Homophobia in Rap Music
Rap music is a genre that has been widely critiqued since emergence from New York in the late 1970s and the early 1980s for its often violent, misogynistic, and homophobic lyrics. Black culture has traditionally been exceptionally homophobic, and since most schools do not teach students about homosexuality or rap music, this culture of hatred has been slow to change (Chiu 24). Recently, however, with R&B singer Frank Ocean’s revelation of his bisexuality and President Obama’s public support for gay rights, many rappers and prominent figures in the black community have begun to mirror these tones of support. Most rappers who voice support for gay rights list personal (non-sexual) relationships with homosexuals as at least part of the reason for their acceptance. According to Merriam-Webster, homophobia is defined as an irrational fear of sexual or erotic interactions between people of the same gender. Homophobic lyrics are most often used in rap music as a way to attack another man’s masculinity, a behavior key to the macho rap culture. Most rap music is gender phobic rather than homophobic, but most people fail to make this distinction. These gender phobic lyrics refer to a covert form of gender discrimination based primarily upon behavior, which is to say that they enforce the idea of distinct male and female gender roles (Stepens 22). Rappers that appear to be homophobic in their lyrics, yet deny they are homophobic and offer support for gay rights, are able to do so because the goal of their lyrics is to desmasculinze opponents and, thus, argue for their own power.
Homophobia has been prevalent in hip hop since it was first overtly seen on Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message,” through the heyday of “gangsta rap” up through today’s popular songs (Heigl). It was a part of the culture of posturing yourself to seem more manly than your opponents. According to Darryl McDaniels of rap group Run DMC, “You would have had 50 rappers jump on a song, (and) dis the gay people because it’s cool” (Fekadu). McDaniels is speaking to the fact that at this point in hip-hop history, most people would not speak out against homophobia. There was no backlash against homophobic lyrics in songs. Rapper from the group N.W.A., Eazy E, is one person who employed the use of homophobic lyrics in his songs. On Eazy E’s “Nobody Move” he raps about a transsexual, “Put the gat to his legs, all the way up his skirt / because this is one faggot that I had to hurt.” Rappers like Eazy E are who Tim’m West is talking about when he says that “Hip Hop heteros rely heavily on the verbal bashing of fags in order to even exist” (Oware 25). Gangsta rappers like Eazy E need homophobia and gender phobia to promote their personas as the “bad” Stackolee figure. The goal is to be harder, more street, more macho, more amoral, and less gay. Much of today’s rap music continues to rely on the macho appeal of a Stackolee character. This Stackolee persona has been vital to rappers’ success in the rap industry. Macho rapper Big Daddy Kane has his career ruined by rumors speculating that he was HIV positive, which at the time was thought to be a gay disease (Hill 383). Amid the controversy surrounding Big Daddy Kane, members of the LGBTQ community were forced to remain closeted to protect their personal lives, sexual identity, and sexual partners (Hill 384). In the famous beef and public rap battles between Nas and Jay-Z, both rappers used suggested homosexuality of their opponent as a way to attack and embarrass each other, employing phrases such as “Gay-Z” (Hill 388-389). The choice of these rappers to use homosexuality as a way to attack one another speaks to assumed heterosexuality that hip hop thrives on. Any deviance from this assumed norm is used as a way to gain the upper can in a rap battle and demonize their opponents (Hill 388-391). As author and professor William Jelani Cobb points out, homophobic lyrics are “calling your manhood into question…it’s calling you sexuality into question…it’s saying that if you are not this you must therefore be gay…you must be a faggot, you know, you must be a bitch nigga” (Misogyny & Homophobia). Here Cobb directly relates homophobia with gender phobia by comparing and equating the words “faggot” (a homophobic word) and “bitch nigga” (a gender phobic phrase).
Homophobia is related to misogyny in hip hop music. According to Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, men must demean other men by comparing them to women. Dyson says “To assume that he’s less than a man and to assign him the very derogatory terms that one usually associates with woman” is one of the greatest insults in American culture (Misogyny & Homophobia). The point of this is to take away a man’s masculinity and turn him into someone inferior. This language also includes terms like “faggot” and “fairy” that are usually associated with gay people. Homosexuals are also seen as inferior because of their “girlyness” and assumed acceptance to socially aligning themselves with the assumed inferiority of a woman (Stephens 25-26; Clay 356). They are not upholding the masculine gender standard (Stephens 22). Through this analysis, one can see that rap music is, most often, not homophobic, but rather it is gender phobic. It is a type of discrimination that assumes that men and women have certain roles in society, and attacks people who do not conform to these preset ideas of gender (Stephens 22). Eminem defends his use of the word “faggot” saying, “Faggot is like taking away your manhood – you’re a sissy, you’re a coward…It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being a gay person” (Stephens 25-26). In an interview with Anderson Cooper on “60 Minutes”, he further explains how much the word “faggot” was “thrown around,” and how it was just another one of those words that people would use against their opponents during a rap battle.
