How would you feel if your favorite artist came out of the closet? Would you give a shit? Why? Does it have anything to do with the music you’ve come to enjoy from them?
How about if one of your favorite rappers came out against gays? Would you defend their homophobia? Why? Would you be defending your own beliefs, attacking those of others that are different from you, or both?
Homophobia is rabid in the hip-hop community, Kanye West and A$AP Rocky, notwithstanding. Lord Jamar is its newest outspoken proponent, but his bandmate Sadat X said he’d shoot a faggot in his back in 1992, although he never said why. Well, he sort of did: “I don’t understand their ways, I ain’t down with the gays.” Compassion must not have been his thing.
Fashion has been the tipping point for the recent debate, particularly ‘Ye’s penchant for pastels, then tight jeans and now skirts. Lately, much has been made of bubbling Atlanta rapper Young Thug’s eccentric fashion style and his Instagram captions calling friends “love,” “babe,” and other non-heteronormative terms. The reactions to his captions (how pathetic is it that people are reacting to the social media captions of a rapper in 2014?) are problematic for multiple reasons: Not only are people showing how disgusting, close-minded, privileged and oppressive they can be when talking about homosexuals (we don’t even know if he’s homosexual!), but most aren’t even focused on his music. It’s frightening to think what has priority in rap conversations today: Not rap music, but the image of those that make it.
Homophobia and the possibility of a rapper being gay is a very real thing in the hip-hop community (see: Williams, Wendy), but many seem to want to ignore the issue as if it’s PC to downplay that conversation. That kind of attitude only reenforces the stigma surrounding homosexuality in hip-hop. Football and basketball locker rooms are becoming safer by the day for out athletes. Rap, however, seems to still ooze machismo like its a champagne flute runneth over.
Ignoring the problem of bias against gays in the hip-hop community will not make that problem go away, much as those insulated on the internet would like to think. Gay artists are ostracized and ridiculed by many, whether or not they’re directly confronted with it. Malcolm X said he’d rather deal with the lion than the fox (hence why he met with KKK leaders at one point): at least the lion was upfront and honest. We should be having bigger, more inclusive discussions involving artists like Mikkey Blanco and Le1f who know the true extent of homophobia in hip-hop. Of course, theirs is a bitter knowledge—regardless of their music, they’re seen as “other” and kept at bay by hip-hop at large.
I worked at a rap label the summer Frank Ocean made public his first homosexual experience on Tumblr. When he released “Sweet Life” shortly after, certain staff members were up in arms. They thought Frank announcing he was gay (which he didn’t quite do) and then dropping a song called “Sweet Life” was rubbing it in people’s faces. In short, they didn’t fuck with it at all. He was dismissed as a “faggot” and that was the end of it. The music didn’t matter.
No one seems to be able to articulate why gay rappers are a problem, either. Lord Jamar, the self-proclaimed “hip-hop conservative,” wants to preserve the tradition of strict masculinity, even though being a “man” doesn’t mean shit except having a penis. When most of us talk about “men” and “women,” we’re talking about gender, which is our perception of both biological sexes. What happens if you’re born as a woman but identify as a “man” your whole life? Society tells us that men are brave, logical, strong, and all that other bullshit, while women cook, clean, take care of the kids, act dainty, and are overly emotional. Who continues to impose these strict definitions of what men and women are supposed to be?
Some time ago,rap upstart Kevin Gates was filmed at a concert yelling “I’m ‘bout dick too” at the end of a song he was performing. The footage spread across the internet, leading many to believe he was professing his homosexuality. I asked Gates about this, and his response included an explanation of the slang he uses amongst friends in Baton Rouge, Louisiana: “We call each other ‘bitch.’ That’s just part of the culture…[We call each other] ‘love.’ But it’s misinterpreted. Most individuals are sheltered.”
I pray that Young Thug blows up because I love his music, and if he is gay (which he says he isn’t), I pray he’s open about it. It’s not about a marketing stunt. The people who hold their own grudges about gays in hip-hop need a wake-up call, because honesty is needed more than ever in a buddy-buddy industry. It’s no affront to your own sexual security if you like an artist’s music, and that artist also happens to be gay. As your mother might have told you, It’s going to be okay. Have some milk and cookies and sit the fuck down because the sound of you pounding away furiously on your keyboard will be drowned out by Young Thug’s music on the radio.
The country at large is slowly realizing that—gasp!—gays are equivalent to straights and therefore should be able to marry, too. If backwards-ass (Middle) America can begin to understand gay/straight equality, why can’t hip-hop progressives realize that, too? Perhaps because we aren’t talking about it enough.