Slider 1

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Homophobia in Hip-Hop

I grew up blasting hip-hop through headphones, locked away where my parents couldn't hear the curse words and where I'd silently memorize the lyrics I barely understood. 

Hip-hop is a unique brand of music, as much about the sound as the image of the artist behind it. Male rappers try and be "harder" than each other, rapping about the women and money they have and posing their music videos with huge cars and diamond necklaces.

PBS article on their documentary called "Beyond Beats & Rhythm" says that the greatest insult you can give a man in American culture is to "degrade his manhood."

"It’s calling your manhood into question," said Jelani Cobb, an American author who participated in the PBS documentary. "It’s calling your sexuality into question, it’s saying that if you are not this you must therefore be gay, you must be a gay, you must be a faggot, you know, you must be a bitch nigga.”

An Advocate article charted the timeline of homophobia, with its first point being 1982 with Grandmaster Flash's release of "The Message" that included the lyrics "fag-hag" and "your manhood is took and you're a maytag, spend[ing] the next two years as a undercover fag." 

In 1986 The Beastie Boys tried to title their first album "Don't be a Faggot," and in 1988 Will Smith rapped, "all the homeboys that got AIDS be quiet / all the girls out there that don't like guys be quiet."
(A few of those people later apologized and showed support for the LGBTQ community - The Beastie Boys apologized in 1999  "to the entire gay and lesbian community for the shitty and ignorant things we said on our first record" and Will Smith recently came out in support of gay marriage.)

When I was old enough to realize what certain words and yes, the music videos, meant, I was torn. On one hand the songs and beats were catchy, and did the fact that I didn't really believe the things I'd repeat along with the radio in the car make it okay for me to listen to it? 

That's been the main question for new hip-hop artists like Tyler the Creator, the main face/ leader/ creator of the group Odd Future.On his latest album, Goblin, he used the word "faggot" 213 times according to NME, a music weekly. 

A bit of background: the reason I wanted to research this umbrella topic further is because of a Huffington Post article by Brother Ali where he talks about Tyler the Creator. He reflects on his life as a musician, and how a decade or two ago he used the same words because he was too ignorant (his own words) to realize how incorrect he was.

"I wasn't talking directly about gay people, at least I didn't think I was," he wrote. "I was referring to weak rappers, or the neighbor I ended up scrapping with when I tried to talk to him about putting hands on his girlfriend. What I was too ignorant, and probably too careless, to understand was that using that word was co-signing the narrative that being gay means a person is weak and doesn't deserve respect. That's what insecure young dudes do when we don't feel complete as men. We place so-called traditional manhood on a pedestal and look down on any bitches or faggots that dare to claim equal access to respect."

"I’m not homophobic," Tyler said in an NME interview. "I just think ‘faggot’ hits and hurts people. It hits. And ‘gay’ just means you’re stupid. I don’t know, we don’t think about it, we’re just kids. We don’t think about that shit. But I don’t hate gay people. I don’t want anyone to think I’m homophobic."

What hit me most about that quote is: we don't think about it, we're just kids. Tyler is 20, my age, and the age of many other college students who are fighting for gay rights.

And what's even more incredulous is Syd the Kyd, a member of Odd Future, is openly lesbian, (and comes off as an almost feminist in her NME article with the tag line: "Syd the Kyd Could be Hip-Hop's Next Lesbian Icon") and insists that Tyler's words aren't offensive when you realize the context they're being used in. 

"A lot of people take things out of context, and you’ve got to understand that there is a difference between saying, ‘Hey, you faggot’ and 'Hey, faggot,'" Syd said. "When Tyler says 'faggot,' he's not referring to gays, he's referring to lame people. And in our vocabulary, that's what the word 'faggot' means."

Frank Ocean, another Odd Future member, recently came out on his Tumblr blog, saying the first time he fell in love was at 19 with another man. Tyler was quick to show his support on Twitter, saying: "My Big Brother Finally Fucking Did That. Proud Of That Nigga Cause I Know That Shit Is Difficult Or Whatever."

So if Tyler isn't homophobic and is openly showing support for gay hip-hop artists, is he trying to desensitize the word "faggot?" Is he attempting to change the meaning of it, the way "queer" was used negatively and reclaimed by the LGBTQ community?

To me, words are so powerful that it doesn't matter if Tyler isn't speaking directly to people who are gay, his anti-gay slurs are something that'll be passed on to his fans as something that's "okay."

"[Homophobic language has] the power to fuel intolerance and hostility," GLAAD’s Kimberley McLeod told "It’s an irresponsible message for him to send to his young fans."

Written by Stephanie Geske

No comments:

Post a Comment