“No Homo” – Hip Hop’s never-ending battle against homophobia

DaBaby’s recent homophobic tirade is not surprising because he was homophobic, but because he faced actual consequences. Photo by YES Market Media | Shutterstock.com

In light of North Carolina rapper DaBaby’s homophobic comments during his July Rolling Loud performance, the issue of homophobia in rap has come to the forefront of pop culture yet again. However, DaBaby’s recent comments have sparked a new debate. 

The most surprising thing about the DaBaby situation is not the fact he went on a misinformed tirade about AIDS and “sucking dick in the parking lot!” DaBaby is not the first rapper to use homophobia as a call to action. The surprising thing about this most recent incident is that DaBaby received consequences for his homophobic statements. 

As LGBTQ+ rappers break into mainstream relevance, the genre’s homophobia is dragged back into the light. Photo from DepositPhotos

These condemnations came from people outside the regular hip-hop sphere, such as Dua Lipa and Elton John. Still, the hip-hop and rap genres’ irreverence for societal norms often means that many who follow hip-hop and rap don’t care about his statements.

On DaBaby’s Instagram page, fans have jokingly commented on his most recent posts about how he managed to escape being “canceled” by the media. It is tough to say whether this means that the average rap fan simply does not care about homophobia, but it does paint a picture of how deep-seated the problem of homophobia is in the genre.

Hip-Hop’s struggles with homophobia have existed since its inception. Despite its roots as a rebellious subculture, hip-hop’s ideas of hypermasculinity clash with the concept of queerness. Homophobia is a constant for many rappers.  Eminem, one of the most recognizable rappers ever, consistently used the f-slur in many songs.   

When asked why he uses the word in an interview with Rolling Stone, Eminem claimed it had nothing to do with sexuality. “It was [a way of] calling someone a bitch or a punk or asshole,” he said. 

Photo from DepositPhotos

Whether Eminem uses it as a jab towards LGBTQ+ people or not, it mirrors the typical use of homophobia to emasculate one’s opponents. Specifically, in battle raps, the f-slur is thrown around rather liberally. A thread on the subreddit r/rapbattles discusses the use of the word with a variety of different opinions.

“Battle rap is 100% about freedom of speech,” one user said. “You got a problem with calling someone [the f-slur] but not with saying they’ll gun down your family?” However, others see this comment as short-sided. “Describing violence metaphorically does not perpetuate violence the way using racial and homophobic slurs perpetuate racism and homophobia,” said another user.

The freedom of speech argument concerning the use of various slurs in rap and hip-hop music goes back to the irreverent roots of the genre but fails to address why rappers use slurs like the f-slur as an insult.  The standard tactic of emasculation as an insult goes back to the rap subculture’s rampant problem with misogyny, as many of its members perceive anything feminine as weak. Emasculation also relates to various stereotypes surrounding LGBTQ+ people, particularly gay men. 

Photo from DepositPhotos

Many hip-hop and rap artists are called gay as an insult for wearing particular articles of clothing. Atlanta rapper Young Thug wore an elaborate dress on the cover of his album “JEFFERY. Almost immediately, speculation about his sexuality became the main topic of discussion in hip-hop circles. 

Another Atlanta rapper, Playboi Carti, rapped “they thought I was gay!” during his song New Tank, referencing the critics of his androgynous fashion style. Memes about the supposed decline of rap often mention the androgynous fashion trends of today’s rap artists.

Atlanta rapper ILoveMakonnen came out as gay in a series of tweets in 2017, to a mix of support and hate from the hip hop crowd. The Migos in particular did not take too kindly to the idea of a gay rapper. In an interview with Rolling Stones, rapper Quavo juxtaposes Makonnen’s sexuality with his subject matter to imply they are connected.

“We ain’t saying it’s nothing wrong with the gays,” said Quavo. “But he first came out talking about trapping and selling Molly.”

Jay-Z once called the rapper Nas the f-slur during their famous feud in his song “The Takeover”, and Nas responded in turn, calling him “Gay-Z” on his song “Ether”.  The purpose of these lines goes back to the machismo ideal of hip-hop, and what better way to question the masculinity of a rival than insisting that he is gay. 

With an incentive not to be gay in hip-hop, it should be of little surprise that being gay can cause moral panic in its fans. When rapper Tyler, the Creator, alluded to being bisexual across his album Flower Boy, it instantly became the album’s main conversation. Some fans chose to deny the artist’s bisexuality, instead suggesting that the rapper was trolling his audience. 

The hip-hop community in the early 2000s, for the most part, did not acknowledge the hypocrisy of a marginalized subculture discriminating against another marginalized subculture. Kanye West was one of the first mainstream rappers to address said hypocrisy in 2005.

“Hip-hop seemed like it was about fighting for your rights in the beginning, about speaking your mind and breaking down barriers or whatever, but everybody in hip-hop discriminates against gay people,” West said.

The 2010s marked a distinct turning point for the genre in terms of mainstream popularity for LGBTQ+ artists. With the rise of artists such as Tyler, the Creator, Frank Ocean, ILoveMakonnen and Kevin Abstract, the notion of “gayness” as an insult in the hip-hop community is being challenged. The most prominent example of this shift is Lil Nas X, who is currently the most-streamed rapper in the world despite his status as an openly gay man.

The rising success of these LGBTQ+ artists paradoxically also shows just how far hip-hop culture must go in tackling homophobia. Lil Nas X finds himself dealing with constant barrages of hate on social media and has become a scapegoat for homophobia by other rappers.  

Lil Nas X talked about hiring security after the backlash surrounding the video for his song “MONTERO” in a recent interview. The content of the video is not out of the ordinary in terms of explicitness in rap. It just so happens that when a gay black man is the one giving a lap dance, it becomes an issue of morality.

This phenomenon isn’t even limited to just Lil Nas X.  On the BROCKHAMPTON song, “STAR”, rapper Kevin Abstract references having sex with another man. A user on Youtube compiled various reactions to the song, ranging from completely ignoring it to turning off the song completely. One reaction video even talked about how Kevin should “lead into his sexuality a little less aggressively,” as if implying that the world simply is not ready for a gay rapper.

Kevin Abstract is no stranger to such criticism. In his song “JUNKY”, he poses himself the rhetorical question “Why you always rap about being gay?” and answers it with “Because not enough niggas rap and be gay.”

While the cancelation of DaBaby’s festival bookings following his homophobic statements may give the illusion of progressive change, that’s unfortunately not the case. Rappers such as T.I. justify DaBaby’s homophobia by claiming that if Lil Nas X can be gay, then DaBaby can be homophobic and is simply “living his truth.” Rapper Boosie Baddazz even threatened to attack Lil Nas X on Instagram. Ultimately, while hip-hop is slowly confronting its homophobic roots, it still has a long way to go.

Despite artists like Boosie and TI, rap is probably at its most queer-friendly now more than ever. Lil Nas X was featured at the 2020 Grammy’s and sung a remix of his song Rodeo with Nas, essentially giving X a cosign from one of the most influential artists of our generation. Nas also seems to have grown more introspective with age. In recent performances, he typically stays silent whenever one of his old homophobic lines would play in a song.  

Hip-Hop most likely will never be a genuinely all-inclusive space for LGBTQ+ people. Given the historical issues with the treatment of women in the genre and how misogyny plays a role in the rampant homophobia in the industry, it is a pipe dream to believe that homophobia will ever be removed fully from hip-hop. Still, there has not been a better time to be an LGBTQ+ artist in the hip-hop community.