Twenty years ago, Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg told us that “bitches ain’t shit”, and whether that bitch is male or female, the mainstream viewpoint has barely altered as the years have passed. Resting somewhere between a fourteen-year-old adolescent’s idea of what losing his virginity will be like and a low budget porno, the lyrical scenarios played out to assert masculine supremacy in hip-hop would be hilarious if they weren’t taken so seriously. Proving alpha male status on wax in a sea of supposed chauvinists trying to do the same thing remains a never-ending battle, and since Big L declared “If Big L got the AIDS / Every cutie in the city got it” in 1995, admitting to being anything but on top (of a woman) seemed an impossibility.
With a history of hate for homosexuality, hip-hop is home to a tirade of slurs if you listen carefully - and if one of Biggie’s verses in his ‘10 Crack Commandments’ says that “Blood and money don’t mix / Like two dicks with no bitch”, his word is bond. Amongst countless other examples of ignorance to male homosexuals carelessly recorded over the years, B.I.G’s now immortal and unchangeable statement echoes through the stereos of generations new with its meaning intact. This mindset has undoubtedly been inherited by young listeners soaking up every word of their icons and it is consequently resigned to that homophobia just is a part of hip-hop - and with the unspoken ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy that has been running through the urban music industry as a whole (until recently), it’s an inevitable conclusion.
The problem is, when the word ‘faggot’ is used by young people in this day and age, it rarely ever means that the speaker is truly homophobic. It has become a vague negative synonym that’s lost its true definition somewhere along its way. Prominent hip-hop oddballs Odd Future, who have created their own youth movement of cult-like followers, are at the centre of this modern day ‘faggot’ paradox. Proving the theory of lost meaning in an interview with NME magazine last year, Tyler, The Creator says: “I just think faggot hits and hurts people - and gay just means you’re stupid.”
Tyler is the leader of the gang putting out pseudo-offensive records featuring lyrics about necrophilia, rape and stalking. YouTube sensation single ‘She’ features the lines: ‘Baby you’re gorgeous / I just want to drag your lifeless body to the forest / And fornicate with it / But that’s because I’m in love with you / Cunt” and turns traditional hip-hop masochism on its head entirely. Tyler is also the main culprit behind the over-enthusiastic use of the word ‘faggot’, with American GLBT organisation GLAAD reporting that he says the word ‘faggot’ (or a derivative) on his second studio album ‘Goblin’ two hundred and thirteen times. If anything is going to desensitise a generation to the power behind the word’s true meaning and the derogatory intention behind the statement, it’s over-saturation and watered down repetition - or perhaps that’s the whole point…
The group were dropped from the line-up of last year’s Big Day Out festival in New Zealand for their supposed homophobic lyrical content too - to which they hit back by performing an independent show entitled ‘Big Gay Out’ where they sold graphic T-shirts of two tomcats having sex with the statement ‘TWO DUDES’ plastered underneath - a typically Odd Future way in which to point out the ridiculous nature of the accusation. Confusing the press with their schizophrenic lyrical style and hyped-up but surely non-existent homophobia, Odd Future counts lesbian DJ/producer Syd the Kid as well as the now openly gay R&B singer Frank Ocean amongst its members. Coming out as the result of rumours that began after a playback of his new album revealed many of the pronouns in his love songs to be male, Frank posted a heartfelt letter to the world online where he confessed that his first love was of the same sex. Reading like a diary, so honest it feels intrusive at times, he says: “By the time I realised it was love, it was malignant. It was hopeless. There was no escaping, no negotiating with the feeling. No choice. It was my first love, it changed my life.” Detailing the time he spent with this unnamed man, the multitude of feelings he experienced through his rejection and, finally, his acceptance of himself, he wrote a love letter that may well have changed the course of urban music forever.
In response to the release of Ocean’s letter, many huge figures in music came forward to show support, including Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons, who posted his reaction on the website Global Grind, saying: “Your decision to go public about your sexual orientation gives hope and light to so many young people still living in fear.” Even Tyler, the boy who cried ‘faggot’, came forward to tweet: “My big brother finally fucking did that. Proud of that nigga cause I know that shit is difficult or whatever.” Hip-hop, by nature, has never been the most friendly or accessible of music genres, cultivated by rap battles where the sole intention is to cut the opponent down with words and belittle, having the strength to be proud of what is commonly looked upon in this game as a negative quality is a hugely courageous act.
Another young artist attempting to confront homophobic attitude, although straight, is Californian rapper Lil B. Releasing a mixtape last year entitled ‘I’m Gay’, he thusly received death threats in return. He consequently added ‘(I’m Happy)’ as a post-script to the original in order to subdue the backlash, even after explaining the title was chosen in order to show his support to the LGBT community. Lil B has also been known to drop a little femininity in his lyrics, such as his exclamation of “Damn! I’m a princess” in one of his 2010 freestyles. He’s not alone in this, with New Yorker A$AP Rocky a self-declared “pretty” motherfucker. Although priding himself on his appearance and possessing a passion for high-end designer garments, Rocky’s lyrics are straight Harlem and leave no room for questioning his sexuality; in the same way overtly camp looking artists, such as Cam’ron in all baby-pink fur, used the term ‘no homo’ to challenge perceptions of what could be considered masculine, artists like Rocky are making it acceptable to be both.
Closeted or not, homosexuality is, and always has been, present in hip-hop. From Mr. Cee - legendary producer for The Notorious B.I.G, DJ for Big Daddy Kane and New York’s Hot 97 FM radio, who last year was arrested for same-sex ‘public lewdness’; to new kids on the block such as Le1f, Zebra Katz and Mykki Blanco, who are openly blurring gender lines the way in which David Bowie did in the ’70s. Boldly confronting audiences with overtly (homo)sexual lyrics, the acceptance of this wave of artists by gay and straight fans alike is going some way towards proving that a long overdue change is in the air.
Words: Hayley Louisa Brown
This is an excerpt from the January 2013 issue of Clash magazine. Find out more about the issue.