Homosexuality in Hip-Hop: Part-1

Is it finally accepted?

This will be a two-part series discussing homosexuality in hip-hop. Honestly, it was just getting too damn long.

Do you think you could honestly count how many times you heard the word “faggot” in rap songs? That is probably one of the most notorious insults in rap disses, used by some of the most prolific hip-hop emcees including Common, Tupac, Blackstar, Kanye West, Method Man, and Eminem. But where did this start? And for what reason? Was it actually a sense of deeply rooted homophobia, or was it just because everyone was saying it? Was it because it rhymed and sounded catchy, or was it because there was hatred and embarrassment tied to liking people of the same gender? In 2020, we FINALLY have openly gay hip-hop artists such as Tyler, the Creator, Young M.A., Syd, Frank Ocean, and Lil Nas X representing the LGBTQ community. But due to ignorance, stigmas, and intolerance especially among minority communities, it took many many years of extremely hurtful, cruel, and foul lyrics to finally get to that point.

Homophobic lyrics in hip-hop date all the way back to 1979, when Sugarhill Gang released “Rapper’s Delight”. That song was one of the first ones to really put hip-hop on the map by making it the first rap song to hit the top 40 charts. Hip-hop was always thought of as rugged and hard-hitting, so it was no surprise that they set the tone of what masculinity should be by describing Superman as a “fairy”, simply because he wore tight clothing. I wonder how they reacted to New Boyz and their skinny jeans trend.

From then, the homophobia was ingrained, even if not direct. The term “no homo” first gained popularity and really became normalized in hip-hop. Shit, I remember being thirteen years old hearing all of the kids in middle school say it because their favorite rappers were as if we really understood the meaning. Granted did the rappers even really understand it? Especially when they came from genres and communities where conversations about homosexuality were never really had in truly enlightening conversations because they were viewed so negatively? The phrase “no homo” really gained traction in the 90’s in hip-hop lyrics. Sadly it was used as a preemptive defense in case a rapper’s lyrics were questionable or could be taken out of context to be used against them, specifically to question their manhood or sexuality. It first got its start in East Harlem through Cam’Ron and the rest of the Diplomats, and then really started getting utilized by Lil Wayne and other rappers, only for Jay-Z to start using pause to the same effect. Kanye West, in fact, was one of the few artists to speak up against homophobia in hip-hop because of his gay cousin, only to cause quite the stir because of his use of “no homo” in “Run This Town”. And yet, ironically enough, the term “no homo” has been argued to make things increasingly “more gay” (whatever the hell that means) as it’s given rappers a pass to say outlandish things, only to excuse it by following up with that. 

One of hip-hop’s biggest culprits is Eminem. In honor of Eminem’s newest album (which admittedly is amazing and I do really love), here’s a whole paragraph dedicated to some of his most horrible lyrics which have even resulted in his music getting boycotted. When asked if homophobic during a 60 Minutes interview with openly gay silver-fox Anderson Cooper, Eminem’s response was that the word faggot was “thrown around constantly” in battle raps and that he didn’t actually use it to reference gay people. Guess we’ll just ignore the fact that he called Tyler, The Creator a faggot after he came out in one of his songs. In fact, he recruited none other than gay pride icon Elton John to help show that there was no way he hated gay people when he had a gay friend by performing his song “Stan” with him. And yet, his lyrics said otherwise. In his song, “Criminal”, he blatantly states that his words will “stab you in the head, whether you’re a fag or les’, or a homosex, hermaph or a trans-a-vest, Pants or dress, hate fags? The answer’s ‘yes'”, literally saying that he hated gays. He even counters the question of “homophobic?” with, “nah, you’re just hetero phobic”. …What. If you claim that you don’t mind gay people, then why even include content like this in your music if you don’t believe it? You don’t necessarily need to advocate for the LGBTQ community if it isn’t a cause that you’re passionate about, but if you decide to bash it instead it’s going to be a little difficult trying to defend how you aren’t homophobic. Even as the country started progressing, Eminem continued to use crass and hateful lyrics. In 2013, Eminem released the track “Rap God, in which he described breaking a table “over the back of a couple of faggots”. Keep in mind that 2013 is the same year that the Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act, an act essentially stating that not recognizing or legally enforcing a marriage between two people of the same gender was unconstitutional. So it is a little difficult to argue that everyone else is doing it when in reality everyone was beginning to realize that homosexuality is completely normal.

