And you… do stop?
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."
1988: N.W.A., Eazy-E gay-bash their way Straight Outta Compton
Eazy-E released his solo album Eazy-Duz-It about a month after N.W.A. dropped Straight Outta Compton; both exemplify the vicious homophobia that ruled hip-hop in the late '80s and early '90s. The track "Gangsta Gangsta," from Straight Outta Compton, features the line "but she keep cryin' 'I got a boyfriend' / Bitch, stop lyin' / Dumb-ass hooker ain't nothin' but a dyke." Eazy's album features "Nobody Move," a drawn-out tale of a bank robbery. During the second verse, Eazy is about to rape a woman when she's revealed to be a transsexual, at which point he raps "Put the gat to his legs, all the way up his skirt / because this is one faggot that I had to hurt."
1990: Public Enemy reveals limits to their progressiveness
If you were disenfranchised in the golden age of hip-hop, the angry, socially conscious Public Enemy was the group that had your back — unless you were gay. On "Meet the G That Killed Me," Chuck D rapped, "Man to man, I don't know if they can / From what I know, the parts don't fit;" on "A Letter to the NY Post," they even waxes homophobic in the midst of a left-field shoutout to James Cagney, of all people: "Ask James Cagney / He beat up on a guy when he found he was a fagney / Cagney is a favorite / He is my boy / He don't jive around / He's a real McCoy." Indeed.
1990: Big Daddy Kane's career takes a hit over AIDS rumors
Big Daddy Kane was a massively influential figure in hip-hop, but his anti-gay lyrics ("the Big Daddy law is anti-faggot / That means no homosexuality") apparently weren't convincing enough; his career suffered in the early '90s when rumors suggested he was bisexual and dying from AIDS. Even a public announcement at a concert claiming both his AIDS-negative status and his heterosexuality didn't help; not surprisingly, his Playgirl spread didn't help either.
1991: Et tu, A Tribe Called Quest?
Despite being loved as one of the smartest, most progressive, most generally awesome hip-hop groups of the '90s, even A Tribe Called Quest weren't immune to some bonehead plays. The most regrettable of these is the unreleased "Georgie Porgie," the original version of "Show Business." While "Show Business" is a cautionary tale about the music industry, "Georgie Porgie" features lines like "Getting done up the butt box / Oh my God, how gross can one be? / Well anyway, better him than me," and Q-Tip's nonchalant parting shot, "Call me homophobic but I know it and you know it / You're filthy and funny to the utmost exponent." Grand Puba remains unrepentant, calling his verse "probably one of the best verses I ever wrote." In fact, when the label wouldn't release the song, he refused to record a verse for "Show Business."
1994: Notorious B.I.G. releases "Me and My Bitch"
…which features the line "You look so good, I suck on your daddy's dick," and weirdly, even being willing to make that claim jokingly seems almost progressive in the context of '90s rap. Not exactly a statement of solidarity, but hey, baby
2000 – 2001: Eminem, confirmed homophobe, duets with Elton John, confirmed gay dude
Emerging in the late '90s, Eminem doubled-down on homophobia. Some of his greatest hits:
• "You faggots keep egging me on till I have you at knife point, then you beg me to stop?" ("Kill You")
• “My words are like a dagger with a jagged edge / And I’ll stab you in the head, whether you’re a fag or les / A homosex, hermaph, or a trans-a-ves / Pants or dress? Hate fags? The answer’s yes." ("Criminal")
• "New Kids on the Block sucked a lot of dick / Boy-girl groups make me sick / And I can't wait 'til I catch all you faggots in public, I'ma love it" ("Marshall Mathers")
And on it went… until he performed a duet with Elton John at the Grammys. They hugged afterwards, and homophobia was defeated forever. On SNL, Tina Fey memorably zinged Eminem over the incident, reporting, "When asked if he felt conflicted about working with the obviously gay performer, Elton John said, 'I don't have a problem with it.'"
2004: 50 Cent doesn't like the thoughts that are in gay people's heads
Between his various entrepreneurial endeavors in the fields of crack cocaine and Vitamin Water, 50 Cent was also, at one point, a rapper, In 2004, he gave an interview to Playboy, expressing his homophobia in terms that were almost hilariously direct:
I ain’t into faggots. I don’t like gay people around me, because I’m not comfortable with what their thoughts are. I’m not prejudiced. I just don’t go with gay people and kick it — we don’t have that much in common. I’d rather hang out with a straight dude. But women who like women, that’s cool.
2005: Kanye West speaks out against homophobia in hip-hop
Say what you like about Kanye's outsize ego and general jackassery, but he's one of the first hip-hop heads to really come out against homophobia. In a 2005 interview with MTV, West said that hip-hop was supposed to be about:
…speaking your mind and about breaking down barriers, but everyone in hip-hop discriminates against gay people… I want to just come on TV and just tell my rappers, tell my friends, "Yo, stop it."
