Historically hip-hop has branded itself hyper-masculine- allowing only a few female emcees to enter the mainstream game and allowing even fewer longevity and success. Consistent with that image of hyper-masculinity, hip-hop’s militant relationship with homosexuality has been recorded throughout the last three decades and if you were gay, then ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ was the path many chose.
From the early 90s, in an attempt to assert dominance, rappers would refer to each other as faggot. Ice Cube’s 1991 N.W.A. diss track “No Vaseline” featured lyrics such as “…you little maggot; Eazy E turned faggot…Eric Wright, punk, always into somethin’, gettin’ fucked at night by Mista Shitpacker, bend over for the gotdamn cracker, no Vaseline…”
The trend continued in the early 2000s with superstar artist Eminem spitting lyrics the media and gay rights activist construed as homophobic. On his 2000 album The Marshall Mathers LP, Eminem rapped “…New Kids on the Block sucked a bunch of dick…I’ll knock you fuckin’ faggots the fuck out…” dropping the word faggot no less than 6 times on one track alone. The album also showcased interlude skits such as “Ken Kaniff” which simulated oral sex between three guys.
Homophobic or derogatory lyrics aren’t self-contained in mainstream hip-hop. Jamaican reggae/dancehall artist, Beenie Man, has advocated violence towards the LGBTQ community on several tracks including “Batty Man Fi Dead (Queers Must Be Killed).” And while he has since apologized, the message has done its damage.
Over the last few years there has been a gradual reversal of homophobia in hip-hop. Artists like Kanye West, whose endeavors in fashion and his auto-tuned, soul-baring album 808s & Heartbreak, have helped redefine masculinity within the hip-hop genre. In a 2005 MTV special, West acknowledged his previous homophobia and explained that it took a family member coming out as gay to help change his opinion.
West isn’t the only rapper who has come forward to support the LGBTQ community. In a 2011 interview Fat Joe stated, “ …2011, you gotta hide that you’re gay? Be real! Like, ‘I’m gay, what the fuck?’ If you gay, you gay. That’s your preference. Fuck it, if the people don’t like it.”
Hip-hop mogul Jay-Z, following President Obama’s lead, came out in support of same-sex marriage. “I’ve always thought it as something that was still holding the country back,” Jay-Z said. “What people do in their own homes is their business, and you can choose to love whoever you love. That’s their business. It’s no different than discriminating against blacks. It’s discrimination, plain and simple.”
But not every artist holds these sentiments. In early 2012, EMPD member Erick Sermon went on record saying that “n—-s will kill you” if you’re openly gay in rap. Sermon may be eating those words now that Island/Def Jam recording artist Frank Ocean has sold 131,000 copies of his debut album Channel Orange. Prior to the album’s release, Ocean decided to publicly reveal his sexuality, becoming the first out mainstream hip-hop artist.
While Ocean may have become the first mainstream hip-hop artist to publicly reveal his sexuality, hip-hop busted out of the closet years ago. In 2006, director Alex Hinton unleashed Pick up the Mic, an eye-opening documentary about the world of LGBTQ hip-hop artists.
Mic exploded onto the scene and featured performances and intimate moments with some of the influential members of the LGBTQ hip-hop movement. While the media scrambles to focus on Ocean (and rightfully so- it is monumental) there’s a lesser heard movement that has been making noise across the country and even in our own backyard for years. Check out David Atlanta’s guide to LGBTQ hip-hop artists across the United States.
“If you live a life that is not reflected in the mainstream, inevitably that is going to influence who you are, what you write about, how the media writes about you and how you are received by your audience,” shared transgender hip-hop artist Rocco Katastrophe.
Rocco started rapping in 2002 and just released his 4th full length album, Second Hand Emotion. Written entirely last summer after a devastating cross-country move where Rocco found out his girlfriend was cheating and lying, Rocco borrowed the title from Tina Turner’s smash hit “What’s Love Got to Do with It,” and created an “emotionally honest, open and vulnerable” album that “deals with love, love-lost, betrayal, lust and infatuation.”
Rocco is no stranger to Atlanta having performed at MondoHomo a few years ago. The self-confessed incredibly social performer hopes to get out to the ATL sometime this year but in the meantime you can check out videos for two tracks from his latest album on Rocco’s website.
Key Tracks: “Wake Me If I’m Dreaming” and “Let Me Go”
Ripparchie opens his latest album with the self-affirming “Love Myself,” a track whose verses compel the listener to pay attention and chorus compels you to run to a dance floor. It’s a great start to a new chapter in his artistry.
Ripparachie started writing his own music when he was 11 years old. Even though by the age of 14 he had opened up for hip-hop heavy hitter Too $hort, he knew he would have to blaze his own path. “I decided to not follow every trend,” Ripparachie explained. “I stepped away from the normal topics in the ‘rap game’ and decided to rap about more serious issues that matter to me.” One of those issues happened to be accepting his sexuality.
Prior to coming out, Ripparachie feared being called a fag. To face his fear, Ripparachie decided to deconstruct the word. “When I call myself a ‘fag’, I am actually saying I am a ‘Fly Ass Guy,” Ripparachie shared. Once Ripparachie was free from that fear, F.A.G (Free and Genuine) was born. The album tackles discrimination, bullying, self-acceptance and love and is available now.
Key Tracks: “Love Myself” and “I Know You Like Me” You can order the album through iTunes with proceeds benefiting Lafayette, IN Pride.
Next: JenRO and Atlanta’s own KIN4LIFE