Last weekend, I taught a course at the Center for Research and Education on Gender and Sexuality (CREGS) on the ethical dilemmas related to fieldwork with LGBTQ youth of color. As often happens because of the title of my book, The Hip-Hop Generation Fights Back, the conversation, inevitably, turned to hip-hop—and, specifically, how to talk to teenagers about the misogyny, homophobia, and sexism associated with hip-hop. This is a conversation with which I’m quite familiar and have quick answers to, sort of. My stock answer is to not confuse hip-hop as the only misogynist/sexist/homophobic culture we’ve got going on in the U.S. It’s a subset of popular culture in general, and American culture more broadly.
But that answer doesn’t often satisfy.
No, most folks (particularly those of us that work with youth) are quick to defend their stance that hip-hop itself is much more homophobic, sexist, and misogynist. Hip-hop and hip-hop alone. And this, for me, is where the confusion (and frustration) lies.
I don’t disagree that rap music, which is what people are usually targeting as oneaspect of hip-hop, can be all of these things. And I’m not defending homophobic and misogynist lyrics. In fact, like other hip-hop feminists, I have an ongoing, staunch critique against them. But to think that hip-hop is all of these things is often the easy answer: it’s a quick way to write it off, to criticize it, and to then rejoice when a rapper like Macklemore comes along to “call that out.” You know, because no one else within hip-hop has done so before. But, folks might assume this to be true only if they have little understanding of what hip-hop really is.
I’m not going to talk much about Macklemore and “Same Love,” here, as Karen Tongson sums up much of what I think about it, the overall flow, the stance it takes, and the role it is supposed to play in a critical and much-read blog post. If you haven’t yet, you should read it—it’s part of the reason I was asked to gear my solicited writing of this Pride month post toward Tongon’s post, the subsequent response and her response to the response.
But, in addition to the sonic critique, I’m also interested in Macklemore and everyone else, for that matter, painting himself as a savior and calling out, what he believes, is the stereotypical homophobia in hip-hop. Drawing on his frustrations with the genre and the “need for accountability,” I might be able to get behind this stance a little more if Macklemore and his fans, including Ellen Degeneres, didn’t act like this was the first time hip-hop launched this critique.
This may the first rap by a straight ally to explicitly come out in support of “same love,” but the overwhelming support of Macklemore and this song completely ignores—how many times do I have to say it?—queer hip-hop.
DJ Invincible anyone? Deep Dick Collective? Yo Majesty? Or, even the more popular Goddess and She? And, if we take it outside of simply rap and look at the entire genre of hip-hop, which if they’d take the time to actually explore it as a genre, folks might recognize others who have critiqued not only homophobia, but the misogyny and sexism that some rappers choose to spew. For instance, how quickly we forget that when Frank Ocean declared his love for another man last year, Russell Simmons, Busta Rhymes, and others come out in support of Ocean.
Or what about Kanye West? Say what you will about him in other respects, but in 2005—nearly a decade ago—he declared his support for his openly gay cousin, friends close to him and a larger queer community in his plea for his fellow rappers to cut out homophobia. The next year, filmmaker Byron Hurt’s love letter to hip-hop “Beyond Beats and Rhymes” decisively took on hip-hop, homophobia, and misogyny (which Macklemore espouses, but from what I’ve seen, fails to do) by actually having a conversation with rappers, producers, and members of the hip-hop generation, LGBTQ folks included. And, given that rap and other aspects of hip-hop ultimately comes down to performance, we can even draw on the queer presence in hip-hop dating back to Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, and Me’shell Ndegeocello, who inserted a swift critique of misogyny and homophobia simply by their presence. Not to mention hip-hop journalists dream Hampton, Davey D and Greg Tate who have long provided a space for critique by directly challenging homophobia and sexism in their writing.
Am I making my point? Or, do I also have to mention those of us queer people of color who have been committed to hip-hop since the beginnings, etching our way into the scene when there wasn’t a place—at clubs, house parties, concerts, and in our headphones. Knowing that there were something larger there, something representative of us without, perhaps, explicitly saying so. Like everything else we navigate everyday, including the LGBTQ(IA) community. And by the way, where’s the switch off? We are in the middle of a major media criminalization of murder victim Trayvon Martin, a member of the hip-hop generation. Where’s the calling out of the violence directed at young Black men—yes, sometimes present in hip-hop—by our allies, which includes the LGBTQ community? The arrow goes both ways.
It’s long been time to expand this discussion of hip-hop, homophobia, and misogyny that we so heavily rely on and point to. Because the conversation, the solution, is really much, much bigger.
Andreana Clay is Associate Professor of Sociology at San Francisco State University and author of The Hip-Hop Generation Fights Back: Youth, Activism, and Post-Civil Rights Politics (NYU Press, 2012).