Recently when asked if a gay hip hop artist could hold a platinum record and become successful in this day and age, Lee Daniels, the creator of Empire and openly gay black director, predicted it would happen “sooner than you think”; implying that we could even see this as soon as 2018. As Daniels is a gay black man who’s explored black male sexuality within the hip hop community in his work (empire for example), and has probably experienced a lot of the homophobia that is still within the culture, I thought this was an interesting claim for him to make.
Hip Hop is an incredibly difficult market to crack, there’s millions of aspiring rappers out there, you have to be extremely charismatic, extremely popular, or entertaining, or simply just so nice on the mic that your skills can’t be doubted; at the end of the day good music is good music no matter who it comes from. However, masculinity is still at the forefront; and the culture doesn’t associate homosexuality with masculinity unfortunately; shown by the treatment any artist shows whenever an artist is wearing something that’s quite feminine, or maybe has painted nails for example, the culture is quick to throw hordes of homophobic slurs that artists way. Take the time where Lil Uzi was wearing a rather feminine shirt for example, the attention that that one picture received was crazy, simply because it was different and regarded too feminine for a ‘rapper’ to be wearing, even prominent figures within the culture were commenting and criticizing it. For a gay artist to be accepted like that into the culture, unfortunately I think they would have to work twice as hard and be twice as talented compared to an artist who was straight. Although the culture has made some progression, it’s still probably like a good 6 years behind society in terms of the general acceptance of all people and the LGBT community.
Thankfully now, mainly within the newer generation of artists we’re seeing some changes, things that will hopefully push the culture in the direction needed for Hip Hop to be a genre where everyone is welcome. Changes such as:
Rappers Coming Out
We’re seeing a lot more rappers coming out now. Initially, to me this wasn’t a big deal because people come out every day, and also it’s their life they can do what they want; but the amount of bravery it takes for a rapper to do this especially in the early stages of their career is immense. I feel like coming out as a normal person is obviously still an incredibly brave thing to do, but coming out as a rapper within the hip hop community is completely different; back maybe 10 years ago that could’ve been career suicide. The more rappers who take this leap, the more normalised this will then become for the culture, especially if we’re already fans of that person’s music; an individual’s bond with an artist’s sound can’t be and hopefully wouldn’t be severed simply due to a change in sexuality. Examples of some artists who have come out are the late Lil Peep who tragically died this week, as well as Chance the Rappers younger brother, Taylor Bennet, Frank Ocean and ILOVEMAKONNEN.
Tyler the Creators album was great because it provided a narrative that we’ve never quite heard before in mainstream rap, for the first time we heard a guy talking about other guys rather than girls; for example, he says, “I been kissing white boys since 2004” in ‘I Aint Got Time’. This was new to me initially as it was something I don’t think I’ve ever heard in rap before, like ever, and I’m sure I’m not the only one, so it was good for the world to hear this; especially when it’s from someone as gifted with words as Tyler. Also, this is not to say there’s no rap of this kind out there, because I’m sure there is, but I’m mainly just focusing on mainstream rap. Also on the track ‘Garden Shed’ he details the struggles of hiding who he was from his friends, he writes “All my friends was lost/ They couldn’t read the signs/ I didn’t want to talk/ I told ‘em my location and they ain’t want to walk”; detailing how he had to hide who he was from the people he was close to.
Hearing things like this are important because it gives us insight into how other people are living and what they have to go through, it also kind of shows the repercussions of Hip Hops homophobic mind-set. Because the community think this way people are now having to suffer and hide who they are from their close friends and associates , which I’m sure many of us knew happened already, but it’s different when you’re actually hearing it out of someone’s mouth. By sharing these narratives, I think it creates conversations, whilst also educating our often-ignorant culture, on other people’s struggles, struggles that we’re so quick to forget about.
Gender Neutral clothing
Clothing is becoming a lot more gender neutral, it’s been slowly getting that way as the years progress. From baggy jeans and timberlands back in the day, to skinny jeans and tight t-shirts, to some rappers experimenting even further with their style; with the chokers, the painted nails, and some rappers even confidently stating they prefer to buy women’s clothing, like Young Thug, whom even wore a dress on his album cover. Back in the day they would’ve classed the skinny jeans and tight clothing we wear now as too feminine, just like how we bash rappers who wear the dresses and paint their nails now, but I feel like just how we eventually absorbed and got used to skinny jeans, we’ll get used to people wearing women’s clothing also, we’ll get to a point where it won’t even be a big deal; clothing will become gender neutral and we’ll all simply be left to dress and wear what we want, with no judgement.
I think eventually Hip Hop will get to a place where it’s accepting of all and less judgemental, we’re a stubborn culture, set in our ways and full of pride, yet we champion the music and the message; so, I feel as long as the music’s there and it’s good, we’ll eventually warm up to anyone no matter who they are. I think it just needs one artist to break the mould, and remind the culture that sexuality or anything like that doesn’t mean anything when it comes to talent and the ability to make good music.