Since its inception, hip-hop mirrored society in both negative and positive ways. For a significant amount of time, homophobia was embedded in the DNA of hip-hop. Rap artists engaged in homophobic slurs and threats towards the LGBTQ community. With the rise of a few newcomers in the rap game, there’s a new hope that homophobia in hip-hop might actually become something that’s put into a time capsule in a museum one day. I have to confess that back when I was a teenager I was indeed homophobic towards the LGBTQ community. Now I’m not going to claim that hip-hop was the cause of me acting that way, since I did choose to follow behind my friends who felt that it was acceptable to display hatred and bigotry towards those that preferred an alternative lifestyle. However, hip-hop did play a major role in reinforcing my homophobic ways by some of my favorite artists normalizing a hypermasculine image.
Back in the early 2000’s, when I was first getting into hip-hop, masculinity amongst youth of color was a very important issue – especially if you were a teenage boy in the inner city, so naturally the music reflected that. No one in the hood wanted to be considered soft or anywhere near gay at all because that would cause you to be perceived as weak in a place where survival is definitely a factor. I first recognized my homophobia when one of my favorite teachers in high school called me out for it. Since then, over the years I changed my outlook on LGBTQ people and started to just look at them as human beings. Life is ironic because I would later become a huge fan of the Brooklyn born emcee, Young M.A. She is dope on the mic, and also an open lesbian. Her skills have definitely changed my stance on how I view the LGBTQ community. Young M.A’s music has made me look at LGBTQ people as no different than anyone else, and also helped me realize that we’re all human and that the only thing that should matter is your words and actions.
The question has always loomed, can a rapper who’s openly gay be successful in the mainstream realm of hip-hop? With Frank Ocean coming out as bisexual back in the summer of 2012, this question was definitely put to the test. Despite many concerns, he received support from the likes of Jay-Z, Russell Simmons, 50 Cent, Nas, the members of Odd Future, and many other notable names in the rap game. But Frank Ocean is primarily considered more of an R&B artist than a rapper, and as T-Pain stated in an interview with DJ Vlad back in 2014, many rappers refuse to work with Frank Ocean because of his sexual identity. Some of this seems to be changing slowly though; we now have emcee’s from the LGBTQ community that are comfortable in their own skin.
Young M.A has been breaking down barriers for the LGBTQ community like a modern day freedom fighter. She’s been on the rap scene since 2012 making freestyle videos and various songs. With the help of legendary independent rap artists like Buckshot and 3D marketing, Young M.A’s music has reached a whole new audience. It never hurts when you have underground legends on your side to help you break down the walls of hatred, ignorance and bigotry. The main reason for her being adored by many in both those in the straight and LGBTQ community is because of her lyrical skill set, where her ability to create a venomous freestyle is difficult to match.
Despite the major advances, hip-hop still has a long way to go. Tons of homophobic comments telling Young M.A to act more feminine and act like a girl are made on her social media accounts daily, often accompanied with derogatory and homophobic slurs such as “Homo”, “Faggot” and/or “Dyke” thrown in her direction. She has responded to haters and homophobes alike viciously on many occasions, perhaps most notably in a freestyle called “Kween” in February 2017: “They talk about me like they past perfect/like they present pretty/like they future flawless/like this world ain’t got drug addicts and alcoholics/rapist, robbers, dealers, murder, extortion/like me being gay is so fuckin’ important/ we all sinnin’ nigga I don’t give a fuck what you call it”.
While Young M.A is indeed breaking down barriers, other members of the LGBTQ community have joined the fight to destroy homophobia in hip-hop as well, including LGBTQ artists Mykki Blanco, Taylor Bennett, ILoveMakonnen and many others. Hip-hop is about bringing people together regardless of race, creed, culture, religion or sexual identity. The genre has come a long way, and it still has a long way to go before it’s fully inclusive of every community, but as long as you have emcees that can make dope music that touches the hearts and souls of millions of fans then the genre will continue to grow and flourish. But I do have some questions: How come artists like Drake, J. Cole and Kendrick Lamar haven’t made a push for more emcees from the LGBTQ community to be signed to their labels? How come they haven’t done collaborations with LBGTQ emcees, despite portraying themselves as thoughtful and progressive? It’s obvious we still have a ways to go.