From Eminem to Offset, an analysis of hip-hop’s history of homophobia

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On Wednesday, Jan. 17, the music video for VFN Lucci’s single “Boss Life” was released. The track features Offset of the rap trio Migos, who caused outrage with an offensive line in his verse. “I cannot vibe with queers,” he raps. Offset has since apologized, claiming that his use of the word “queer” was not a slight at the LGBT community but rather he used the word’s dictionary definition, meaning something strange or odd.

While this incident could easily be written off by some as a misunderstanding, this is not the first instance of Migos coming under fire for comments regarding homosexuality. The group found themselves in a similar controversy a year ago for their response to questions about fellow rapper iLoveMakonnen coming out as gay. In an interview with Rolling Stone, all 3 members implied that iLoveMakonnen’s sexuality was a direct contrast to his rap music; Quavo called people’s acceptance of Makonnen “wack,” while Offset claimed the support stemmed from “The world (being) fucked up.”

This air of homophobia, or rather an obsession with heteronormativity and masculinity, is something that anyone who has kept up with hip-hop culture is very familiar with. Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, The Game and T.I. are just a few of the many rappers who have used the homophobic f-slur in their lyrics. Jay-Z spit the line “‘Cause faggots hate when you gettin’ money like athletes” on “Heart of the City (Ain’t No Love)” and Lil Wayne’s “A Milli” featured the lyric “On some faggot bullshit: call ’em Dennis Rodman.” In fact, throughout the discography of the best selling (and most controversial)  hip-hop artist of all time, Eminem makes liberal use of the the pejorative. However, despite constant allegations of homophobia, Eminem has fervently stood by the statement that he is not homophobic and even was an advocate for gay marriage before its legalization. As he said in a 2013 interview with Rolling Stone, “That word, those kind of words, when I came up battle-rappin’ or whatever, I never really equated those words to actually mean homosexual.”

Many individuals agree with the sentiment that words like “faggot” are not inherently homophobic. For example, Tyler, the Creator, whose most recent album “Flower Boy” was interpreted by many as a confession of his homosexuality, has seen constant controversy for alleged homophobia based on lyrical content in his past. His debut studio album “Goblin” was filled with lines such as “I’m stabbin’ any bloggin’ faggot hipster with a Pitchfork” and “(Can we get backstage man?) No, faggot, it’s sold out.” This album, as well every one of his studio albums to this point, also featured fellow Odd Future member Frank Ocean, who has been openly bi since 2012, a point which Tyler has cited multiple times in defense of himself. But in 2015 the U.K. went as far as banning Tyler for 3-5 years, claiming his lyrics “encouraged violence and intolerance of homosexuality.” When asked about his use of gay slurs in an interview on The Arsenio Hall Show, Tyler responded, “When I say that word I’m not thinking of someone’s sexual orientation. It’s just another word that has no meaning.”

This perspective is especially interesting when we involve other openly gay hip-hop artists such as Kevin Abstract, leading member of the hip-hop boy band Brockhampton. Kevin not only publicly professes his homosexually, but makes a conscious effort to include his sexual preferences in his verses. However, he has also used homosexual slurs in lyrics; one example can be found in the track, “STUPID,” in which he says “I’m a faggot, I say it/ I scream that shit like I mean it.” In fact, according to Kevin’s Twitter, the track was originally planned to be titled “FAGGOT.” However unlike Tyler the Creator, who received a flurry of backlash for his use of the word, Abstract appears to have a pass to use the f-slur freely. Instead of being criticized he has been praised for owning his sexuality and his clever use of it in his verses.

These circumstances ring a familiar tune to the situation Toronto rapper NAV found himself in a year ago. NAV, who is of Indian descent, was heavily criticized for his use of the n-word in his lyrics, with music magazine The Fader even devoting an article to the subject titled, “Why We Can’t Give South Asian Artists Who Say The N-Word A Pass.” Tying this back to Tyler and Kevin, when Tyler uses the f-slur, it is homophobic and offensive; when Kevin says it in a verse there seems to be no issue. In both of these situations, there are inherent biases toward individuals of certain groups, whether the groups be sexual orientations or ethnicities, and whether or not it is acceptable for them to use offensive slurs.

The problem with hip-hop and its culture is its non-inclusiveness. Since its days of infancy hip-hop has always been an outlet for minorities and segmented groups to express themselves through music. And while it is true that the groups it attracted in its early days were mainly ethnic minorities, the genre has branched out beyond that. Hip-hop artists now include women such as Nicki Minaj and Azealia Banks and the previously mentioned queer artists Frank Ocean and Kevin Abstract. Even popular white artists such as Eminem and Macklemore, challenge the belief that hip-hop is something solely for minorities.

So while being a genre that celebrates diversity and non-conformity, why is it that hip-hop instills these biases on its artists? If the point of the genre is to offer an alternative to the thinking of the establishment, why are rappers called out for being offensive? In a 2011 interview with New Musical Express, Tyler the Creator said he used the f-slur because it “hits and hurts people.” To him, and clearly to many others, it’s a word that has an impact because it causes controversy. And that’s exactly what hip-hop itself is, controversial — constantly pushing the envelope as to what society finds acceptable — only in this conversation does it teeter to an obvious wrong.

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