Homophobia has polluted hip-hop since the genre’s inception.
From Grandmaster Flash rapping about being an “undercover fag” in The Message, to the Beastie Boys attempting to title their very first album “Don’t Be a Faggot”, the undertone of intolerance towards members of the LGBTQ+ community has long been present. Even in 2017, some still consider it acceptable for notable personas within the industry to bash homosexuality. A passing glance online highlights the uncomfortable ease in which homophobic slurs are exchanged, a feat that would almost definitely not be acceptable if the homophobic terms were substituted for racial ones. The vast influence hip-hop has on fashion, music, politics and even linguistics denotes the implications such an attitude can have over modern day culture.
There have been countless debates regarding the progression of attitudes in hip-hop, many pointing to Kanye West speaking out against homophobia in rap in 2005, A$AP Rocky labelling homophobia in rap as “retarded” (a questionable term to use, but nonetheless a point was made), all the way to hit show “Empire” shining a blinding spotlight on the prejudice and tribulations faced by gay artists in the industry, and the wider black community.
PR damage control or serious change in mindset?
Many also speculate whether some of these objections from artists are their genuine beliefs, or whether artists are using them as PR opportunities/damage control. Who can forget Eminem’s reaction in 2001 to mounting criticism towards his use of derogatory slurs and graphic violent imagery regarding homosexuality? A duet at the Grammy’s with indisputably one of the world’s biggest openly gay stars at the time, Elton John. Furthermore, reactions in recent times to urban music stars coming out highlight the genre has a long way to go. Trolls still spew their ignorant comments regarding artists like Frank Ocean, Kaytranada and Chance The Rapper’s brother, Taylor Bennett. Even Migos’ recent reaction to iLoveMakonnen coming out raised many eyebrows, suggesting iLoveMakonnen’s sexuality was a direct contradiction of him claiming to live the “trap life” (anyone who watched the early seasons of The Wire knows this is definitely not the case).
The Feminine Mystique
However, when looking at female hip-hop artists who identify as LGBTQ+, the ridicule does not seem nearly so fervent in comparison with their male counterparts. Women like Young MA, Syd and newcomer Paloma Finesse have enjoyed notable success over the past few months, which begs the question would their music be nearly so popular if it was a man singing about fellatio instead of a woman crooning about cunnilingus? The air of hyper-masculinity that permeates through hip hop culture has led fear of being perceived as anything other than heterosexual - the frequency in which “no homo” is peppered through everyday conversation highlights the extent of this paranoia. Perhaps it is this irrational fear of emasculation that has resulted in this disparity in attitudes between male and female homosexuality.
Of course, it would be incredibility short-sighted to believe that these women did not face any discrimination for their sexuality. Rapper Angel Haze has spoken candidly about her experiences, with strangers hurling insults and her mother telling her she was going to burn in hell. In addition, it appears that misogyny does not evade some of these female artists. In a discussion regarding OFWGKTA’s misogynistic and homophobic lyrics, Syd’s comments were contentious: "When I first started really fucking with Odd Future heavy, my dad was like, 'Really? They talk about some crazy shit and as a female, you're slapping a lot of women in the face.' I'm like, 'That's what I do. I slap bitches.’"
Somewhere over the rainbow…
"I kinda knew [Frank Ocean was gay], because he likes Pop Tarts without frosting on them, so I knew something was weird. But that's my nigga.” - Tyler the Creator, 2013
There does seem to be an indication that attitudes in hip-hop are changing. Even serial provocateur Chris Brown was quick to criticise those trolling in the comment section underneath a picture of him with Balmain creative director Olivier Rousteing. “RESPECT IS RESPECT” He wrote. “WHO STILL HATES PEOPLE FOR THEIR DIFFERENCES OR PREFERENCES??? Grow up. People are abundantly simple minded.”
Ultimately, there is still a very long way to go. However, as attitudes in wider society are changing, Hip Hop will have to move with the times. As the new pop, a culture which continues to denounce people based on their differences serves to oppose the very foundations which made hip-hop so boundary breaking, iconic and outright rebellious. The double standards between male and female rappers still exist and perhaps are a representation of the double standards which exist between the acceptance of homosexuality between men and women. Only time will tell when hip-hop will change, but hopefully it will be sooner rather than later.