Has Hip-Hop Outgrown Homophobia?: A Timeline

And you... do stop?

by Alex Heigl

So, Frank Ocean came out last week and said that the first person he fell in love with was a man. And the internet had some thoughts about it. Most were centered around the persistent theme of homophobia in hip-hop, and that got us thinking that we should take a look back at the history of the genre and examine its track record.

1982: Grandmaster Flash releases "The Message" 

Among the first hip-hop tracks to go beyond a mere litany of boasting, "The Message" was an examination of poverty and inequality that spoke as much to the head as to the booty. That said, "The Message" was also one of the first examples of homophobia in hip-hop. First, there's the mention of a homeless woman who "used to be a fag-hag." Another verse references a "stickup kid sent up for an eight-year bid;" once in prison, "your manhood is took and you're a maytag, spend[ing] the next two years as a undercover fag." Weirdly, Grandmaster Flash has been dogged by rumors of homosexuality himself for years now, which makes you wonder if there's more to the reactionary sexuality of "The Message" than just a reflection of the times. Either way, it's hard not to wince at those lines.


1986: The Beastie Boys try to title their first album Don't Be a Faggot

In 1986, the Beastie Boys broke big with Licensed to Ill, but the title they originally wanted (possibly at the suggestion of producer Rick Rubin) was "Don't Be a Faggot," in keeping with their beery frat-boy personas. Columbia Records probably saved their careers by refusing to issue the album with that title. The Beasties later expressed considerable embarrassment about their early work, and Ad-Rock wrote to Time Out New York in 1999 specifically to "formally apologize to the entire gay and lesbian community for the shitty and ignorant things we said on our first record."


1988: Will Smith tells AIDS victims to "be quiet"

Yes, even that cute kid from Philadelphia who doesn't curse because his grandmother told him not to has some skeletons in his closet. In a 1986 live recording released on the triple platinum He's The DJ, I'm The Rapper, you can hear the young Smith pumping up his audience by chanting "All the ugly people be quiet / All the filthy, stinky, nasty people be quiet / all the homeboys that got AIDS be quiet / all the girls out there that don't like guys be quiet." It's surprising to hear how casual homophobia infected even the most squeaky-clean of hip-hop. But it should be noted that Smith has matured quite a bit since then: he recently came out in favor of support of same-sex marriage, noting that “If anybody can find someone to love them and to help them through this difficult thing that we call life, I support that in any shape or form." 

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