kiss her female companion and since then has received praises for her brave movement.
However, fellow friend of Odd Future, Frank Ocean has since dared to push boundaries and talk of subjects since the release of his mixtape Nostalgic, Ultra, which gave fans the song We All Try (above) in where he sung the pro-gay line "I believe that marriage isn’t between a man and woman, but between love and love". Since the release of this mixtape, many have speculated that the singer is gay, although nothing was mentioned of his sexuality. Ocean has gone on to release many more songs and produced more songs as both a singer and as a rapper with an incredible hand for writing. The world then heard Forrest Gump which featured on his debut album Channel Orange. The lyrics have had many people confused about who this was for and who’s prospective was we listening to. Was this a man singing about a man, or was this a man singing in character as a woman who’s talking about a man? When the review was done on his debut album, it didn’t take long for a “journalist” to break out the news publicly of what the LP would contain, lyrically, thus causing the internet to go crazy and focus turn to Frank Ocean. A day later, new broke out by the artist himself who admits that he fell in love with another male, with him being his first true love.
As always with people of status coming out, it would cause a controversy and also separate music lovers. The day Ocean revealed his sexual experience with a male was the day he saw who his real fans were. Not only that, but a big day for the gay community as a young black male opened up to something he has done with a male, which then made more sense with some of his songs such as Bad Religion and Forrest Gump. The artist received many praises from figures such as 50 Cent, Russell Simmons, Adele, Red Hot Chili Peppers and even Tyler, The Creator and the rest of OFWGKTA who were proud of his honestly in his open letter. Being a member of the controversial Californian collective, many expected that the band would drop him from the group, but in actual fact, they knew of his sexuality for a long time. Now going back to Tyler, The Creator, who is knwon for the use of the F-word. We go back to what he says about him not being a homophobic and that it doesn’t mean anything to him. The irony is that he and Odd Future do have homosexual fans that understand him and still love him for him and his honesty. Are his fans offended by the word or the context? The same goes for rappers who use the N-word; are fans offended by what is said or what is meant?
Meanwhile, while this is all happening, there has been some attention on the gay Hip Hop scene, which may not be known to many people. Dubbed “Queer Rap”, the scene is known for openly gay Hip Hop artists who are not afraid to be themselves and want to be treated equally by being heard and judged for their talents rather than their sexuality. Rappers Mykki Blanco, Zebra Katz and Le1t are male rappers amongst the many who are comfortable with their sexuality and have been filling floors and venues with their songs which celebrates homosexuality. Recently, we’ve seen Zebra Katz receive great response to his minimalistic banger Ima Read featuring Njena Reddd Foxxx (above) and being appreciated even by straight fans of rap music. Most people would expect an openly gay artist to produce corny songs talking about same-sex encounters and appear stereotypically camp in their music videos, when that’s not even the case at all. Who says that’s what they do? Not all straight artists constantly go on about the things they want to do to the opposite sex either, so..? Songs such as Ima Read show that there is nothing wrong with gay people making music under rap/hip hop, afterall, the hip hop culture was once a culture of love, peace and unity which has turned to a controversially disturbing (at times) scene, movement, genre. Is there a place “queer rap” in hip hop? Yes, it’s even got a marketable space in the mainstream also. The sub-genre (should we say) has been played, acknowledged and respected by many people in the industry such as Azealia Banks, ?uestlove, Rick Owens and many more, with many people, particularly straight artists who call themselves “pretty”. Could this recent year she a change in hip hop culture and it’s attitude in homosexuality and homophobia? Jay-Z, T.I., Kendrick Lamar, A$AP Rocky, Kanye West, Odd Future, Snoop Lion (formally Snoop Dogg) would all agree and say there’s no point on hating others for their sexuality as everyone wants to be happy. Why should what one likes bother you so much? Who cares?
I round this up with a number of links below for you to read on more about homosexuality within the hip hop culture. We’re all the same regardless of our social classes, financial positions, race, shape, size, ability, religion, beliefs and sexuality. Nobody should have more or less rights because of a difference and if one does, then it’s show that people do not believe in equality. Everyday we walk past strangers, we sit next to strangers, we even talk to strangers and get to know them and when we do, do we care so much about their sexuality when we engage in conversations with them where we ask a few conversation and get to know them? No. Sexuality shouldn’t even be a thing where people should be put in a box and labelled as we’re all human with the right to go for whoever we like no matter what. Homosexuality has and can be dated from back into the days of the ancient Greeks and Romans and even before them in some holy books. To cast someone out for their difference is a disgraceful action to go with. We constantly talk about freedom and peace, yet we talk with mouths that talk of hate and violence towards another and contradict ourselves. If you are comfortable with yourself, that’s all that matters. Nobody can tell you different about yourself especially if these words are coming from a stranger. To answer my question “Is homophobia dying in hip hop?” Homosexuality is being more accepted than it was before and veterans of the music scene have even said they have matured from their homophobic ways and realised the hate was pointless. In today’s society where Obama is pro-gay, Jay-Z supports same-sex relationships, the new Spider-Man who is half Black and half Latino is gay and a good number of fashion designers are gay and proud, I really hope that it is. People have to grow up and move away from the hate and remember that hate can be taught and programmed into a person. If you don’t have a personal problem with someone or something, why are you hating for?
- Mars DiCapo of DEADFREAKS.
More things to read/watch on the topic:
Pitchfork: We Invented Swag
Brisbane Times: The Changing Faces of Homophobia in Hip Hop
Calgary Herald: Hip Hop Hits ‘Pause’ on Homophobia
Gay Times: Homophobia in Hip Hop
Playground Mag: Is Hip Hop Ready To Overcome Homophobia?