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Break it Down: Homophobia in Hip-Hop [Excerpt From the July/August 2011 Issue]

The lyrics stay the lyrics, but they mask the reality: Hip-hop is adjusting, and adapting, to the LGBT community. At some point, it just doesn’t make sense to bask in intolerance anymore. As the genre has gotten bigger and bigger, it has become harder to ignore gay fans, and amiable contact with the many openly gay people in the entertainment industry is part of a top rap artist’s professional life.

The country’s most prominent gay-rights organization, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), acknowledges the shift under way. “Hip-hop, like any culture, reflects the broader social climate. Attitudes are changing, with more and more people accepting their loved ones, neighbors, coworkers and friends who happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender,” said a GLAAD spokesperson. “Being anti-gay has become less acceptable in many places. Getting to know gay people has grown acceptance, and, moreover, successful artists are likely learning that alienating fans is also not good for sales.”

Rappers are around gay folks; gay folks like rappers. It may not be idealism, but at the same time, it shatters a lot of the myths about hip-hop’s attitude toward the LGBT community. Unless an artist is truly provincial, with limited aspirations, he or she will likely realize that it’s not in one’s best interest, or consistent with the reality of one’s personal life, to take a hard-line stance against gays.

Def Jam Recordings mogul Russell Simmons, a longtime advocate for gay rights, believes that hip-hop is actually ahead of the curve. “I’m not suggesting there’s no homo-phobia. I’m suggesting that homophobia exists everywhere, and it’s horrible. I’m saying that hip-hop artists and the hip-hop community, the poetic community, are less homophobic than the rest of society. Whoever you can think of, hip-hop is less.” When it comes to the lyrics, Simmons offers up an explanation similar to the “Black CNN” argument first used to explain gangsta rap to mainstream audiences. “I think that’s just how honest they are. If they use harsh language or say things that exemplify a truth in our sadness, our sickness in our community, that
is shocking. That’s just reality. They’re just dealing with what we’re just trying to brush under the rug. They’re mirrors of our own sickness.”

As with other forms of prejudice, though, this hardly means full acceptance has been achieved. Much of the contact with gays takes the form of the old “I have gay friends” excuse—being cool with individual acquaintances while harboring homophobic attitudes—or, in the case of grizzled Philadelphia rapper Beanie Sigel, a variation on the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

“You gay, go ahead, do you. I just don’t particularly prefer what your preference is,” Sigel says. “Just stay far away from me, cuz. Keep that shit all the way in the closet around me. I couldn’t have a gay stylist and all that… I just got that phobia. I don’t like to be around that. For any people who look into it any other way, go into the Bible and look up the story.”—Bethlehem Shoals


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