Thursday, August 11, 2011

Homophobia in Rap Music on the Way Out

DMC against homophobia
A growing number of American rappers are suddenly becoming pro-LGBT.

Traditionally it had always been acceptable for rappers to denigrate gays and lesbians in their lyrics.  Eminem has often been put through the wringer by journalists and LGBT rights groups.  "I'll stab you in the head, whether you're a fag or a les; a homosex, hermaph, or trans-a-vest" was part of Eminem's song Criminal, back in 2000.  Disgusting to say the least.  That song was actually not allowed to be played on the radio in several European countries because of those homophobic lyrics.  They went beyond homophobia actually, and were in fact inciting violence toward LGBT persons.

But then, ten years later, Eminem did a turn around and announced that he supports the rights of gays and lesbians to marry.  In a fitting twist, today in New York state, the birthplace of rap and hip-hop, same-sex marriage is the law of the land.

There is no doubt that a shift is occurring in the climate of hip-hop.  As the genre gains more and more fans it clearly becomes more difficult for the artists to ignore LGBT fans, let alone degrade them.  After all, gay people go to concerts and buy albums, too.

The words "faggot" and "gay" have been mainstays of rap lyrics for years.  Gay, of course, isn't a derogatory term, but the f-word (faggot) certainly is.  It's every bit as degrading to call an LGBT person the f-word as it is to call an African the n-word.  It's a word whose origin stems from a time when gay men were executed for being gay.

In the context of rap music, the f-word is often used to attack the masculinity of competing rappers, as when Beanie Sigel questioned Kanye West's sexual orientation, or Jay-Z referred to Nas as "the fag model."  But even though rappers such as 50 Cent and N.O.R.E. have said that they don't care if someone's gay, they are nevertheless quick to point out that they themselves are not gay.  The fear of being labeled "gay" has always been the biggest fear in the rap culture.  It is a strange mindset, in my opinion, to wear the label "murderer," "drug dealer," or "rapist" with pride, but be terrified of having someone call you "gay."

But times they are a'changing.  Rappers today don't necessarily come from the streets the way they did in the early '80s.  They're no longer dope dealers and gangsters from the mean inner-city.  Many are college degree holders, and nearly all of them have at least completed high school.  Most grew up in middle class homes in the suburbs, not in tough, poor housing projects.  It tends to be far more difficult for prejudices to take root (or continue to flourish) when the demographic shifts in such a way.

Trina, Snoop Dogg, Missy Elliot, Lil Kim, Nicki Minaj, Kanye West, Mya, Tetyana Taylor, and rap pioneers Darryl "DMC" McDaniels and Rev. Run (part of the group Run DMC) are also publicly supportive of LGBT rights, and many have marched in numerous gay pride parades to show their support for the LGBT community.  Russell Simmons, founder of the record label Def Jam, has also always been an outspoken supporter of gay rights.

In June, rapper Lil B released a new album entitled "I'm Gay."  Lil B isn't gay in the common, modern meaning of the term, but he says that's exactly why he used the word in the first place.  (In English, "gay" actually always just meant "happy").  Lil B said the title is a message of support to the gay community, because it doesn't matter if someone is gay or not.  The intent is to break down barriers and show that words don't mean anything.  He said:
"Don't let a word make you discriminate upon another human.  Because at the end of the day, no matter what you do, I should be happy for you because you're alive.  You're living life."
Owing as to how popular and influential rap and hip-hop music is worldwide, let's hope this trend continues.  Let's hope that homophobia in the rap culture truly is finally on the way out.


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