Tearing Down the Misconception: Homophobia in Hip-Hop

“Notably in the world of hip-hop, homophobia is a constant theme,”

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“Notably in the world of hip-hop, homophobia is a constant theme,”

Jung Kim, Staff Writer

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Rap music has long been viewed as a predominantly homophobic art form, an unfortunate misconception that underlies the opinions expressed in a recent editorial of The Mesa Press. “Notably in the world of hip-hop, homophobia is a constant theme,” asserts the author of the piece, its “artists consistently and unapologetically insult[ing] the gay individuals.” A 2010 study conducted at Washington State University refutes this claim, however, revealing that over 90 percent of the top selling rap albums from 1993 to 2008 lack any traces of homophobic contents.

The piece continues, accusing the hip-hop industry of increasing “homophobia’s attractiveness with the usage of homophobic lyrics and themes” before concluding that “[g]ay people may never be accepted in the rap community.” Let’s briefly accept these notions for the purpose of the argument; indeed, some rappers do employ derogatory slurs such as “fa—t” in their lyrics to refer to those whom they consider to be less in stature. However, could such words also be used without any underlying sexual connotations? Could words evolve, their meanings changing to reflect the ever-shifting values of modern society and culture? Could they be possessed and claimed, their usage exclusive to a certain group?

Informal discussions with some members of the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) community representing various organizations and media outlets reveal the polar divide in opinions that remains as ambiguous as the questions themselves. Regarding the usage of the f-word (denoting gay individuals), two distinct interpretations exist within the community: an always offensive one that attributes homosexuality as its entrenched connotation, and a malleable one that depends on the context and intent in shaping its meaning.

The rappers mentioned in the editorial (Tyler, the Creator, Lil Wayne, Snoop Lion and “many” others) seem to embody the latter interpretation of the f-word. Indeed, some of the most prominent mainstream artists in the industry, such as Jay-Z, Kanye West, 50 Cent, Nicki Minaj, A$AP Rocky, Lil B and others, have openly expressed their support for gay rights in recent years. “I’m not homophobic…and ‘gay’ just means you’re stupid. I don’t know, we don’t think about it… But I don’t hate gay people. I don’t want anyone to think I’m homophobic,” remarks Tyler, the Creator in an NME Magazine interview on his liberal usage of the word (213 times) in his debut album, “Goblin.” In “60 Minutes” featuring Eminem, Anderson Cooper questions the MC’s affinity for gay people, to which he replied: “The scene that I came up in, that word was thrown around so much, you know? Faggot was, like, it was thrown around constantly, to each other, like in battling… I don’t have any problem with nobody.”

As a product of a culture bred as a response to extreme racial, social and economic oppression, the hyper-masculine braggadocio defining the very nature of rap has prompted its artists to adopt a matching set of attitudes. Consequently, this led some rappers to begin using the f-word and other discriminatory slangs to ultimately disempower their opponents in rap battles, and not as an insult to the LGBT community. Although the usage of such slurs has spread over the years, it was mostly contained within the culture itself, and for some artists, the definition of these words has changed completely; “fa—t” no longer implies sexuality, but weakness.

Now, the contention raised here makes no attempt to ignore the historical impact and malice associated with the f-word. It does, however, attempt to highlight some external factors that may facilitate its re-purposing in nonsexual and positive ways. As it currently stands, the word still acts as a reminder of the discrimination that the LGBT community must contend with on a daily basis, no matter the context and intention of its users. However, generalizing the entire hip-hop culture as being homophobic appears just as radical and inappropriate as referring to a gay individual as the f-word. Such cursory examination and interpretation of rap’s overall stance on the LGBT community only serve to paint a grainy mosaic of the issue. Insensitive, perhaps, would be a more fitting descriptor.

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