Thursday, February 08, 2007

Homophobia in "Conscious" Rap

(Wow-- I wrote this way back in 2007 and it still gets wild traffic; I've made a few edits here and there over the years, but it's still important to keep that timeframe in mind. Also, check out some info on the "Hip Hop Against Homophobia" series we've done here in MN. --Guante)

Because this always comes up, one initial point of clarification: the term “homophobia” does not just mean “fear of gay people.” It refers to ANY fear, aversion, distrust or hatred directed toward people who identify as LGBTQ. So I don’t want anyone coming up to me later saying “Ayo I hear what you’re saying, but see I ain’t AFRAID of gays, I just don’t like them.” I’m glad we’re all on the same page now.

I first heard New York rapper Saigon a few years ago—a few songs here and there from his various mixtapes, from hip hop websites and from friends’ mix CDs. Armed with a razor-sharp wit, a real talent for multisyllable rhyme and the bombastic production of Just Blaze, Saigon was a welcome breath of fresh air. To top it all off, Sai was political! He was down with dead prez, he rapped about crooked politicians and he was one of an extremely few artists able to successfully blend street credibility with socially-conscious rhymes.

“Finally,” I thought. “A credible rapper who isn’t afraid to talk about real issues and actually has some personality. This guy could be the future. He could be ‘the conscious 50 Cent.’ Saigon could really change the face of mainstream hip hop.”

But it was too good to be true, as these sorts of things always are. Saigon, as it turns out, is virulently, publicly homophobic. For example, Sai’s response to Kanye West calling for a moratorium on homophobia in hip hop:

“S to the A I, may I say I never affiliate myself with a gay guy/ Sorry Kanye I, had homophobia ever since I was yay high.”

Doesn’t really get much more overt than that. And here is his rhymed multiple choice question on “Contraband II:”

“Question number three is for the females/ y’all know how I feel about the details/ this is 100% true, I’ll bet with you/ why is three out of every four broads bisexual?/ A; ‘cause they tired of the problems that the men bring/ B; they just munchin’ on carpets ‘cause it’s the in-thing/ C; ‘cause America say it’s okay to be gay/ D; this just Sodom and Gomorrah on replay.”

I really had no reason to be surprised. Throughout the years, rappers I had once looked up to as talented and socially conscious have repeatedly let me down when it comes to applying their revolutionary fervor to the LGBTQ community. While “mainstream” artists like Eminem, DMX, Busta Rhymes and many others have been publicly criticized for their homophobic lyrics, we’ve failed to shine that same light on many of our self-proclaimed revolutionary heroes, so-called “conscious” acts like Saigon, Immortal Technique, Brand Nubian, Capital D, El-P, Goodie Mob, Brother Ali and many, many others.

Even “conscious” hip hop’s champions, the oft-heralded Common and Mos Def, have a history of anti-gay lyrics.

“Homo’s a no-no, so faggots stay solo…” (Common on “Heidi Hoe,” 1992).

“Cats who claimin’ they hard be mad fag/ so I run through ‘em like flood water through sandbags…” (Mos Def on Blackstar’s “Re-Definition,” 1998).

“In a circle of faggots, your name is mentioned…” (Common on “Dooinit,” 2000).

“Quasi-homosexuals is runnin’ this rap shit…” (Mos Def on “The Rape Over,” 2004).

To be fair, Common has since changed his view and attitude and this is to be applauded. The point is, however, that underground/conscious/political artists are just as prone to homophobia as their mainstream counterparts, and we in the broader hip hop community have a responsibility to hold them to the same standards.

And this is usually the place in the discussion where people start getting defensive and/or making excuses for these artists. “We shouldn’t expect them to be perfect.” Or “homophobia isn’t hip hop’s problem; it’s society’s problem.” Or “at least they’re talking about other important issues.” Or “it’s free speech; stop trying to censor them.” Or whatever.

But this isn’t censorship or a demand for absolute ideological perfection; it’s a call for some pretty reasonable standards. Don’t be a bigot—is that so much to ask?

Hip hop—and yes, even “conscious” hip hop—has a problem with homophobia. There's no point in denying this. From mainstream artists to underground artists to local and amateur acts—homophobia, both indirect (the use of homophobic slurs as a general insult; attend any MC battle and see for yourself) and explicit (overt gay-bashing in lyrics) is far too prevalent in hip hop. Of course, it’s far too prevalent everywhere, but hip hop warrants special attention both because of the nature/frequency of the attacks and the visibility and worldwide influence of the medium. I’d write an article about homophobia in polka music, horse racing, or old-world breadmaking, but the people who participate in those activities aren’t constantly and publicly making fools out of themselves (while commanding the attention of a global audience) by calling one another “fags.”

