Don’t Call it “Gay Rap”: Moving Forward With How We View Homosexuality in Hip-Hop

“He was born with his sexuality backwards/When the homo strives to be a rapper/But rap’s homophobic, so why should he listen?/That’s not made for him, it’s for straight men and butchy women”

The history of open homosexuality in hip-hop is extensive, if perhaps not always well-documented. New Orleans club favorite bounce music has encompassed a subset known as “sissy bounce” for over fifteen years (the rich and fascinating history of bounce can be explored here at P&P, in this excellent 2010 New York Times article, and in these homemade compilations by Andrew Nosnitsky), a genre largely the artistic domain of drag queens, transvestites, and a cadre of openly homosexual performers such as Big Freedia, Katey Red, and Sissy Nobby. Though sissy bounce is often explicitly sexual, it doesn’t consistently concern itself with homosexual intercourse or love. On the mean, it’s party music pure and simple, incorporating chants, samples, and big bass at blitzkrieg speeds.

In the past two years, a slew of young, openly gay and bisexual rappers has emerged, springing in part from New York club culture (a world with a history of drag as competition—detailed in the excellent documentary Paris is Burning), in part from the freedom of the Internet, and in part from a general climate arguably more favorable to homosexuality now than at any point prior. From more underground artists like Le1f, Cakes Da Killa, and Big Momma, to wider known figures like Mykki Blanco and Azealia Banks, an overt sexuality pervades songs, occasionally playing central focus, quite often merely coloring boasts and observations. Sex and sexuality exist as a constant current for rappers Le1f, Blanco, and Banks, a source of power tapped into at will.

For these artists, sexual identity and gender politics are foregrounded questions, but not often questions the artists themselves are asking. Their music doesn’t broach the validity of their sexuality, it assumes it outright, allowing a rapper like Le1f to rap openly about sexual experience without it becoming reductive. It is “gay rap” in the same way that 50 Cent or any number of other male rappers detailing their conquests is “straight rap,” a position rarely questioned or so-labeled. From Blanco, for example, lines like “‘Oh this fag can rap’/Yeah they saying that they listening” often are as close to addressing public perceptions or internal reflection as it gets. Even Angel Haze—whose plainspoken treatment of her past puts sexual abuse, drug addiction, and sexual orientation on display in a musical landscape where such honesty is rare—doesn’t address the challenges of being homosexual or bisexual in hip-hop.

“His culture’s his release, but by this culture he’s neglected/Though its roots are from oppression, his objections are rejected”

23-year-old Canadian rapper F. Virtue’s new single “Anita Bryant” is a necessary step forward, an insider’s perspective (and, no matter where the discourse goes, it is important that it begins with someone who has not only observed but experienced) of being homosexual and hiding one’s true self in order to pursue a career in rap, a genre with a traditional and often explicit homophobic bent. The accompanying press release provides some context:

“When F. Virtue heard faggot in rap songs, he winced. As a young MC who was closeted and uncomfortable with being gay, it was never easy hearing a musician he admired put down his sexuality. So, he pretended to be straight while building with notable hip-hop scenes, knowing one day he would have to write this song, and subsequently make this music video. Anita Bryant is beyond a press release hyping music; it’s a push for social change”

By approaching the matter bluntly, directly discussing the challenges of being secretly (and, now, openly) homosexual in a culture so historically hostile toward gay males, Virtue bravely provides a new angle for viewing an infamous taboo of the hip-hop community. While being openly gay in rap is a risky proposition, both commercially and in terms of societal acceptance, the climate of the still-young genre and that of the United States at large is one moving steadily towards greater acceptance, understanding, and even celebration. The repealment of California’s Proposition 8 and the Supreme Court’s striking down of the Defense of Marriage Act show political progress mirroring social change and, in turn, encouraging it. Simultaneously, songs like Macklemore’s “Same Love” illustrate hip-hop’s progress on the grander stage—a heterosexual rapper denouncing homophobic attitudes, a needed public corollary to the decidedly less mainstream existences of Le1f, Mykki Blanco, Azealia Banks, and others.

Of course, softening hostile attitudes is far from the final goal. To “accept” or “tolerate” a state of being is to acknowledge, first and foremost, that it is “other.” This sort of consideration is potentially harmful, dangerous, and as limiting as the notion of “gay rap” that Virtue hopes to combat.