Gays in the black (and in any other) community often develop a self-hatred known as internalized homophobia that arises from the constant defamation of their being in rap music. They feel like they have to hide their true identities because they fear of no longer having a community to protect them from the outside, racially hostile climate (Chiu 25). Rap artists like Eminem, Tyler, the Creator, Lil Wayne, and DMX hold some responsibility for the climate of gays feeling closeted. So-called homophobic rappers like Eminem and Tyler, the Creator feature lyrics in their songs that seem to promote violence towards homosexuals. In Tyler, the Creator’s “Yonkers” he says, “I’ll crash that fuckin’ airplane that that faggot nigga Bob (B.o.B.) is in / and stab Bruno Mars in his goddamn esophagus.” Tyler is seemingly promising to cause harm to a homosexual. In Eminem’s “Cleanin’ Out My Closet” he raps, “My faggot father must’ve had his panties up in a bunch / ‘Cause he split.” He uses a derogatory term usually aimed at homosexuals to describe his father, in order to take his father’s masculinity away and show that his father is worthless. Close readings of these songs as a part of hip hop as a whole shows that these rappers are actually more gender phobic than homophobic. Whether or not Tyler, the Creator actually thinks that rapper B.o.B. is gay, and if he hates/fears him because of it, is irrelevant to the gender roles in their subtext. He does, however, believe that B.o.B is soft, and he attacks his sexuality as a way to demasculinize him. By comparing him to a homosexual he puts B.o.B. in a position of inferiority. Eminem’s lyrics are a representation of the hyper-masculine culture in hip hop, rather than a cry for the hatred of homosexuals. The connotation of these kinds of hyper-masculine lyrics can more easily be seen in Lil Wayne’s “John” and DMX’s “Party Up (Up in Here).” In “John,” Lil Wayne says “Pussy niggas sweet, you niggas CinnaBon…Bitch ass nigga, pussy ass nigga.” By calling his foes sweet he is implying that they are soft, which can be seen as an implementation of gender phobic language used to demean someone’s manhood. He also uses terms that are usually associated with women, such as pussy and bitch to demasculinize others. The pairing of homophobic and misogynistic language together shows us that these lyrics are actually neither one nor the other; they are actually gender phobic. Many rappers assume that being soft is associated with women or men who act as women. In DMX’s “Party Up” he raps, “Ya’ll niggas remind me strip club / cuz everytime I come around it’s like what / I just gotta get my dick sucked.” DMX compares his opponents to strippers (assumed to be women) and at the same time renders them homosexual because they are men. He is asserting his own masculinity over these other rappers by implying their compliance in a submissive sexual act. He is therefore asserting his sexual and overall dominance over them. Furthermore, he is covering up his own insecurities about his masculinity through the use of gender phobia (Misogyny & Homophobia). Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner shows an example of using sexual power as a form of dominance when villain character Assef rapes Amir’s (the protagonist) friend Hassan, as a punishment (Hosseini 66). Before raping Hassan, Assef compares him to a “disrespectful donkey” in order to dehumanize him (Hosseini 66). Rappers are employing the same psychology in their lyrics when they use homophobic language. They want to make their real or imagined opponents seem as inhumane as possible.
Another way rappers use homophobic lyrics is actually in the conquest of women. Rappers target gender phobic lyrics at lesbians, and show them being dominated by men both individually and in group sexual gang bangs. In “Rack City Remix,” Young Jeezy raps,
I got my other broad talking to my other broad/while I’m in the back talking to my other broad./Okay, look like we got a foursome/Three bitches in my bed ‘bout 4-somethin’
This quotation shows Young Jeezy conquering the celebrated feat of having sex with multiple women at the same time. Lil Wayne carries this scenario further, when he even suggests that the women he will sleep with are not just ‘down’ for sexual experimentation, but they are, in fact, lesbians, when he raps, “She said she could fuck me right / I made her fuck her friend / she said don’t call her a dyke / but that’s gay.” Lil Wayne is arguing that he is so skilled in the bed that he was able to have a threesome with two lesbians. This feat is highly regarded feat of masculinity in the gender phobic hip hop community, once again mirroring Stackolee (Oware 25-26). Dr. Michael Eric Dyson provides support for this claim saying, “Lesbian sexuality can in some cases be tolerated, even encouraged, because it can be subordinated to the heterosexual male erotic economy: two for the price of one” (Dyson, Hurt 368). Dyson agrees that lesbianism is only tolerated in hip hop because it allows male rappers another way to express their ever-present hyper-masculinity. Jae Millz provides another take on gang bang in “Poke Her Face” when he raps, “And she did all us / on the tour bus.” Jae Millz is providing an example of homoeroticism in rap music. Dyson provides insight once again by explaining how the exposure to and excitement gained from the presence of other men during a sexual episode can be seen as homoerotic and highly masculine at the same time (Out of the Closet: Homopobia and homoeroticism in hip hop).