This is especially problematic when it comes to artists who are placed on a pedestal by both the hip hop and activist communities as being pillars of progressive or radical thought. Immortal Technique, for example, is a hero to thousands of “revolutionary” minded hip hop fans who are either so desperate for politics in hip hop that they’ll ignore his homophobia, or don’t care about its presence in the first place. And I’m afraid it’s more often the latter.

“Why you tryin’ to be hardcore, you fuckin’ homo-thug?/ and don’t be sensitive and angry at the shit that I wrote/ ‘cause if you can take a fucking dick, you can take a joke.” (Immortal Technique on “Obnoxious,” 2003).

Immortal Tech offers more jewels of wisdom in this interview with RapStation: “As for homophobia, hip hop never embraced faggots. One can’t deny that there are probably rappers, DJs and fans that are mo's but I think since the culture was based around proving ones manhood; acting like a fruitpop isn’t gonna get you anywhere.”

(Tech does, oddly enough, make a very important point about how sexism and outdated ideals of masculinity serve to undergird homophobia in the hip hop community. As always, sexism and homophobia go hand in hand).

The bottom line, particularly for those who consider themselves progressives or radicals, is that homophobia, aside from being morally wrong and flat-out ignorant, is counterrevolutionary. “An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.” Rappers can claim anti-government, or pro-social justice or whatever all they want, but if they’re casually throwing around anti-gay slurs then they’re directly participating in the oppression of a significant portion of the world population.

Which is, of course, exactly what the powers-that-be want. We can’t have decently-funded schools or universal health care because voters are too upset over the prospect of gay people getting married. We can’t have revolutionary organizations because racism, sexism, classism and homophobia hinder people’s basic ability to work together. It’s divide and conquer, and perhaps it goes without saying, but it’s bigger than hip hop too. Politically-minded rappers being homophobic mirrors a lot of other problems associated with the Left: white liberals being racist and completely oblivious about it, male activists being all for smashing the State but not willing to follow female leadership, college student organizers holding meetings that working-class people are not able to attend, the list goes on and on. We all need to start thinking more holistically.

As far as solutions go, this problem needs to be assaulted on multiple fronts. A whole lot needs to be done in the public realm with regards to education and legislation, but that doesn’t mean that we in the hip hop community should just wait for those things to happen and filter down to us. It’s going to take action.

First and foremost, we can support rappers who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. The more support these artists have the sooner mainstream acceptance will come. And the flipside of this, of course, is not supporting homophobic artists; if a rapper is saying some dumb shit, don’t buy his album. Period.

And that’s difficult—many of the artists I mentioned earlier are or have been personal favorites of mine. I grew up on the first two Goodie Mob albums and I still love a lot of their material. But group member Khujo’s verses on “Fly Away” and “All A’s” have really made me take a second look at the group—and at myself. Five years ago, I let his gay-bashing lyrics slide, rationalizing to myself that they’re drops of negativity in an otherwise positive stew, and that as long as I’m not beating up gay people or joining the Klan I can’t be homophobic. But there comes a point when lines need to be drawn and principles need to be upheld.

We can also write letters, send emails and talk to artists who have used homophobic language or expressed homophobic ideas. This could involve emailing Eminem, but it could just as easily involve talking to some random kid at a battle or one of your Twitter friends and asking him why he uses the language he does. A lot of people are simply never confronted about homophobia, and dialogue may be the necessary first step for many. A significant fraction of the artists who use homophobic language probably don’t have any serious beef with the LGBTQ community—the common excuse is that words like “fag” have evolved into all-purpose insults, and that questioning a male MC’s manhood is just a part of hip hop culture. When we can initiate conversations about why that language—regardless of its intent—is harmful, we will start to open some eyes.

We can also strive to better understand the big picture. When white activists single out rappers for being homophobic, or assume that anti-gay legislation only passes in certain states because of POC voters, that's dangerous. I'm writing here about homophobia in hip hop because that's my community, and my comments come from a place of genuine love, investment and understanding; if you can't say the same, be careful with how you frame your critiques.

Finally, as artists, whether “conscious” or otherwise, we need to take some responsibility. Read up on the history of Gay Liberation and the struggle for LGBTQ rights. Find more creative ways to disrespect the hypothetical wack MC that we all rap about from time to time (really, when every dis boils down to questioning masculinity and sexuality, it’s not just ignorant—it’s boring). If you’re a battlerapper, point out when your opponent uses homophobic language and use it to your advantage—be creative. And for God’s sake, stop saying “no homo.”