“The ‘gay rap’ label would, unfortunately, be detrimental to a lasting career as it cuts off too many potential listeners, and limits the artist to a very narrow scene,” says Virtue when asked about the damaging potential for the term “gay rap.” “Like an extreme version of when the label ‘emo rap’ was formed. One of those ‘emo rappers’ may also have a vicious 16 [bar rhyme], far from emotional, but the heads who would really feel it would never find it since they don’t listen to ‘emo rap.’”

When asked if the notion of “gay rap” could potentially be empowering—a concept challenged by Virtue’s pained lyric, “Put your hands to the sky/If you don’t feel proud when you hear the word pride”—the rapper noted: “If gay rap were truly an empowering thing, it would be a little corny. But that’s only because I think any extreme of anything is corny. But I think the gay rapper should feel empowered. This culture is the perfect outlet as it gives a platform for any individual’s voice. The artist can use that platform however they want. And in that sense, being an honest rapper is empowering. Speaking your mind is empowering for everybody, gay or straight. But because, currently, rap is seen as taboo for homosexuals to do, breaking down that ridiculous notion and proving self-worth on a plane of one’s peers is even more empowering.”

Remember when Eminem made headlines just for being a white MC? How ridiculous is that idea now?

“The next steps are articles like this,” Virtue continues. “It’s about making as much music and as many moves as we can until people are acclimated to the concept. It’s comparable to the ‘white rapper.’ Remember when Eminem made headlines just for being a white MC? How ridiculous is that idea now? People don’t often regard skin color when referring to rappers anymore. They discuss the actual artist. There will be a point where the gay man is accepted in this way. It just takes time and effort.”

“This isn’t gay rap. Do gay chefs make gay food?”

In an ideal world—or even in the less-than-ideal world in which we live where powerful ideas have greater potential to spread than ever before—Virtue’s courage will positively affect those who encounter it, adding to the ever-diversifying palette of sounds and experiences represented in rap music, helping to slowly but surely evolve attitudes, pushing beyond the point where a term like “gay rap” is considered valid.

  • John

    When we have a gay rapper of extreme quality things will change – its gonna take a rapper thats gay for people to slowly disregard this, not a gay person that raps.

  • neto

    #BEEN TRILL

  • Khoko

    I mean if you’re a man and you’re gonna rap about suckin’ dudes off and what not it’s gonna get called gay rap.. I means it’s literally gay rap but if you can drop meaningful lyrics then who cares who’s booty you poke at night? I wouldn’t care. Also the notion that Eminem isn’t still considered by most the only white rapper that matters is stupid. None of them with the exception of Macklemore, has really done anything.

  • Billy’s Kingdom

    yep, same with white rappers. eminem was/is such an amazing rapper that any who were againast it didn’t have a leg to stand on.

  • Frank

    The left out that kid from L.A. ANDRE XCELLENCE – he can RAP!

    http://youtu.be/KKF-Z2Ld0-k

    And it will always be called anything other than just Rap until a “Gay” rapper is rapping on verses with Wayne, Jay, and Drake, etc.

  • Jake

    And even a guy like Macklemore who’s had his share of success is completely dwarfed by Eminem.

  • Dan

    If you consider how many hundreds of thousands of ‘straight rappers’ there are in world and then the percentage of them that have had level of talent necessary to become famous.

    Then you think how of how many openly homosexual rappers there are in the world and considering how few are in that category.. what are the chances of an individual in this small minority that has had the level of talent that can also compete with the none homosexual rappers …leading their fame? Slim to none.

    So maybe there just hasn’t been that rapper that has the talent to stand out yet to be the first person to break this ‘barrier’. It doesn’t have to be boiled down to sexuality but more to the fact that its normal to expect the lack of fame coming from such a slim minority group

    As John said.. Eminem had to do it for white rappers and even now there have been very few. But the ones with the talent get there regardless.

    Vanilla ice doesn’t count

    As for this rapper.. I wouldn’t listen to him again, not because of his sexuality or colour but purely because I don’t think his sound and style is as good as the competition.

