I have lived long enough to see hip-hop become the villain. The genre that many grew up on has always been a male-dominated terrain. Because of this, it has also been the least inclusive as far as LGBTIQ+ representation and commercial acceptance. From the lyrical content to a culture that generally perpetuates bigotry, it is interesting to observe how committed some of its members are to wearing their homophobic hats. As a huge hip-hop head but also an ally to the community, I find myself identifying what is harmful, why it is harmful and why it should be challenged with quicker speed.
Rappers represent a culture and it dictates what is cool and acceptable in society – that is the power hip-hop has had for years. When I was in high school for instance, “no homo” was a perfectly normal thing for men to say in everyday conversations as well as online.
“It’s crazy how you can go from being Joe Blow / to everybody on your d*ck... no homo.” These were Ye’s lyrics on Run This Town, a song that appeared on 18 charts for 250 weeks. That is the mass appeal of the genre. Other rappers like Lil Wayne would also co-sign this phrase on their own projects. These were two of the biggest rappers at the time.
The point here is that this is bigger than clever wordplay, it sets the tone for the kind of masculinity that they believed should be practiced and accepted in society by removing themselves from anything that might be associated with queerness. Hip-hop’s language in general, forces us to reflect on how race, gender and sexuality intersect. Not only do these artists shape the culture, they have the ability to shift it.
A couple of months ago I came across a series called P-Valley on Showmax. It follows the activity in a strip club and it is rich with storylines and themes, however, there is one particular character arc that stuck with me. Lil’ Murda (J Alphonse Nicholson) is an up-and-coming rapper who also happens to be closeted. His story follows his rising career and celebrity level success while he explores his romantic relationship under the radar with another man.
Nicholson spoke about the importance of this role as someone who identifies as heterosexual outside of the role. He mentioned that he consulted his wife about it and dated back to his theatre days where kissing a man wasn’t that big of a deal. Ultimately, he knew that portraying Lil’ Murda would be culturally important now as well as in the years to follow.
With the second season approaching, I found myself revisiting the first one and being equally moved to unpack this given what has also recently transpired in the media with Isaiah Rashad. A few months ago, a video essentially outing the rapper surfaced online. He recently sat down for his first interview since. From that, it was evident that the importance of dismantling homophobia in hip-hop still hasn’t quite landed.
Isaiah Rashad says that he identifies as being sexually fluid— SOUND (@itsavibe) May 26, 2022
In his first interview since the sextape tape leak, he opens up about everything pic.twitter.com/YyOrq4Bt3Y
Because there are a number of issues at play here, it is essential that the platforms that these artists speak on are safe spaces as well. In a viral clip from that interview, Rashad describes himself as sexually fluid. Joe Budden, for some reason, interprets this as being promiscuous. He also goes on to ask Rashad if he was sober while exploring his sexuality. Mind you, Joe Budden is 41 years old.
What I appreciated about the clip out of context is that it illuminates how homosexuality has been historically viewed, so it comes as no surprise that the people in charge of the exclusives are the same people making the conversation uncomfortable as opposed to progressive.
To understand that hip-hop is an extension of Black culture is to understand why these issues run so deep and require constant challenging. There is an idea of what Black masculinity looks like and how it is packaged. All this to say, the homophobia didn’t just arrive out of nowhere – there are views and beliefs that have been cultivated over a long period of time and championed through rhyming on a good beat. The more we talk about them, question them and challenge them, the closer we are to the personal and social shifts that I believe are possible. Hashtag, so homo.
- Stream season 1 of P-Valley on Showmax