Kanye West recently made waves by passionately speaking out against homophobia in hip hop. But a month or two later he dropped this lyric on DJ Khaled’s “Grammy Family:” “’Yeezy got a vision that’s clearer than Evian/ used to hit the radio, them faggots ain’t let me on.”

Yes, we all know that West is “complex,” but this kind of hypocrisy is unacceptable. As artists at all levels of influence, from the Jay-Zs of the world to the basement MC rapping into a computer mic, we need to lead with both words and actions—this is our community and it’s on us to change it for the better. Silence and inaction both equal complicity.

29 comments:

Terry said...

El Guante. Thank you for this very well done, thoughtful, educational writing.

It takes absolutely no strength, no greatness to go along the grain. Anyone can ride north on a north bound wave.

It takes mad strength to flow against that grain particularly when it's runnin' against progress and social change.

Terry


Turn up your music and visit:


WWW.TERRYHOWCOTT.COM

A BLACK, PROGRESSIVE, JUSTICE SEEKING, OPENLY INCLUSIVE, ARTISTIC ONLINE EXPERIENCE.

Sushi Bunny said...

Thank you for this article...

Not only are your ideas right on and actually "conscious" but you've given us a piece that is well written and substantiated, something I can pass on in the activist and academic worlds.

Thanks for being a part of radical change...

Anonymous said...

FAGGOTS AND HIP HOP DO NOT MIX. LIKE TECH SAID HIP HOP HAS ALWAYS BEEN ABOUT SHOWING AND PROVING YOUR MANHOOD. IF YOU'RE TAKING COCKS UP THE ASS AND YOU'RE A MAN YOU HAVE NO PLACE IN HIP HOP. HAVING SEX WITH MEN IS WHAT FEMALES DO, SO BY DOING SO AS A MAN YOU ARE ACTING LIKE A FEMALE AND THATS NOT HIP HOP. ANOTHER THING IS HIP HOP IS A BLACK THING, ALWAYS HAS BEEN ALWAYS WILL BE AND IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY HOMOSEXUALITY IS FROWNED UPON. IT IS THE WHITE MAN WHO SAYS ITS OKAY TO BE GAY. IF YOU LOOK AT WHITES HISTORY THEY WERE THE FIRST HOMOSEXUALS. JUST LOOK AT THE GREEKS THEY WERE ALL FAGGOTS! THE FACT ABOUT IT IS HOMOSEXUALITY IS A PERVERSION OF THE WORST KIND. YOU CANNOT JUSTIFY IT. ITS COMPLETLY UNNATURAL BEHAVIOR. ITS WRONG. SOME PEOPLE ARE WICKED AND THEIR BRAINS ARE INFECTED BY DEVILS. ALL OF THEIR THOUGHTS ARE WICKED. HOMOSEXUALS ARE WICKED. AS A PERSON YOU MUST HAVE SELF CONTROL AND UNDERSTAND WRONG FROM RIGHT. HOMOSEXUALS CLEARLY DO NOT HAVE ANY SELF CONTROL AND DO NOT CARE IF WHAT THEY ARE DOING IS WRONG IN THE EYES OF GOD SO THEY WILL BE SEVERLY PUNISHED.
--- MALIK

Insurrection said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Insurrection said...

Thanks for writing this article El Guante. How can a radical hip-hop be conscious and revolutionary with outdated morals on sexuality? It cannot be and you summed it up really well.


As to the previous homophobic comment - homosexuality belongs to history and present of any people's upon this Earth, more or less suppressed in patriarchal, top to bottom imposed social orders. What must be even scarier to homophobes is that we all are naturally bi-sexual, obviously to different degrees that become expressed/explored. Connecting homosexuality to race is unsupportable both historically and scientifically. A society permissive of homosexuality is no more or less comprising of people who prefer their own gender than one that socially hides it and represses it. Homosexuality transcends the borders he mistakenly ascribes it to. Neither I don't understand why he chooses Greeks as the sample of 'faggots' of the history of 'whites' - if we go to ancient Greek empire we find that the ethnic composure of Greece is so mixed that to talk about example of ‘white’ history is questionable to say the least. In its peak Greek civilisation spread from today's geographical Greece right up to Egypt and the Hindu Kush mountains. We have here therefore a real mixture of Libyan, Turkish and Levant (mostly Arabic and Jewish), Vlach, Slavic, Albanian etc people's making up the ethnic picture of the Ancient Greece. To get back to this strange ascribing to racial purity theory that the previous anon post stinks of - scientifically there's no such thing as racial purity. Therefore terms like 'black', 'white' etc are outdated racist shite when used in such derogatory way. Without a surprise Nazis justified their final solution racist policies on pretext of Jewish peoples perversion and flaws given by their ethnicity. Without a surprise they tried to prove their racist policies against gypsies by cooking up how their history points to their ‘tendency’ to be ‘criminals’. Without surprise white supremacists will justify their hate by cooking up how perverse and flawed the non – whites are.

