Seems like the year 2013 might go down as a big one in hip-hopping shedding the ugly skin of homophobia. Bottom line: good. It's high time, obviously. There's lots to celebrate. But there's lots to bemoan about how its happening.
For at start at where the detestable part comes in, check out Thor Christensen’s article "Macklemore shows hip-hop doesn't need to be homophobic, violent in Dallas concert.”
The word "shows" there shows you a lot. In that it continues to peddle the ever-so-frustrating fable that Macklemore is some sort of white savior when it comes to helping hip-hop culture—in other words, Black people—evolve. Especially from its homophobia, which is purportedly so much worse than everyone else’s homophobia. Yes, it’s wonderful that the 30-year-old Seattle rapper’s gay-marriage rights anthem “Same Love” was a chart topper. However, let’s get some things clear.
Christensen writes: “What if someone like Macklemore had hit it big 25 years ago? Would hip-hop have still become a genre marked by homophobia, violence and a mind-numbing obsession with weed, booze and bling?”
Public Enemy’s landmark album, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back, was released 25 years ago. I’m pretty sure that Chuck D and co., along with several other popular artists of that era, firmly established that hip-hop culture and the people of color behind it were just as capable of producing multifaceted, un-anaesthetised, cerebral thinking as anyone else. Hip-hop’s shift towards a “mind-numbing obsession with weed, booze and bling” is a testament to its commercialization and subsequent appeasement of its core buying audience. You know, white people.
The worst part of Christensen’s Macklemore musings is that he writes as though the main people responsible for hip-hop in various sects haven’t been slowly but surely evolving on sexuality long before Macklemore came along. Christensen’s review is a testament to the lingering idea that Black people are the face of homophobia. Moreover, it’s a reminder of the number of inherent biases that frame many of our ideas about sexuality and race.
A reminder of the number of inherent biases that frame many of our ideas about sexuality and race.
Macklemore is a straight, “masculine” white male—all of which means that he will be far more readily capitulated to than, say, someone like New Orleans bounce artist Big Freedia. Freedia’s reality series, Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce, had a short run of seven episodes on Fuse that wrapped in November. Not enough people paid attention to it, which is a pity because it was very successful in making the argument that, while hip-hop’s homophobia may be troubling, it's not as bad as it's often depicted. It made a better case for this argument that anything Macklemore has said or ever will say.
It’s one thing to have a straight white guy sing about marriage equality at a time when history is on the side of it anyway. It’s another to feature a gay man of color performing the sexually explicit style of southern rap music called "bounce," working towards being a mainstream star. The show follows the up-and-down of Freedia and friends, such Katey Red, a transgender bounce artist who's been making music for more than a decade. Freedia and Katey Red were first exposed to national audiences by way of a New York Times magazine piece published three years ago, but a television show is much larger platform. It allowed Black LGBT members who exist within a subgenre of hip-hop to voice their own voice.
This comes at a time when Black gay terminology is ever more commonly used in the general lexicon— “Throwing shade,” “you tried it,” “read” and the like. But we rarely see the people behind the culture in front of the camera.
So it was interesting to watch Freedia discuss the challenges in trying to be a gay Black man with a very particular sound try to make a mark in the music biz. Seeing Katey Red, a transgender woman, bluntly discuss how she sometimes worries about how to interact with children who don’t know how to indentify her, offered a moving, and valuable look into a part of society mainstream American too rarely gets. Even the most casual interactions on the show highlighted the progressiveness of New Orleans as a city, its openness, its tolerance of all different types of people, even amongst its poor Black community.
I suppose the show was overlooked for some of those very reasons, though. Freedia remains a niche artist with tracks like "Gin In My System," "Y'all Get Back Now," and "Azz Everywhere." But also, Southern Black working class people are ignored all the time.
Azealia Banks’ contribution to rap, too, spitting openly about her bisexuality, has been overlooked, too. Same goes for Angel Haze. This has to change. We can appreciate Macklemore’s efforts to speak on marriage equality, but we shouldn't appoint him as some kind of savior or guise him as a first-of-his-kind anomaly. There are plenty of people in hip-hop doing their part in pushing hip-hop to a mature sense of respect for the wide and varying spectrum of human sexuality.
More people would know this is already if they weren't only looking for white male faces.