By Daniel Paiz
Hip-Hop is still figuring out the dreaded “H” word. Forget having a growing number of artists from the LGBTQ+ community. Despite having Big Freedia, Snow Tha Product, and Tyler the Creator among many others. Even with the slimmest of improvements across every area that’s been criticized in the culture and the music (racism, sexism, toxic masculinity, you get the picture) Hip-Hop can’t come to grips with its shortcomings. Homophobia is alive and well, unfortunately, in the culture.
It’s a layered issue, no doubt. But there are a few reasons that can point to what might be causing this shortsightedness.
Things remain the same as much as they’ve “changed”
Back in the early days of Cypher Sessions in 2012, I tried tackling this issue through the lens of Frank Ocean coming out. Since then Tyler the Creator has come out, as have others such as Snow Tha Product, Big Freedia, and Lil Nas X. All of these artists have significant fan bases. Having a gender identity or sexual orientation that differs from the “socially acceptable” expectations of heterosexual, male/female gender roles isn’t as detrimental now. Even in Hip-Hop supposedly. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.
This video invites the viewer to grapple with the idea that Hip-Hop is homophobic. There have been plenty of artists who either chose their career or chose themselves. It’s kind of wild that in 2020 this is still an issue. But, I think one reason why there is such an aversion to LGBTQ+ rappers is how men view perceive the use of power with women.
Men operate as having power over others; over women, over other men they deem inferior, and anyone they don’t understand (LGBTQ+). When it comes to attraction, there is the societal expectation that men exhibit power over women. Structurally, it happens when it comes to pay, career decisions, everyday life, etc. In dating and sex, social roles again expect men to be dominant. This is often where men will move towards objectifying women and seeing them as less than.
So when it comes to a gay man or really any member of the LGBTQ+ community, that perceived social expectation isn’t there. In a homophobic thought process, objectifying another man/individual that isn’t the social expectation of a woman conflicts with exerting said power. Therefore, an LGBTQ+ individual is unacceptable.
How the “H” word thrives in the world of Hip-Hop
While not all Hip-Hop is focused on battling other rappers, there are times when competitions surface. One guy outraps the other guy. So, if one rapper is someone who identifies in the LGBTQ+ community, then even via competition there might be association with said community.
Ridiculous doesn’t even begin to describe this thought process. However, it’s likely why anyone who doesn’t exhibit the expected overtly masculine image of a rapper is bullied and degraded. What’s interesting about this is how many rappers that are women or identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community don’t face this ridicule in the same way. That’s largely because said artists were never accepted by mainstream Hip-Hop audiences and artists in the first place.
Across social roles, job positions and more, women are treated as less competent and less qualified. A culture and music genre that’s defined by its representation of the underrepresented and voiceless, this opposes Hip-Hop’s origins. Yet here we are today. Women are expected to go the Nicki Minaj or Megan Thee Stallion route, utilizing their sexual expression as a qualifier of talent.
Should they go the route of Queen Latifah, Rapsody, Snow Tha Product, Lauryn Hill, Sa-Roc, Rah Digga, Reverie, Aja Black of The Reminders, or an ever-expanding list of emcees who first present their skills on the mic, they are dismissed quickly. They often have to work harder in a culture that simultaneously value women in one song and treat them as a conquest in the next.
This isn’t a finger wagging to Hip-Hop so much as a charge for its sins. A culture and music that continue to degrade a large portion of its core will not survive in the long run. It’s also important to point out that women and LGBTQ+ rappers without question have as many nuances as men in Hip-Hop. The culture was born out of protest and party simultaneously.
Another important point are the places in Hip-Hop carved out by Big Freedia, Dick Dickollective, and other acts that don’t present society’s gender expectations; in essence, the LGBTQ+ community is still carving out their place. However, things are a bit more malleable to carve.
So What’s next in Hip-Hop?
Big Freedia is continuously mentioned because of her future of the retro music. This isn’t to say that Bounce music (via New Orleans) is from another era, but rather it’s fun music. There are a variety of messages delivered by Freedia. A recurring theme throughout is how the music is for everyone.
This isn’t to paint LGBTQ+ artists with a broad stroke. From fun stuff from Big Freedia and Lil Nas X to thoughtful stuff from Young M.A. and CupcakKe. Leikeli47, iLoveMakonnen, Yung Baby Tate and so many more have narratives that until this past decade or so have largely been ignored by mainstream audiences.
A lot of Rap fans still won’t listen to these artists. But with an ever-changing public opinion coming around, it’s only a matter of time. Once an LGBTQ+ rapper undeniably breaks out in the mainstream and tops the charts, that’s when it’ll be evident that Hip-Hop has truly grown.
Meanwhile, there’s a lot of work to do towards getting rid of homophobia and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment. Whether it will be Big Freedia, Tyler the Creator, CupcakKe, or someone else, Hip-Hop fans will have to wait and see.