Hip-hop is known to be a male-dominated industry full of testosterone and often misogynistic behaviors. MCs need to demonstrate their strong masculinity through – sometimes – old-fashioned lyrics. It is hard to imagine a gay or transgender rapper finding his/her place in a lane where you have to be a real man. However, more and more atypical (to the hip-hop genre, at least) and talented male and female rappers distinguish themselves in a lane where their presence isn’t welcomed.
In the book « Pimps Up, Ho’s Down: Hip Hop’s Hold on Young Black Women« , Sharpley-Whiting explains that hip-hop is mostly dominated by black men who are searching for acceptance by putting black women down in a society where whiteness dominates. Video vixens and other hoes are depicted as easy girls attracted by your bank account with who you can have a wild one-night stand. Because that’s what hip-hop is mostly about today : cash, bitches, henny in your cup and expensive jewelries. But this isn’t the topic.
Sharpley-Whiting emphasizes on the fact that there isn’t a room for the weak. In other words, you have two choices : either you’re a G or you’re a fag. Some of you might find this word discomforting, but it is what it is. Hip-hop’s constant quest of a perfect masculinity led a lot of rappers to reject every sign of vulnerability. You still don’t believe it ? Check any diss track by your favorite rapper. You will always hear a line where he is reducing his rival to lady-like descriptions, if not homophobic slurs. The perfect example is Ice Cube’s famous No Vaseline track.
Masculinity is what a lot of 70’s and 80’s rappers only had
The post-racial movements had a huge role to play in the construction of black male’s masculinity. During the post-racial era (in which we still are, when you see what is going on in America), black men and women were fighting for equal rights, even though the civil right movements in the 50’s-60’s helped them find a place in a society that rejected them. But still, lots of men were denied jobs and were seen as thugs. Black men (and Latino too) had a hard time finding their own identity. In fact, they were so categorized and put in boxes that they didn’t know where they belonged in a country that just acknowledged them as equal citizens.
On the other hand, after what the black community went through the past three centuries, the last thing they could do was showing their feelings and weaknesses, especially men. Misogyny and patriarchal behaviors don’t only affect white men, but black men too. If you add a bit of oppression and racism, these misogynistic behaviors get worse. Black men needed to show that they were not half men. Their need to show their strength doubled in comparison to white men who did not need to prove something to the world, because they were what minorities looked up to in terms of standards and models.
Therefore, any sign of weakness and femininity among a group of black men was seen as crippling and unacceptable. You can’t show your sadness and anxiety, mental illness doesn’t exist. If you’re black, you have to be strong. If not, you’re deviant, you’re gay. Black men who did not fit the standards were rejected. Homophobia in hip-hop does not seem to be exclusively a religious matter. These violent reactions when seeing a gay man is a reflection of their own fear, the fear of not being man enough to be accepted by the white oppressor.
However, things seem to have evolved over the last 10 years
iLoveMakonnen, Taylor Bennett, Young M.A. and Frank Ocean are the proof that things have evolved. Who would have thought 15 years ago that openly gay or bisexual rappers could hit the stage of the most prestigious hip-hop festivals or even get a song on another rapper track? Today, a new generation of LGBT rappers rises in the hip-hop industry : Mykki Blanco, Princess Nokia, Kevin Abstract, Quay Dash…
The universe of hip-hop is starting to get more open to differences and different ways of seeing the world. In 2018, the black community still faces a lot of social issues (police brutality, racism…) but they feel the need to stick together. Whether you’re gay, straight, dark-skinned or light-skinned, there is a common fight and a rise of social consciousness led by new rappers such as Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole (nope, we’re not talking about Smokepurpp or 6ix9ine). Even though a stigma towards the gay community remains, it seems like the hip-hop world puts the racial issues first. If you’re gay, they care less as long as you contribute to the cause.
T-Pain’s statement about homophobia in hip-hop is revealing of how rappers’ point of view on gay people has changed. 15 years ago, who had the guts to speak on it?
Besides, the fashion and the hip-hop universes collided into one entity
Is it cliché to say that the fashion universe is full of gay people? Yes. It’s wrong to generalize, but we need to in order to make you understand this next point. As said previously, masculinity has been and still is a major issue in the black community (as well as the Latino one, or in North Africa). So how come many rappers such as Young Thug or A$AP Rocky are seen as fashion icons, isn’t it feminine?
The answer is no. Fashion isn’t just aimed at women and gay people, and the hip-hop world is starting to get it. This new generation of rappers associates their music, their visuals and clothes into one work of art. For instance, Young Thug wore a dress for his Jeffery cover album, and the reactions were mixed. On the video below, we can clearly see that hip-hop is still homophobic. Just look at Fat Joe’s discomfort when the journalist asked a question about the dress.
Even Amber Rose, who has been behind the hip-hop scene for a while (she dated Kanye West, Wiz Khalifa and 21 Savage) knows a lot about it. « Hip-hop is homophobic », she says after reminding us that her son was called gay for playing with one of her wigs.
What is really important in this video isn’t the reactions proving that some rappers keep distancing themselves from Young Thug. The most crucial thing is that Young Thug felt brave and comfortable enough to wear a dress and use it in his album cover. It says a lot about the current state of masculinity in hip-hop nowadays. Today, a lot of rappers aren’t ashamed to work with gay designers anymore, even Offset from Migos said it. But let’s not forget his « I don’t vibe with queers » line on Boss Life though.
However, the word acceptance is getting recurrent within hip-hop. The fact that homophobia is acknowledged as an issue by many shows how gay people and rappers have come a long way. Drake isn’t ashamed to reunite with his gay co-star from Degrassi, Adamo Ruggiero without the fear of being called out by other rappers. If you need another example, just remember how Jay-Z was supportive of his mother when she came out as gay, he even wrote a song about it.
But that doesn’t mean the fight for the LGBTQ community is over. Maybe gay people have more rooms in the hip-hop world, but they don’t have the keys.
Why are LGBT female rappers more accepted ?
A lot of female rappers came out in the past three decades: Queen Latifah, Nicki Minaj, Cardi B, Angel Haze, just to count a few. Young M.A. is also a proud member of the LGBT community. So why is it easier for women in the hip-hop lane to come out as gay or bisexual?
There might be two explanations: a lesbian or bisexual rapper is either seen as their « bro » – especially if she looks « masculine » – or she feeds men’s sexual fantasies. If you adopt the look and the behavior of male rappers, they will erase your femininity and therefore consider you as a man. If you keep your sex appeal, they won’t care as long as they can masturbate on the thought of a threesome. Yep, this is gross. But this is partially true. Generalizing is bad, but sometimes it’s essential if you want people to understand what you say.
Anyway. Let’s get serious. The Beats by Dre ad below features Young M.A. hitting on another girl on the street. Another example of the i-dont-give-a-shit-about-your-sexuality-as-long-as-you-make-good-music state of mind that is taking over hip-hop progressively.
Rappers have come a long way too. From totally rejecting gay people to starting to make some concessions, there is an improvement. The day black men (and Latinos) will feel accepted in a white-dominated society, they will be able to fully embrace every other member of their community, from the gays to the dark-skinned women.
Header : Mykki Blanco © Boris Ovini