The Media's Problem With Gay Rappers
A few months ago the influential music site Pitchfork posted an article focusing on emerging rappers in New York—Mykki Blanco, Le1f, Zebra Katz, House of LaDosha, Cakes da Killa. It was essentially a gay rapper trend piece. Those profiled had tenuous threads—most knew each other, but musically speaking, their art really didn't have anything in common. The reason they were featured together is because they are all gay.
Imagine a prominent music publication writing a straight rapper trend piece? It’s important that these artists were exposed to a larger audience, because they are all talented. But it’s unfortunate that they were presented as "other.” Rather than being a straightforward artist profile, the writer contextualized the piece by admitting that in an earlier interview for the same site, she had whitewashed a quote from straight rapper A$AP Rocky. In that interview, the publication pushed—and garnered much attention from—a quote with A$AP Rocky that he was not homophobic, running with it as a tagline: "I used to be homophobic," he said, "but that's fucked up. All the designers I'm wearing are gay."
In the Web site's later piece, the writer admitted that she had actually omitted the part of a sentence that showed he was perhaps more homophobic than she wanted readers to know. His quote, about attending an underground gay-friendly dance called Ghe20 Goth1k: "I went downstairs and a bitch was dancing on the floor and these gay guys were around her doing some cult-chant shit... I was scared. I guess that's what happens when square motherfuckers hear my music and shit." By omitting that part of the quote, Pitchfork pushed a confounding narrative that A$AP Rocky is more open-minded than he actually is, while burying it in a piece that invited readers to ogle a new crop of rappers who were gay as curious. Meanwhile, the A$AP Rocky-isn't-homophobic meme continues to circulate, most recently in the Daily Beast's own gay rapper trend piece, " Is Le1f Too Gay for Hip-Hop?"
I couldn't speculate why tailoring a narrative would be part of the site's agenda, other than headline-making and click-baiting, but it was troubling, particularly presented in a piece about homosexuality within the larger framework of hip-hop. Regardless, when Mykki Blanco dropped her gender-fucking video for "Join My Militia (Nas Gave Me a Perm)," one of the best and hardest rap songs of the year, the clip was posted to Pitchfork without comment.
Unfortunately, that Pitchfork piece set the tone for coverage to come. Last month, when Manhattan rapper Le1f's "Wut" video began making a splash, some media outlets like Vibe and Bullett, wrote about the artist without boxing him into the gay rapper corner—recognizing that his gayness is a crucial aspect of his identity but not all there is to it. (Full disclosure: Le1f is a good friend of mine, but I did not tell him I was writing this piece.) Other outlets, however, peppered their narratives with the qualifier "gay rapper” Le1f, as was similar in reportage of "gay rapper Mykki Blanco" and "gay rapper Zebra Katz." The problem is that many “gay rappers” don’t want the qualifier. From the previously mentioned Pitchfork story:
"Let's not make gay NYC rap a 'thing,'" Le1f wrote me in an email after our interview. "I'm not trying to be competing with my friends based on their race and sexuality. The whole 'room for one' mentality is homophobic... if the world is ready for a gay rapper, then they're ready for multiple gay rappers. If we were straight, no one would be comparing us."
Since soulful songwriter Frank Ocean's admission that he once loved a man, all eyes have been on same-sex love in the hip-hop space, where until now, it had always been a contentious, hot-button issue. Rampant homophobia on wax and whispers of prominent heads living gay lives on the low were all delivered with a healthy dose of close-minded gossip and disdain. We are talking about a subculture that gave us the vile phrase “no homo,” courtesy popular misanthropic rapper Cam'ron. But as America wakes up and opens up—and after Obama, the hip-hop president, finally cosigned gay marriage—wide mainstream acceptance of gay love seems ever more imminent. So, too, with hip-hop.