There are two things I will say right off the bat. One, the terms “hip-hop” and “rap” will be used interchangeably, much to the chagrin of people that advocate for a difference between the two. And two, I hate them both.
To me, rap music is often (but not always) just spoken words over a melody that is simple, and, more recently, sampled from another (and usually better) song. Take, for example, T-Pain’s “5 O’Clock”. His voice is atrociously autotuned over a track that doesn’t even try to disguise its source, which is Lily Allen’s much better “Who’d Have Known”. “5 O’Clock” doesn’t just sample Lily Allen – there are parts of the song that are literally just “Who’d Have Known.” Sampling has been around for a while, but it has only recently become such a blatant merge with other material.
Obviously, this is not true of every rap artist. There are some I actually enjoy and listen to every now and then. But there’s really only one major reason I’ve traditionally hated hip-hop.
It’s a bit less homophobic than what it was years ago, but I remember as a child listening to songs on the radio that used the word “faggot” or “dyke”. Repeatedly. And in a derogatory manner (…is there a nice way to use them?) Even now, the phrase “no homo” is often used because, you know, you need a way to emphasize your masculinity in case you get caught doing something gay! “Nah dude, we made out a little bit but I called ‘no homo’.” There are somehuge artists that have contributed to the homophobic atmosphere of rap music. In addition to using gay slurs in their music, Eminem, T.I., Ja Rule, 50 Cent, and Tyler, The Creator have all publicly made homophobic comments outside of their songs as well.
But the tide is a changing…
In just the past year, we have seen tons of hip-hop artists fight against homophobia, including Jay-Z, Nicki Minaj, and Kanye West. Some of them are not completely innocent, but what’s important is the effect they are having now. Jay-Z has a slight history of homophobic lyrics, but he is currently one of the most avid supporters of same sex marriage in the music industry. And there’s more than just support. Last year, Frank Ocean made huge waves by coming out as bisexual. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have been topping the charts with their album The Heist, which features “Same Love”, a song about equal rights that went viral. There’s a shift happening in rap music, and I sincerely hope it’s only the beginning.
Music has the ability to inspire a generation. The effect that rap music will have on the population if it transitions completely from homophobic to gay-friendly would be insurmountable. The homophobic messages of the 90s and early 2000s could be eradicated in just a few years. Imagine if we could completely reverse it and preach love instead of hate.
It is not often that I have faith in the hip hop industry. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever had faith in them – until now. This shift in political beliefs and moral values is more important than they could ever know.
I don’t necessarily love the music of artists like Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Frank Ocean, or Jay-Z, but I sure as hell appreciate their bravery in fighting for the rights of others.