And no, I’m not saying let’s get wipe all the slate clean and forget who delivered suffering to another and how. But to perpetuate it is perpetuating the wrongs of the past.

I have to break it to those who hang to racist ideas - we all come from the same ancestor. The human family is one and the same, whatever colour of our skin. The mutation of the colour of the skin is not something that genetically offsets us as different from each other. It's no different than having blue or green eye - the make up of the eye is genetically the same; it only comes down to mutation of the original gene passed down via ancestors. There are only 18 of the said genetic variants and to beat the point home - they're mutation of the common genetic ancestor who is the same to us all, regardless of the mutations acquired during the ages. The fact that we have interbred between the different mutations of the original genes doesn't change the thing upon the fact that human family is one and the same. And it destroys racist presumptions even more.

In African cultures that left a significant historical record we also see homosexuality.

People who are selling themselves to hate as homophobia or racism or sexism are victims of divisive factors crippling the collective consciousness and condition of humanity and as such are reactionary. Dictating whom falls in love with whom and what happens in the privacy of their sex lives is authoritarian reactionary and backwards brainwash. Calling things right and wrong on bases of religious dogma is a certain resistance to learn about one's own humanity and thus a strength of his/hers own compassion for other human beings he/she shares the world with on bases of humanistic integrity rather than accepted thought. A thought that for ages acted as an assesory to oppression, repression and division. That served as an apologist for the rich oppressing the poor and apologist for the colonists and imperialists to offer
a 'choice' of their holy text and faith or the bullet/death for the indigenous populations and to set people fighting between each other rather than their real sources of oppression, alienation, discrimination and poverty - those who whispered the poisonous opiates of religion and ideological dogmas based on inequality and exploitation.



If Tech and the blatantly homophobic commenter believe that hip-hop is about proving manhood and being homophobic is the way to do so then all they are doing is proving that hip-hop is not just reactionary but scared to grow up to have its own values instead of cultural and religious prejudices.
Just as Malik's moral judgements rest on the ignorance fed by religion, the hypothesis he offered rest on ignorance of history and science. Hardly shocking.

Edited and reposted for few corrections

Steven said...

I just wanted to say this is a really great piece. I enjoyed it a lot and think you are absolutely spot on in the analysis.

Jez said...

malik, typing in capital letters wont make your message any clearer. as it is, it is clear to most of us, that yours is not only a sexist and a homophobic message, but a racist one.
And if you are an anti-homophobe just trying to shed light on the blatant stupidity of homophobes, well done!

On a side note, just a thought: maybe revolution is a typical manly thing. i don't know, just wondering aloud.

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Anonimous said...

Well done. Keep up the great work. Best regards!

Anonimous said...

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Anonymous said...

Thanks to author! I like articles like this, very interesting.

Michael said...

Thanks for the nice post!

S1 said...

Excellent argument, well structured, etc. HOWEVER, you neglect to mention that the term faggot is often disassociated with sexual preference when used as a pejorative in the Hip Hop community. Of course, the question is how disassociated can it really be? But that factor at least needs to be addressed.

Finally "Deep Dickolective" ?!? I don't think so, they could be the dopest lyricists ever but they'll get no play from me, does this make me homophobic? I don't think so, in fact it's just an expression of my own (heterosexual) sexual preference which you can't degrade as bigoted if you don't want to be degraded for homesexual preference.

The inherent weakness and fallacy in your argument is that you ASSUME that a person cannot intellectually disagree with homosexuality, that is where your argument ultimately fails.

You can oppose bigotry against homosexuals without personally agreeing with homosexuality.

This is a distinction that you (and many others) fail to acknowledge and in the process you fail to reach people that would be receptive to a purely anti-bigotry argument.

PEACE.

S1

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JohnBraun said...

BvwdN1 write more, thanks.

Lotus said...

