So Just How Homophobic Is Rap In 2010?

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The familiar conceit of this past Sunday's New York Times Magazine article "Sissy Bounce: New Orleans's Gender-Bending Rap," goes something like this: There are some gay rappers in New Orleans. Rap's usually really homophobic. That's crazy, huh? Contrasting the apparently enlightened attitude of New Orleans bounce with mainstream hip-hop's homophobia in order to wrap a chin-scratching, Times-friendly thesis around a rowdy, obscene style of Southern dance music is probably good for the genre's visibility. And the assertion that rap is gay-unfriendly is so well proven by now that the piece's writer, Jonathan Dee, doesn't even deign to provide any examples to support it. Fair enough: hip-hop's track record, when it comes to addressing homosexuality, is abysmal. But do we really know for a fact that rap remains completely unenlightened, circa 2010?

In the eighties, hip-hop was venomous toward gays: think Big Daddy Kane's "anti-faggot" law from "Pimpin Ain't Easy", or Public Enemy's "The parts don't fit/Aww, shit" aside from "Meet The G That Killed Me." In the nineties, rap's signature was the hard-ass "faggot"-filled vitriol of groups like Wu-Tang and the Lox. Along with today's lunkheaded leftovers from those two decades, there are still songs like "MC Hammer" off Rick Ross' Teflon Don, wherein the Boss tells listeners "credit card scams [are] for the faggots."

But there are also significant anti-homophobic currents swirling around the genre in 2010. Hip-hop is growing more mature at about the same rate as the rest of the country--which is to say, it's getting there, if not nearly fast enough. Just this past weekend, Bay Area rap weirdo Lil B tore Santos apart in his one-of-a-kind way, telling the crowd, among many other things, that other rappers fear him because he's different. From the stage, he called those closed-minded rappers "Republicans." Among the hundreds of songs B's recorded, there's "I'm a Fag, I'm a Lesbian," in which the rapper claims to be both of those things. The video comes with the declaration: "This is PUSHING THE LIMITS OF HIP-HOP...AND ALL THE PEOPLE WITH NARROW MINDS WILL NEVER UNDERSTAND." The Based God's song and message, it should be said, is not entirely coherent. But it's clear he's using his growing fame to speak on rap's ingrained idiocy.

Nor are rappers' responses to the genre's persistent rumors about "the gay rapper" as histrionic as they once were. When Lil Wayne was photographed kissing Cash Money president Baby--to whom Wayne affectionately refers to as "Daddy" in person and in song--the rapper didn't seem worry about it all that much. He did however casually reference the incident on one of his biggest hits, "A Milli." In between a slew of free-associative sorta rhymes, Wayne adopted the voice of his detractors: "On that faggot bullshit/Call him Dennis Rodman." That jokey line has some of the same casual, no-big-deal approach to homosexuality presented by the "Sissy Bounce" artists. (No coincidence both come from New Orleans.)

If it takes public grandstanding to prove a genre isn't homophobic, consider Kanye West, who has been criticizing rap's homophobia since 2005. Around the same time West told national television "George Bush doesn't care about black people," in an MTV interview with Sway, All Eyes on Kanye West, he spoke out against the word "faggot" and the first grader-like use of the word "gay" as a negative descriptor. This clip from the Madison Square Garden performance of his 2008 "Glow In the Dark Tour" captures one of Kanye's classic, kind of coherent, mid-concert rants. At the 2:15 mark, right after he explains he doesn't like Ed Hardy but it's cool if you like Ed Hardy, he asks the crowd: "How you gonna say fag right in front of a gay dude's face and act like that's okay?" (Of course, Kanye is nothing if not contradictory. Last year's "Run This Town" saw him resurrect another bit of rap bigotry, the tired disavowal "no homo." Stuff like this may complicate his more pro-gay statements, but it certainly doesn't negate them.)

So yes, rap's homophobic--very homophobic--but not absolutely so. A comparatively gay-friendly subculture like bounce is not so much remarkable for simply existing as it is for being of a piece with what's happening all over rap, whether in similarly obscure realms (such as Lil B's Based following) or in bold statements from superstars like Lil Wayne and Kanye West. These examples hardly constitute a majority opinion, but they do prove that the bounce scene isn't that rarefied--it's just maybe easier to write about.

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