Hip-Hop & Homophobia: Making Progress, Needing Change

Progress is being made, but we don’t have time for progress - only change. Instant, all-encompassing change.
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I am amazed we still use the lifestyle choices of a large number of the world’s population as an insult towards another’s strength, courage, individuality or overall disposition. I am further amazed that the hip-hop culture - founded on individuality and skills alone - would chose to carry itself as close-minded, intolerant and exclusive towards any group of peaceful persons.

There is a difference between hate speech and anger speech.

When I was growing up - Boston, mid-to-late 80s - there was no sexual connotation with calling someone a “faggot” as an insult; we didn’t even know what “gay” meant. It’s just what we did. Same with the word “bitch” and the ilk - we had no connection towards women’s suffrage or human rights in general - they were insults for sure, but not intentional hate speech.

When self-proclaimed “rock star” Lil Uzi Vert ran into new rival Reese LaFlare at the Day N Night Festival in Irvine, CA two weeks ago, he attempted to break free of security in order to “punch on” LaFlare for disparaging remarks LaFlare made about Uzi’s (lack of) originality. During the skirmish, an incensed Uzi called LaFlare a “faggot” several times before the video cut out. Most likely out of anger and not true hate speech, the episode was still not a good look for one of hip-hop’s newest and most eccentric talents.

Conversely, during a March 2015 interview with The Breakfast Club, legendary record exec Damon Dash said the word “pause” a countless number of times. The fact “pause” - an absolutely ridiculous idea of reaffirming one’s heterosexuality by ‘pausing’ anything which might inadvertently have a gay connotation - is still being said in all seriousness is equal parts uncomfortable and hilarious.

That’s something I never understood about hate speech, specifically homophobia: it’s not wrong to be homosexual. In fact, I would posit that most, if not all homosexuals love who they are. In fact, the only shame anyone feels about their particular lifestyle is a shame set on by society and outside forces, not from an internal Dame Dash-looking conscience.

With that understood, I still cannot grasp calling someone a name which has no negative implications. Of course, insults and words, in general, are only as powerful as the listener allows, but still: how is the consensual sexual attraction between adults wrong - nay, shameful?

If I were gay and someone called me gay, it would be accurate. If I were not gay and someone called me gay, it would be inaccurate. Now we “pause” our thoughts mid-speech to ensure we don’t sound gay? What does gay even sound like? Who the fuck even cares?

In a 2011 interview with Complex, Harlem's own A$AP Rocky said the following statement in response to homophobia in hip-hop:

“I used to be fucking homophobic. That shit is ignorant. You will lose a lot of time and friendship being homophobic. That’s being racist but in a sexual way. It’s like being sexually racist.”

It's rather amazing that in late 2011, Rocky finally stumbled upon this truth, as if the answer should have been anything different. During the very same year, used-to-be-great-rapper-turned-actor Common literally declared he would no longer include hateful, pretty disgusting lyrics in his raps any longer. While personal progress and growth are always welcome, please remember that Common dropped his very first solo album nearly twenty years earlier, with Can I Borrow A Dollar? in 1992. The decent-but-forgettable debut contained the song “Heidi Hoe” with the line “Homo's a no-no / So faggots stay solo.”

In 2000, Common—then-still a great rapper with cool musician friends—made the classic Like Water For Chocolate, truly one of the best albums of an already stacked year for hip-hop. With cover art which depicted recent American racism and themes of introspection and consciousness, it’s super-curious to me why Common decided to muck up the entire album with lyrics like:

“Niggas hate you / They ain't paying you no attention / In a circle of faggots, your name is mentioned”  - "Dooinit”

“It's rumors of gay MC’s / Just don't come around me with it” - “Nag Champa” (nearly ruining one of Dilla’s most beautiful productions ever)

Is the misunderstanding of human sexuality so deeply rooted that Common, who attended Florida A&M for two years before signing his first record deal, actually thought “gay MC’s” would automatically be attracted to him? Why do we continue to treat minorities as uncontrollable animals? Do “gay people” insult one another by claiming their adversaries are “straight”? Why is “homosexuality” equated with weakness, and why is that disassociation different than any number of misinformed examples of stereotyping across the history of humanity?

And what is a “gay” anything? Previously discussed last summer during my interview with Baltimore-based hip-hop podcast Channel 10, I don’t believe in “gay rights” nor “women’s rights” nor “civil rights” - there are undeniable, unassailable human rights. That’s it. There’s no such thing as a “gay athlete” just as there’s no such thing as a “gay emcee” - just an emcee. Who he or she has sex with has little-to-no bearing on their skills within whatever industry they’re known for.