As this essay has shown so far, most rappers are not actually homophobic, despite their use of many homophobic terms in their raps. They are really just trying to demasculinize real or imaginary opponents to make demonstrate their own toughness. It becomes apparent that raps cannot always be taken at face value when so many rappers, including Jay-Z, Eminem, Tyler, the Creator, Lil B, Kanye West, The Game, and Fat Joe, have all spoken out in support of gay rights, and denounced any of their own seemingly homophobic lyrics (Macpherson; Lee; Francois; Fekada). Most of these rappers point to personal experiences with gay people as their reason for changing their minds and speaking out against homophobia. Kanye West started to show support in 2005 after he found out that a close member of his family was gay (Francois). In this video he speaks to the talent of some of the gay people he has come to know.
Fat Joe finds it incredible that people still remain closeted in 2012, and believes that gay people in the business should come out (Lee). Jay-Z and A$AP Rocky speak out to how homophobia can only hold you back. Jay-Z says, “I always thought it was holding this country back. What people do in their own homes is their business. It’s no different than discriminating against black. It’s discrimination. Plain and simple” (Francois). Similarly, A$AP Rocky has said, “But I can still be inspired by a homosexual…If I start discriminating against people, that will stop me as a person. That’s ignorant. What…does that have to do with anything?” (Francois). A$AP Rocky further went on to describe that he used to be homophobic before he looked in the mirror and realized that all the brands he was wearing were designed by gay people (Lee). A$AP Rocky, like Kanye West, demonstrates that a personal connection and interactions made with gay people changed his mind on the matter. President Obama’s stance on gay marriage has undoubtedly had an impact on the world of hip hop as well. Jay Z, an Obama supporter, began to speak out against homophobia, on a larger scale, after Obama voiced his support for gay marriage (source). Much criticized rapper Tyler, the Creator even voiced support for Frank Ocean when the R&B singer “came out” on his tumblr page saying, “My Big Brother Finally Fucking Did That. Proud Of That Nigga Cause I Know That Shit Is Difficult Or Whatever” (source). It is clear from these various quotations that no matter how homophobic or un-homophobic rappers’ lyrics may be, the majority of them do not actually hate or fear gay people.
Some rappers such as Macklemore and Murs have gone so far as to support gay rights in their actual lyrics and videos. In Macklemore’s song “Same Love” he raps, “If I was gay, I would think hip hop hates me” and “gay is synonymous with the lesser.” Macklemore touches on the fact that rap music uses the supposed inferiority of homosexuals to dis other people.
He goes explain stereotypes that help us box in homosexuals, and he makes a statement that these people are who they are. The chorus says that “I can’t change, even if I wanted to,” showing Macklemore’s support for LGBTQ rights. Murs’ recently released a video for his song “Animal Style,” in which he kisses another man (Dean). Although Murs is not gay himself, he says that he wanted to make a song for his gay friends and other peers who were struggling being closeted (Dean). Murs hopes that with rappers like Jay-Z, Frank Ocean and himself “homophobia in hip-hop will disappear” (Dean).
Although the world of hip hop and rap music is still a hostile one for members of the LGBTQ, there appears to be a gay hip hop movement in the making. Snoop Dogg expressed this change when he said, “When I was growing up you could never do that and announce that” (on newly outed R&B singer Frank Ocean) “There would be so much scrutiny and hate and negativity, and no one would step (forward) to support you because that’s what we were brainwashed to know” (Fekadu). This “brainwashing” is the idea put into young peoples’ heads that they must be hardcore and demasculize others, as a means of retaining and exaggerating their own masculinity. Most rappers seem to be at least subconsciously aware that their seemingly homophobic lyrics are actually gender phobic, because they are starting to speak out against homophobia. Seasoned rapper Brother Ali even went as far as to disparage his lyrics from earlier albums, explaining on his blog that his views on homosexuality have changed over the years from interactions with openly gay people (Newman). There is no doubt that as American culture’s views on homophobia are beginning to change, so too is hip hop shifting with it. Gender phobia, on the other hand, is still as prevalent as it has ever been in rap music, as evidenced by the various lyrics throughout the essay. This is a reflection of the ever-present gender phobia in the rest of American culture as well.
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