  • Dan

    *As billy said

  • Fuckyoucomplex

    Still gay, when a gay chef makes food, its gay food but it doesn’t take away the qualities of the food or the chef. Gay rappers is just too different, how is a gay rapper gonna call someone else a faggot when he disses someone. I just never see it happening.

  • Julius

    Slug?

  • Justin

    Or one of the “straight” rapper needs to come out. But that is the exact opposite of what they need for their image and fame in the hip hop/rap community.

  • Treezus

    Why would he have to call them a faggot for it to be a valid diss?

  • Action Ant

    Even if I didn’t know he was gay… and the lyrics were different… I’d probably still say “this sounds gay”.

  • Blahblahblah

    It’s not cuz he’s gay it’s cuz he sucks!!!!

  • simone

    WOmen, and relations to women in general is a huge part of hip hop culture and rap culture., rappers clearly have an affection for beautiful women, sometimes showing it in a childish, disrespectful manner. But who really wants to listen to a dude feeling another dude. Rap fans are not gonna wanna hear that shit or think about it while listening to that artist’s song. Thats just the sad truth for any aspiring gay rappers out there.

  • The Pioneers

    Beastie Boys

  • PigsAndPlans

    I think people are past that. Guys can listen to women rap about love. They can listen to Frank Ocean sing about love, even if it’s about love with another male. If kids in the suburb can listen to rappers speak on coming up in the ghetto, straight men or women can listen to a gay rapper.

  • PigsAndPlans

    Hopefully you’re right, and hopefully it will just take the right rapper who happens to be gay to break through. But you can see from the rest of the comments on this post that it’s going to take more than just talent—it’s going to take a change in perception.

    “Gay rappers is just too different, how is a gay rapper gonna call someone else a faggot when he disses someone. I just never see it happening.”

    The fact that people still think like this, to me, points to a problem greater than just a lack of talent. Even people who aren’t homophobic probably have an issue with listening to a gay rapper talk about being gay, even if they can listen to rappers rap about a million other things that they can’t relate to.

  • Colt45

    Yo if Kendrick came out right now and was like ‘wussup, i’m gay’ for real then people’s perception would change. He would get a shit load of hate but people would see the topic differently and it just wouldn’t matter so much because of his talent!

  • Jimmy swanQ

    Faggot is one of the most derogatory terms one man can call another. I think that is what Fuckyoucomplex is implying or alluding to.

  • Jake

    What about them?

  • #noswag

    All that should matter is if the motherfucker’s good or not.

  • Tam El

    Main problem is that its a poor track. I’ve got no issue with a “gay rapper”, but to be honest, I wouldn’t want to hear the sexually explicit shit you hear from most rappers about dude on dude action, because I’m simply not into that. Neither would I even want to hear about them kissing men, again, I’m just not into that. It would depend on the content, I think it can be used as a crutch “nobody likes me because I’m a gay rapper”.

    The guy sounds like he wants to be Slug, but the production isn’t great and I have zero interest in the content, not because I’m homophobic, probably the opposite, I’ve just got no interest in it. Maybe if people stopped talking about it all the time then it wouldn’t be highlighted as such a big deal?

  • Khoko

    You mean from Atmosphere? When was the last time time outside of their fanbase have you heard anyone talking about them? You haven’t. I’m not hatin’ I’m just being real. Em is still the most popular most talked about white rapper. Dude just dropped a single and people are going crazy and the funny thing is it’s not even his best work. For him it’s sub par at best.

  • TGRK

    I have read the comments and see that everyone dont think its possible. Well I have found a masculine gay rapper who not only can rap but tells gay rappers to get over the word fag and also address eminem on the same track take a listen
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GfEJywJZiuY

  • LIL GANGSTA LUCCI PACINO

    I feel like you cant tell nobody how to live day life im a hood nigga jus got out da pen for sellin dope was born and rasied in the hood looking at me couldnt tell I was bisexual yeah it might be a big thang but come from where im from its different I had to do more when I told my mama I was bisexual she told me now every where I go people will always watch more cuz im different so stepping in this I game I think it would take ME LG LUCCI P
    AND DIS WYERD BOI CLUB TO CHANGE IT AND IM COMING SOON SO ALL MY BAD QUEENS HOLD ON TO PANTIES CUZ IM ON DA WAY RNS