It’s mind-boggling to me - literally looney tunes - that groups of people care about what other groups of people do behind closed doors. Looney fucking tunes.

Despite our recent disagreements, my surrogate father Lil B—himself a major public proponent for equality and kindness—let me down on several occasions, when he dropped the “persona” and unleashed several diss tracks which were scathing for their subjects but filled with ugly hate speech just the same.

In 2010, Lil B replied to disrespect from Joe Budden with his ether track “T-Shirt and Buddens,” which contained several hilarious lines interspersed with a slew of regrettable word choices:

“No pussy over there / ‘Pump It Up’ / You're a queer”

“You're a nasty old man / Probably getting butt-fucked / You run around Karate Kid / Where's your fucking nunchucks?”

“You mad I'm a pretty bitch / You mad you a gay bitch / You don't have no fucking niche / Surprised you still got fans / Act like a grown man / ‘Mood Muzik’ go cry / Joe Budden don't cry / ‘Cause you’re a little fag boy”

A constant conflation of internet personality, soothsayer and cultural icon, Lil B released his very best, most cohesive work to date literally one year later - entitled I’m Gay.

“I feel like I'm a man of the people: meeting people, respecting people and accepting people. I hope that I can turn some of my fans that might be homophobic or supporters that might be homophobic and say, ‘You know what, we're all one people. This is love.’ It's just respect, and I did that to bring people together and bring more love and to spark the minds of people and not let words and judgments and stereotypes stop you from loving." - Lil B, May 2011

The following year saw another ether diss from Lil B, entitled “I Own Swag” - this time at the expense of David Banner. Another absolutely hilarious diss track, Lil B proclaims “no homo, bitch” before yelling “faggot” several times during the bizarre outro.

Two years later, Lil B released one of his most poignant songs - certainly a personal favorite - of the year in “No Black Person Is Ugly.” It's a beautiful, sobering rally cry that was released during an especially tense summer of police brutality. Why does an artist as irreverent, revered and visionary as Lil B feel the need to call people “faggots” when he ‘raps for real’?

Now, obviously, Lil B says a bunch of dumb shit. He also utters a lot of brilliance and is chiefly responsible for the newest generation of rappers and their success - comfortable being themselves without conforming to the stereotype of a race, gender, industry or culture. It’s telling and embarrassing how deep-seeded hate language and sexuality shaming is in our alleged modern, progressive civil society.

As most roads currently lead to, we arrive at the feet of Young “Jeffery” Thug: music’s current weirdo emcee, misunderstood and too complex to pigeonhole. Riding mediocre off his own most cohesive project to dateJEFFERY, Thugger has consistently been discussed among hip-hop fans everywhere, and seemingly all for the wrong reasons. Instead of championing his fearless persona, his fashion is derided. Rather than celebrate his incredible work ethic and output, his vocabulary is dissected. And instead of enjoying what seems to be a singular, completely original and almost entirely enjoyable artist completely in his element, questions of his sexuality follow him like a shadow.

I’m amazed at the amount of high-quality artists lining up to work with Thugger, desperate to become ensconced in his infectious energy and singular musicality. In the last two years alone, he's appeared on the GRAMMY-nominated In Colour from Jamie xx, The Life of Pablo from Kanye West and Chance The Rapper's Coloring Book, among dozens of other guest features and solo releases. Some of today’s most celebrated artists are in awe of this man’s energy - why are fans concerned about whatever sexuality he was born with?

Unable to simply shake off the rumors, Thugger addressed his questioned sexuality in his 2016 track “Serious”:

“I dress like a prince, not a fag, mothafucka / Leave a nigga dead / Fuck a sad mothafucka / Fuck her, pay / Get that shit out my face / Take over these streets like a parade / And drinking gin and juice / Booling in these shades / No, I'm not gay”

It’s confusing, illuminating, nauseating and annoying that a modern society, with all the advantages and finances in history, would waste their collective energies thinking - no, caring - whom another person has sex with. Especially when considering both people are consenting adults enjoying the way they were born in private. It’s just as confusing to hear some of our culture’s forward thinkers, eccentrics, conscience emcee’s and original individuals fall back into a trap of purported masculinity and hyped-up machismo at the expense of their professional adversaries.

I see the progress being made, but we don’t have time for progress - only change. Instant, all-encompassing change.

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By Matteo Urella, a Boston-based writer. Read more of his work at Medium.

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