Hip hop has room to grow regarding homophobiaBy Nathan Campbell | 01/30/2018 12:21am
Offset, a member of the rap group Migos, was recently embroiled in controversy over a line in his feature on YFN Lucci’s “Boss Life.” On the track, Offset raps the lines “60K solitaire / I do not vibe with queers / I got the heart of a bear / I bust ‘em down by the pair.” Offset attempted to explain that the usage of “queer” was not meant to be derogatory, that he was using the word in the traditional sense to mean “strange” or “odd.” No matter if you believe his explanation, this unfortunate event is another flare-up of hip-hop’s persistent homophobia and reopens the conversation yet again.
Homophobia has a long history in hip-hop and has been perpetrated by virtually every titan of the industry. A Tribe Called Quest, usually seen as a progressive and political rap collective, wrote one of the most vile, anti-gay songs with “Georgie Porgie.” Eminem, the same Eminem who recently and prolifically criticized President Trump for his discriminatory policies, rapped the lines "My words are like a dagger with a jagged edge / That'll stab you in the head, whether you're a fag or lez [...] Hate fags? The answer's 'yes'" in his song “Criminal.” Other offenders include 50 Cent, Public Enemy, and Jay-Z.
While hip-hop’s history has been riddled with such homophobic instances, the outright homophobia that characterized the eras of A Tribe Called Quest, Eminem and 50 Cent is fading away. The slurs are becoming less and less common. Toxic masculinity has lessened, as rappers feel more free to wear styles that are more vibrant and flamboyant. In recent years, more and more hip-hop artists have publicly come out, including Frank Ocean, Kaytranada, and Young M.A.
Yet despite the surface improvements, there are still underlying homophobic tendencies within the hip-hop community. Traditionally, hip-hop has been predicated on being "masculine." You have to be tough. You have to talk about your sexual exploits with women. You have to dress like a man, nothing too flamboyant or feminine. When a rapper lets this facade slip, little hesitation is given to throwing out “gay” as a slur. Those in the hip-hop community used to ridicule Kanye West for simply wearing a pink Polo shirt. All it took was a pink shirt.
As hip-hop has grown in popularity, its corresponding culture has grown to encompass a larger and more diverse group of artists, producers and fans. This inclusion has caused some of the community’s members, both old and new, to confront internal attitudes that they have not had to confront before. While their response today may not be an outright slur, it could instead be in the form of exclusion of people they do not understand.
In a 2014 interview, T-Pain discussed the impact of homophobia on artists like Frank Ocean: "I don't think urban music is getting more gay-friendly. If that was the case, Frank Ocean would be on a lot more songs. I know [artists] that will not do a song with Frank Ocean just because he's gay.”
The hip-hop community continues to grapple with its attitudes toward the LGBT+ community. There has been speculation about Young Thug’s sexuality for years, with the debate centering solely on his flamboyant and eccentric style. Because rappers such as Young Thug, Lil Yachty and A$AP Rocky do not conform to the standards of heterosexual masculinity, they must be gay–or so the narrative goes. Lesbian rappers such as Young M.A. find it difficult to attain the same opportunities as their peers, despie hits such as “OOOUUU.”
This discomfort around LGBT+ individuals is the same problem other sectors of society are grappling with. The increasing (and rightful) acceptance of people, no matter their gender, sexual orientation, or race, has forced some Americans to confront ingrained beliefs about sexuality, gender and masculinity. Sometimes the conversation is positive. Sometimes it is not.
While hip-hop culture has improved its attitudes toward homophobia, there remains room for improvement. However, it is easy to convince a rapper to not use “queer” in a derogatory way. It is much harder to convince that rapper, who has been trained to express masculinity at all times, that a gay producer is not a threat to him and his worldview.
In researching this column, I came upon an interview Kanye West did with Sway Calloway and MTV News. He discussed how he was afraid to show femininity or weakness, for threat of his reputation being tarnished with the label “gay.” He said that this fear made him homophobic, made him hate what he saw a threat. But what really stood out to me was one particular line: "Hip-hop really is about fighting for your rights, in the beginning, and speaking your mind and about breaking down barriers.” Homophobia still remains a barrier to break down.
Nathan Campbell is a senior majoring in environmental engineering. His column runs biweekly.