Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Some Thoughts on Homophobia and Hip Hop

Recently, President Obama announced that he now supports the right of gay couples to marry. Many right-wing and conservative pundits are leaping to call President Obama a flip-flopper and claim that this is calculated move designed to pay lip-service to his liberal base.  While it may be true that the *timing* of this announcement was partly politically motivated, the president's presentation of his rationale, i.e. that he has changed his mind due to experiences he's had and things he's learned, rather than trying to claim that this is what he believed all-along, should be enough to indicate to people that this was a thoughtful informed reconsideration.

Shortly thereafter, Pitchfork posted a story proclaiming that Jay-Z, in response to President Obama's recent statement in support of the rights of consenting adults to marry, no matter what sex they may be, has come out (not that sort of coming out) in support of gay marriage too.  Rather than taking Obama's approach and explaining how and why his views have changed
Jay-Z proclaimed, "I've always thought it as something that was still, um, holding the country back."  It's great that Jay-Z is throwing in his support; however, his early lyrics clearly indicate either fear, hatred, or both of homosexuals. Certainly, while not as bad as Nas on this count, he didn't hesitate to use it as an insult in his lyrics.

While many rappers use the words "gay" and "fag" constantly on their tracks and some are clearly writing out of hate, I think a large part of it isn't because of homophobia or a particular misanthropy, but laziness, because those words easily fit into their rhymes/rhythm.  But even then it perpetuates the cycle of intolerance.  Meanwhile, other rappers attempts to distance themselves from the connotations of the words have failed.  In particular, Bun B, appearing on a Mac Miller mixtape (who's repertoire includes the lyrics, "I fill these dancing gays with some hand grenades"), rapped in reference to Shepard Fairey's announcement that he would no longer be producing his art on property without permission:

And what is a graffiti artist if he don't tag?
No homophobia, but he's a fag.

This may seem like a re-definition of "fag."  You may even be impressed that Bun B managed to incorporate a 5-syllable word into his lyrics.  However, the word is still fraught with meaning that he draw attention to, and, while the two often go hand-in-hand, just because he's not homophobic, or scared of homosexuals, the lyrics don't do much to convince that Bun B doesn't hate or feel disgust when he thinks of homosexuals.

Fortunately, there are more than a handful of rappers who are bucking the trend.  Two artists in particular, who I've been listening to lately (and who have toured together), have found a good alternative.

Big K.R.I.T. and Curren$y have never (that I’ve heard or can find) used "fag" or "gay" in their lyrics; instead they use "lame[s]". In using “lame[s]”, they’ve found a one syllable words that work just as well to convey their distaste with the people whose actions they disagree or aren’t impressed with, and they’ve done so without bringing sexual orientation into it.  I think this is a pretty savvy and thoughtful choice and I wish other rappers would consider a similar change in lexicon.

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