Homophobia existed in America long before Hip Hop emerged from its South Bronx origins, yet this irrational fear/hatred seems to have found a home within the culture. For Hip Hop to be a musical genre that over the years has prided itself on being taboo, nontraditional, and anti-government, its zero tolerance for same-sex affection is as close to American as apple pie.
On his 1988 record “Nobody Move”, West Coast Gangsta Rap pioneer Eazy-E once rhymed that he shot a transgender person during a robbery because “This is one f****t I had to hurt.” Eazy’s music represented the bravado of the streets at a time when only a hypermasculine male was seen as worthy of respect. Hip Hop reflected a reality where anything viewed as of a woman or feminine was weaker than anything male or masculine and, therefore, did not deserve to exist. Women were often degraded and exploited in the music’s lyrics, so any man who mirrored a woman’s mannerism was to be disrespected as well—allowing anti-gay rhymes to exist and flourish within the culture.
Brooklyn-bred Big Daddy Kane’s career suffered when his sexuality was in question. The once-lauded MC became a victim of HIV/AIDS rumors from an alleged bisexual lifestyle after he posed for Playgirl magazine in 1991 and was a bare-naked feature in Madonna’s erotic book, SEX, in 1992. The street allegations didn’t prevent Kane from achieving legendary status, but an argument can be made that their stain stifled his career. Hardcore Hip Hop fans who adored Kane’s macho presence on-the-mic found his atypical choices to be hypocritical instead of seeing his actions as an extension of a “Smooth Operator” who always expressed sexuality in songs. Gray areas do not exist within a homophobic mindset—bisexual means gay and that’s grounds for being ousted.
Kanye West was the first major rap star to call out Hip Hop back in a 2005 MTV interview when he states, “Everybody in Hip Hop discriminates against gay people.” However, West is also the same rapper who in 2009’s “Run This Town” raps, “It’s crazy how you can go from bein’ Joe Blow/ To everybody on your d*** –no homo.” The ‘No Homo’ or PAUSE verbal references—in West’s lyrics and in the vernacular in general—is an unnecessary and problematic proclamation of an overtly heterosexual stance. West’s statement in ‘05 versus his lyrics in ‘09 is an example of how just because an individual is aware and can identify a problem, that does not exempt them from perpetrating it. An MC has to exude dominance, braggadocio, and an overconfident swagger to always remind everyone that they are not feminine, they are not weak.
Homophobia has taken up residency in Hip Hop because the culture is deep-rooted in contradictions. Musical descriptions of gun violence, exaggerated sex escapades, and drug selling/using are all accepted and defended as verbal expressions of life. At the same time, homosexuality is cast down and out as something worse than a garbage-pail demon. To rob, steal, and kill on a record is somehow a less threatening and negative influence on children than the supposed horrors of homosexuality. By its mistreatment and alienation of even the remotest semblance of homosexuality, Hip Hop has—for too long—aligned itself with the same system it initially spoke out against. By doing so, the genre becomes less fight the power and more stars and stripes forever.