Opinion: Homosexuality In Hip Hop & R&B

By Afra Foli

Frank Ocean’s “coming out” a day before the release of his album created a lot of commotion in the music industry. The internet went wild, which may seem crazy considering that all Ocean said was he once fell in love with another man. But we cannot forget that this is the world of hip-hop and R&B, where the phrase “no homo” is frequently used after a comment that might be considered homosexual. That is why Ocean’s confession came as such a shock to many, but I feel it is about time someone stood up and shook the homophobic foundations of the genre.

Many of Frank Ocean’s colleagues showed their support for the talented singer after he came out, but I wonder if Ocean would have received the same reception ten or so years ago. Touré, a CNN journalist and cultural critic, gave a description of the genre that shines some light on why homophobia is and was prevalent in hip-hop: “Hip-hop is a parade of alpha men who use the dominance of women to enhance their manhood and seem to know nothing of the concept of anima, the feminized part of masculinity.” Homosexual men did not fit into the ideal of masculinity that existed. For example, the subgenre of “gangsta rap” often portrays an overly masculine world involved in violence and crime with little room for sensitivity. In an interview with the Associated Press, Snoop Dogg notes, ‘’When I was growing up, you could never do that and announce that, [referring to Ocean’s confession]…there would be so much scrutiny and hate and negativity, and no one would step [forward] to support you because that’s what we were brainwashed and trained to know.”

It is important to note that one cannot generalize this homophobic behaviour to the entire genre, as emphasized by the University of Toronto’s Sexual and Gender Diversity Officer, Allison Burgess. There are currently many challenges and interventions working against this stereotype of homophobia characterizing hip-hop entirely. For example, Tyler the Creator uses the word “f*ggot more often than any other rapper I have personally heard, and his rap collective, Odd Future, was even once stopped from performing at a festival in Australia because of their homophobic lyrics. However, Odd Future now has two openly gay group-mates: Frank Ocean and Syd the Kid, a publicly lesbian DJ. This acceptance suggests that Tyler is not legitimately anti-homosexual, despite the homophobic language he uses.

Additionally, beyond the mainstream rappers and singers, there are some openly waving their rainbow flags. These openly gay musicians have been recording and performing music within the hip-hop genre, and most are concentrated within New York City. Most of them prefer to perform close to home and avoid diluting their sound for mainstream popularity; however, others have found a wider audience, such as Zebra Katz, whose song, “Ima Read”, earned him a whole new following and even spawned a remake by Azealia Banks. Zebra Katz has been signed by Diplo, a DJ and producer, thus exposing him to a wider audience.

The growing popularity of gay rappers could be a sign of the shift in popular opinion within hip-hop and R&B. Major stars of both genres, such as Jay-Z, A$AP Rocky, Beyoncé, Pharrell, and Jamie Foxx, have spoken against homophobia, thus setting the scene for closeted musicians to come out, and for budding gay rappers and singers to finally feel free.

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