In another interview, he noted that he used to be homophobic before learning that a cousin of his was gay.
I would use the word "fag" and always look down upon gays. But then my cousin told me that another one of my cousins was gay, and I loved him. He’s one of my favorite cousins. And at that point it was kind of like a turning point when I was like, "Yo, this my cousin, I love him, and I've been discriminating against gays."
2006: Lil Wayne photographed kissing Birdman on mouth
In 2006, Lil Wayne, the cough-syrup-fueled dynamo who'd rapped about "homo niggas getting AIDS in the ass," was photographed kissing his mentor, Birdman, on the mouth. The pair have remained relatively tight-lipped on the kiss, though Birdman defended the kiss as familial a few years later, saying, "That's my son, ya heard me? If he was right here, I'd kiss him again."
2009: Kanye West institutes the phrase "No homo"
West also brought the phrase "no homo" into the mainstream on a massive scale with his verse in the Jay-Z track "Run This Town:" "It's crazy how you can go from being Joe Blow / to everybody on your dick — no homo." The politics of this trend were and are complicated; the phrase might sound regressive, but as Jonah Weiner argued in Slate, you could look at it as a way for rappers to — at the very least — acknowledge homosexuality and even slyly make jokes about it, without having to couch those references in threats of violence.
2010: Prominent rappers defend DJ Mr. Cee after sex scandal
In 2010, veteran New York DJ Mr. Cee, a longtime DJ at New York's venerable Hot 97 hip-hop station and, at one point, Notorious B.I.G.'s DJ, was arrested for receiving oral sex from a drag queen in a parked car. Surprisingly, the hip-hop community was mostly unruffled; by that point, the respect for Cee, outweighed the homophobia. Even 50 Cent went so far as to say that he'd drop his current DJ in favor of Mr. Cee any day. A few days later at Hot 97's Summer Jam, Mr. Cee played Diana Ross' "I'm Comin' Out" — previously used as a sample in Biggie's "Mo' Money, Mo' Problems" — in a DJ set.
2011: Lil B announces new album, I'm Gay
In 2011, lo-fi rapper Lil B announced that his new album would be called I'm Gay; response was largely positive, though Lil B also received some death threats. Speaking to MTV, he elaborated on his motivation:
I'm very gay, but I love women. I'm not attracted to men in any way. I've never been attracted to a man in my life. But yes, I am gay, I'm so happy. I'm a gay, heterosexual male. I got major love for the gay and lesbian community, and I just want to push less separation, and that's why I'm doing it. One-hundred years later, people are going to thank me, because people are going to be free.
2011: Fat Joe finally weighs in
The world finally found the one voice missing from the gay-rights debate when Fat Joe brought his views to the table in 2011. In in interview with VLADTV, Joe responded with blunt common sense to a question about whether he'd ever done a song with a gay rapper:
Yes. Niggas is gay. There's millions of gay people in the world. Girls too… I'm a fan of "Yo, I'm gay. The fuck." Like, 2011, you've got to hide that you're gay? …If you gay, you gay. Like that's your preference, you know? Fuck it if the people don't like it.
2012: A$AP Rocky calls homophobia in hip-hop "retarded"
Say what you will about swapping one regressive set of slang and prejudices for another, but when one of the hottest up-and-coming rappers takes such a hard-line stance against discrimination in his culture, it's quite a thing.
I don't give a fuck about your business. Man, if you're gay we can be friends. If you're straight, we can be friends. …People need to leave gay people the fuck alone. Like, who cares? If you still care about shit like that you need to just hang yourself like the rest of them KKK motherfuckers. … [Hate a person] because they're a thief or a bad person. Don't hate 'em for what they choose to do, because they make decisions on their own time what they choose to do. I don't care and it's, like, fucked up that hip-hop is so retarded. They don't want to accept nothing.
2012: Frank Ocean comes out as bisexual
Absurdly talented producer, singer, and rapper Frank Ocean recently revealed via a moving post on his Tumblr that the first person he ever fell in love with was a man. In a touching statement of support, hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons wrote,
Today is a big day for hip-hop. It is a day that will define who we really are. How compassionate will we be? How loving can we be? How inclusive are we? I am profoundly moved by the courage and honesty of Frank Ocean. Your decision to go public about your sexual orientation gives hope and light to so many young people still living in fear. These types of secrets should not matter anymore, but we know they do, and because of that I decided to write this short statement of support for one of the greatest new artists we have.
Other reactions were varied (Tyler the Creator tweeted a probably sincere "Proud Of That Nigga Cause I Know That Shit Is Difficult Or Whatever"), but the general warm response suggests that hip-hop may finally be accepting homosexuality.