Unfortunately, Eminem wasn’t the only fan favorite who stirred the pot with this topic. The Beastie Boys went as far as to want to name their album Don’t Be A Faggot, but thankfully Columbia Records refused. Although a timeless album, Licensed To Ill definitely did not age well, not only in terms of homophobia but because of its extreme sexism as well. Although many people argue that it was the 80’s and everything was a lot more easy-going, that isn’t my reason for somewhat pardoning them. By 1999, the group had shown significant growth and development as artists with their lyrics proving it. Additionally, Ad-Rock made a point to pen a letter to Time Out New York apologizing for their crude and insensitive lyrics specifically from Licensed To Ill. For them to have come out with such a public and sincere apology before the 2000s was extremely impressive in my opinion. After “formally [apologizing] to the entire gay and lesbian community for the shitty and ignorant things [they] said on [their] first record”, he also reassured that “there [were] no excuses/but [that] time has healed [their] stupidity”. Even more importantly, as the group continued to perform their songs from their first album, they modified the lyrics to make them more appropriate and acceptable.

If I made this post about all of the times rappers said horrible things about gay people, whether directly or as a jab at someone specific, we would be here for a very long time and this would be a very depressing post. However, it wasn’t quite this black and white for all artists. Ice T, for instance, was one of the first rappers to openly condemn homophobia. And yet, he had a very strange history with it. He recalled in his memoir that label executive Seymour Stein took issue with a particular line from Ice-T’s song “409” which stated for “guys [to] grab a girl [and for] girls to grab a guy, [but] if a guy wants a guy, please take it outside”. He explained that he wasn’t saying “to go bash no one” but rather that he just “personally, [didn’t] want to see it”. Fast forward to 1991 to when Ice released O.G. Original Gangster. He not only made one song about it being okay to be gay, but two! And for the first time in hip-hop history! In his song “Straight Up N****”, he claimed that “She want to be lez he want to be gay, but that’s your business I’m straight, so [brotha] have it your way”. In “The Tower”, he recalls a story about a man getting shot. He raps that he “saw a brother kill another cause he said he was gay, but that’s the way it is, it been that way for years. And when his body hit the ground, I heard a couple of them cheer. It kind of hurt me inside that they were glad he died…” This definitely contrasts with his earlier lyrics about wanting to remove himself from even witnessing any homosexuality, although his lyrics were never cruel, just ignorant. And yet he managed to redeem himself by making history and advocating for extremely prevalent issues. In fact, in Law and Order: SVU, Ice T plays a detective with a gay son who even has to seek justice for him at once point after he falls victim to a hate crime. Snoop Dogg and Common are both among other old school rappers who admit to changing times in hip-hop. Both known for extremely homophobic lyrics, they confessed that they could never imagine rappers being openly gay simply because of the culture, and instead resorted to being gay as an insult. And yet, times are changing and they seem okay with that. In an interview, Snoop stated that “People are learning how to live and get along more, and accept people for who they are and not bash them or hurt them because they’re different,” which is a beautiful development from when he was growing up considering “no one would step [forward] to support you because that’s what [they] were brainwashed and trained to know”.

“I’ve done hardcore hip-hop in my life where masculinity is at a premium. At this moment right now, we’re in the world of pop-rap and it doesn’t really matter right now. These guys are singing, it’s pop music and being in pop and gay is OK,” he said. “It would be difficult to listen to a gay gangster rapper … If you’re a gangster rapper like myself and Ice Cube … if one of us came out and said something, that would be a big thing. That would be like, ‘Whoa! What?’ ”

Ice T

While the old-school heads were skeptical to see just how well an openly gay hip-hop artist could succeed, times have definitely changed. With the Grammy Awards timed perfectly to make hip-hop history, we will look at the optimistic and promising shift in culture and ideology in part two. As always, comment below, subscribe to the page, and share with your friends.

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