Lifestyle / Music

You say you want an evolution: Hip Hop Homophobia

By Huntress Thompson

This week, the biggest issue in rap is one overlooked by the community for decades.

Last Wednesday, US President Barack Obama became the most recent, most prominent American politician to speak out in favour of same-sex marriage.

Obama had, for years, described his thoughts around gay marriage as “evolving”, and had been accused of fence-sitting or ambivalence when pressured to take a stand on the issue.

However, he made history as the first US president to endorse same-sex unions by confirming conclusively to ABC News’ Robin Roberts,  “I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.”

In the ABC exclusive, Obama cited his personal experience with gay parents as a turning point.

“You know, Malia and Sasha, they have friends whose parents are same-sex couples. There have been times where Michelle and I have been sitting around the dinner table and we’re talking about their friends and their parents, and Malia and Sasha – it wouldn’t dawn on them that somehow their friends’ parents would be treated differently. It doesn’t make sense to them and, frankly, that’s the kind of thing that prompts a change in perspective.”

His stand has already had a divisive effect on the US president’s support base, with the spotlight landing harshly on those African-American church leaders who are publicly withdrawing their Obama allegiance, and one of his spiritual advisors describing himself as “distraught”.

Regardless of the political context of Obama’s stance, the hip hop community has, in particular, responded with unprecedented support.

At the time of writing, at least 5 major rap figures have spoken out in favour of Obama’s stance on gay marriage.

A longtime friend of the president, new dad Jay-Z spoke almost immediately to CNN on the subject, saying that the US’s resistance to legalise gay marriage is regressive.

“I’ve always thought it as something that was still holding the country back. What people do in their own homes is their business, and you can choose to love whoever you love. That’s their business.

“It’s no different than discriminating against blacks. It’s discrimination plain and simple.”

Jay-Z memorably performed at Barack Obama’s inauguration, and has publicly supported his office despite Obama referring to Jay-Z’s Watch the Throne collaborator Kanye West as “a Jackass”. Twice.

By Thursday last week, the cause had already drawn rapper T.I. to its ranks. Speaking on New York City’s Hot 97 morning radio show, he spoke to the judgements of the heterosexual gay marriage protester.

“To be absolutely honest with you, I don’t care,” Tip said. “I don’t see what the big deal is, and why some people are so against it. Why would you be so against it if it doesn’t affect you, or your lifestyle? You know what I’m saying? I’m not in their world, it doesn’t affect me if they did or didn’t.”

Said Jamaican dancehall rapper Beenie Man in a web video last week, “Let me make this clear and straight: I have nothing against no one, I respect each and every human being, regardless of which race and creed.

“Regardless of which religious beliefs you believe in, and regardless of which sexual preference you have, including gay and lesbian people. I respect all humans.”

Soon afterwards, 50 Cent had some similarly-themed, albeit less stirring sentiments for Vibe Magazine.

“I think everyone should be happy. I think only a fool is really going to go against same sex marriage at this point. I don’t have strong personal feelings towards it because I’m not involved in that lifestyle, but I want people to be happy. It just makes everything better.”

Following on from Fiddy’s lukewarm “Happiness makes things better” warcry, none other than Public Enemy alum and hip hop stalwart Chuck D was prompted to issue a statement.

“I think [President Obama’s] move on gay marriage was inevitable and necessary. It’s not a political move. Eventually, society has to say it right. We can’t deprive someone else of their freedom.”

Public Enemy, the pioneering rap firestarters of the 1980s, are among many hip hop icons who have stood accused of perpetuating a pattern of homophobia in the rap community.

As a socio-political culture of resistance, rap has been described an outpost of homophobia that has ironically gone largely unchallenged in the US mainstream for years (with some exceptions, such as New Orleans’ Sissy Bounce crew and Lil B).

Rappers like Ice Cube, Big Daddy Kane and Eminem (for a start) have dropped rhymes with homophobic sentiment that range from moderate disses, to calls for anti-gay violence.

Eminem, for one, serves as an example of a rapper who has accused other rappers of homosexuality with the intention to insult or belittle, based on (and perpetuating) the social prejudice. This was, of course, before he did that duet with Elton John, so.

The Washington Post’s Clinton Yates has spoken of the rap idiom “No homo” (which swept the genre around 2009), and the social discriminations it speaks to.

A generous take on the situation might be that hip hop’s outlook on gay and lesbian rights is as “evolving” as US president Obama’s himself.

Last year, New York rapper Fat Joe made headlines with his pro-gay sentiments, saying to Vlad TV, “In 2011 you gotta hide that you gay? Be real! ‘Yo, I’m gay. What the fuck!’ If you gay, you gay. That’s your preference. Fuck it if the people don’t like it.”

One of the more hardcore gangsters in the ring, Compton’s The Game also said last year, “I don’t have a problem with gay people. Beyoncé shoulda said, ‘Who should run the world?’ Gays. Because they’re everywhere, and rightly so.”

Last week, responding to criticisms of his older, flagrantly homophobic lyrics, Beenie Man said, “We are human people. This is what we do.

“Do not fight against me for some song that I sang 20 years ago. Now I know that people live in the world that live their life differently from my life. I still have to respect another human. So please, I’m begging you, do not [have] me up for some songs that I wrote. Just love the music and respect the music. And I will love and respect each and every one.”



Huntress Thompson

In the vacuum between dark and light, Siouxsie Sioux and Emmylou Harris, Amelie and Travis Bickle, Huntress Thompson is an idiot lost, and reporting from the field. If you’re after irrational, impassioned rants about cupcakes and Johnny Cash (and you probably aren’t), she’s grumpy, but she’s your girl.


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