-could someone clean up these comments and delete all this spam?
thank you-

Thank you for writing this guante, i feel that this is one of those issue's that is talked about from time to time and minds can be changed, people can get pumped about, and then no actual change occours, and people continue to indoctrinate the minds with subtle or obvious inhuman homophobic lyrics. And as for emcees that say they aren't going to adress social or political issues (which can be refreshing dont get me wrong) then go and pull some crazy homophobic battle rap out of their hipocritical ass...seriouslly? I don't know I've just become completelly turned off to battle raps completelly becouse of the pretentious, homophobic, sexist, racist, etc... nature of it.

thank you,
Lotus

-oh and tech's latest album, sucks anyways-

Anonymous said...

Hey, I just found this on Google. Thanks for writing it.

J.C. Hartsig said...

I appreciate your stand and your humility. I also appreciate the fact you will be joining us at The Depot for Hop Hop Against Homophobia!!

An army of lovers cannot fail!

MN accent said...

"The bottom line, particularly for those who consider themselves progressives or radicals, is that homophobia, aside from being morally wrong and flat-out ignorant, is counterrevolutionary. “An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.” Rappers can claim anti-government, or pro-black, or pro-social justice or whatever all they want, but if they’re casually throwing around anti-gay slurs then they’re directly participating in the oppression of a significant portion of the world population."

Love it. Powerful words. Great Post.

Anonymous said...

"You can oppose bigotry against homosexuals without personally agreeing with homosexuality."

I couldn't help but laugh at that. And yes S1, you are a homophobe. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

"The inherent weakness and fallacy in your argument is that you ASSUME that a person cannot intellectually disagree with homosexuality, that is where your argument ultimately fails. You can oppose bigotry against homosexuals without personally agreeing with homosexuality."

I chuckled a little. Let's play around with this statement a little and see how it works with other dimensions of human identity. For instance substitute for homosexuality... disability. "We can intellectually disagree with disability... oppose bigotry against those with disabilities without personally agreeing with disability."

Yes, most definitely... oppose the disability "lifestyle" intellectually...

writer said...

I think the problem here is way too many people are stuck on what people think of them. A lot of people are scared to stick up for gay people because they're afraid it'll make them look gay. And a lot of other people are writing stuff they think people want to hear, stuff that's easy to write - I'm all for freedom of speech, and I admit some rappers I listen to have some anti-feminist anti-gay bullshit lyrics, but at some point it's annoying as hell and you wonder when these guys are gonna grow up.

Anonymous said...

Immortal Technique has "evolved" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1iuFf0CxFE8 about 6:15 he answers to this issue of homophobia. After Revolutionary Vol 1 and 2, he has "phased out" that language from his own and those he works with's lyrics.
It also comes into play with the movie he did...

Just so you can be up-to-date on this, and recognize the advancements made...

great article otherwise!

EvereadySteady said...

good article, Guante! I will share this. I got tired of hip-hop last year because of this serious issue AND because of blatant religious crap and dumb-ass conspiracy theorists.

To the user "Insurrection",
Thanks, dude! Great response!

Sincerely,
A Secular Humanist/Atheist chick

Anonymous said...

Thats the same thing Neo-nazis, Racists, Conservatives, Tea Party, the religion fanatics say. Congrats you great gatekeeper of hip-hop. You have shown hip hop is just as full of B.S. as Hitler, Pat Robertson, and any other racists who believes blacks and gays are BOTH wicked and evil.

Ryan Kelly said...

Why do the most ignorant comments come in all caps form? I'm just curious, what is your source that claims white people were the first homosexuals? On second thought, you don't need to answer because everybody knows your full of shit.

It sounds like you have issues with yourself especially since you said "HOMOSEXUALS CLEARLY DO NOT HAVE SELF CONTROL" implying that everybody has same-sex attraction but just needs to suspress it. Sounds like you are gay yourself and have a problem with it. I hope you can learn to accept yourself one day.

Chaz Willoughby said...

Devils in the brain? You need to see a psychiatrist mate. Biggoted,moronic prick!!!!!

CeceliaTheMusicBox said...

Thanks for the article and keep up the good work. It's great to see that someone pointed out the hypocrisy of the rap/hip-hop culture that no one wants to talk about. I know it's from 2007, but I still have that page bookmarked for more than a year. :)

I gave up on the rap/hip-hop culture over 2 years ago because of their hypocrisy you've pointed out. One of them is homophobia. I'm a straight woman from the Bronx and it's making me ashamed of the fact that the culture advocates homophobia and violence on a daily basis. I'm not gonna be force-fed to a culture who's popularity in conspiracy theories and "religious" garbage. Unfortunately, I have no idea when I'm gonna jump back to it. But, in this day and time, it's best for me not to. Being free from that culture since late 2013/early 2014 has made me explore other genres of music that I used to do many years ago...and I'm glad that it did. I am now a dance music fan and a rock music fan.