Hip-hop is a prominent style in today’s global musical landscape. The genre has progressed since its inception, but its history is rife with homophobia, misogyny, and the sexual objectification of women, notably bisexual women. Discussions on whether to include LGBTQ artists who are vocal about our contrasting experiences or dare to incorporate our identities into our aesthetic often lead to contentious (profitable) debates.
Many artists raise their hands as bisexual, gay, lesbian, or trans after they have achieved fans and fame.
Has society (specifically in the United States) considered the hardships and triumphs of LGBTQ artists in hip-hop? What is the future of this intersection of race, identity, and expression in hip-hop?
Hip-hop at the Core
Hip-hop was built on self-expression and community. The genre was created in the chaotic cultural melting pot of the South Bronx in the 1970s. It originated as a form of self-expression among marginalized people of color, predominantly Black and Latino youngsters. Hip-hop provided a forum for these deprived souls to share life stories in slums as they faced racism, police abuse, and poverty and dealt with the political context of the time. It helped youth challenge the status quo and dominant ideas about their communities.
While conversations about racial oppression were considered taboo, hip-hop music served as a beacon of light and hope. It gave youth an outlet, a way to cope and survive the oppression. Becoming a hip-hop artist in the local community was a pathway to wealth, notoriety, and community leadership. The hip-hop artists’ city of origin has always been significant to their fans, indicating a sense of representation and overcoming.
Notorious hip-hop acts include Public Enemy’s Fight the Power (1990) and N.W.A.’s F*ck the Police (1988) underscore this. KRS-One said, “Cause Black and white kids both to take shorts/ When one doesn’t know about the other one’s culture/ Ignorance swoops down like a vulture.” In essence, hip-hop called out bigotry and ignorance from larger societal structures.
The Shift to Homophobia, Misogyny, and Sexualization of Bisexual Women in Hip-Hop
The subject matter began to change as the genre matured and acquired widespread prominence in the ’80s and ’90s. Lyrics and imagery born from resistance, togetherness, and authenticity became increasingly rife with homophobia, misogyny, and the sexualization of women. At some point, the goal evolved to be seen as “hypermasculine,” and artists sought to put money and women on display.
Famous musicians like Method Man, Lil Baby, and D.M.X. have all faced criticism for controversial statements or lyrics. One of the late D.M.X.’s songs featured a comment that was not only misogynistic but advocated for rape. The homophobia that permeated the genre is illustrated by the now-famous statement, “You can’t be f*ckin’ people in the a** and say you’re gangsta” by Method Man.
Lil Baby’s comments on H.I.V. and AIDS during a live performance provoked a substantial backlash and brought attention to the industry’s enduring bias. Some fans wanted Lil Baby canceled, and some supported his freedom of expression.
As a musician, I understand that songwriting and music are personal, and I advocate for total freedom in the creative process. Our music and our lyrics are extensions of our souls. This is the basis of my critique and commentary. But when creators dare to create, they immediately face the artists’ plight.
In Edmund Feldman’s Dilemma of the Artist, Feldman points out that an artist’s most painful dilemma is economic. He ponders how an artist can genuinely balance authentic creation and making a living, in other words, delivering what the people want or creating what you want.
We can suggest that homophobia, misogyny, and sexualization of women’s bodies held intrinsic value for the audience beyond being a mere reflection of society, enough value to make the record and artists rich and famous.
Lyrics were frequently openly hostile to the LGBTQ community, demonstrating that homophobia, dissing, and challenging another man’s masculinity were a minimum requirement for entering the rap game. This article highlights the inherent prominence and sexualization in hip-hop, specifically of bisexual women. The term bisexual did not enter the mainstream until the 90s, and when it did, it applied to women only.
Bisexuality in women was often portrayed as a tool to facilitate male pleasure rather than a sexual orientation worthy of recognition and respect. Bisexual women’s life experiences were reductive in the mainstream and always presented with a voyeuristic male gaze. This may be one birthplace of casual biphobia within the context of hip-hop. If bisexuality wasn’t tangible or the audience did not witness or have a say in how it functions or is expressed, it had no value.
Kanye West rapped, “Girls kissing girls ’cause it’s hot right? / But unless they use a strap-on then they not dykes,” in his song, I Don’t Like.
The incorporation of same-sex activity between women became an obsession of the male rap community. While the existence of bisexual women was acknowledged, serious romantic relationships were irrelevant, and lesbian women were ultimately waiting for the right man to teach them something new about themselves — these ideas portrayed in rap hauntingly parallel real life, which may explain the high rate of abuse and biphobia our bi sisters face.
Drake famously rapped, “Starin’ at your dress, cause it’s see through, say that you’re a lesbian girl, me, too. Girls want girls where I’m from/But I know you wanna roll with the gang.”
I could write 1,500 words of lyrical examples, but the last famous example I offer is from PnB Rock’s song, I Like Girls. He raps, “I like girls who like girls. Kissing on her friend off white, girl…We walk inside the club and my girl leave with your bitch (your bitch). Her nails done, hair done, diamonds on her wrist (her wrist).”
Is this inclusion? Is this representation? Hauntingly, topics of same-sex attractions and bisexuality in hip-hop do exist but are cringingly partisan. And male bisexuality is dead on arrival. We must ask ourselves why and how equivalent experiences among men are silenced and erased.
Hip-Hop’s Queer Icons: How the Genre Is Changing Culture
These instances aside, several musicians have achieved mainstream success in hip-hop, despite the industry’s lack of acceptance of their community.
Frank Ocean’s heartfelt music and honest lyrics have revitalized the genre. When he revealed his bisexuality in 2012, he caused a seismic shift in the hip-hop community, becoming beloved. His Tumblr letter, in which he described his first experience with romantic love, shocked the web and shattered expectations for the form.
His subsequently released critically acclaimed albums Channel Orange and Blonde demonstrate that an artist’s sexual orientation should not be a barrier to making music that can connect with a broad audience. As a bi-black man, it felt incredible to witness Frank’s moment and the outpouring of support. But I wonder how an openly LGBTQ man fairs entering rap and obtaining fans.
Taylor Bennett, Chance the Rapper’s younger brother, has succeeded similarly. He came out as bisexual on Twitter in 2017, and he’s been using his celebrity ever since to promote inclusion and equality in the hip-hop community.
Lil Nas X is another artist who has stirred the genre and triggered tsunamis of interest and thought pieces. He was one of the few openly gay artists to have a number-one hit with their first single when he announced his sexual orientation while Old Town Road was at the top of the charts. Lil Nas X’s aesthetic has pushed the envelope of what is acceptable in hip-hop. His unabashed sexuality, as depicted in music videos like Montero (Call Me By Your Name), has provoked intense debate and passionate discussion. More significantly, it has caused people to survey how and why they feel what they feel.
Hip-Hop’s Promise for LGBTQ Equality in the Future
Despite their achievements, these musicians remain the outliers in a field where homophobia and misogyny are pervasive. I often wonder how many artists fear their truth will disrupt or end their careers if revealed. How many artists feel alone with millions of supporters? And what have we done as a society to make it this way? Because society accepted Frank Ocean and Cardi B’s sexuality, does that mean it will accept another? Hip-hop’s journey toward greater diversity and acceptance is far from over; however, the endorsement and popularity of LGBTQ artists give hope for the future.
We must remember that hip-hop was built on identity and expression and communities feeling homeless and finding shelter in music, the same function it serves for LGBTQ hip-hop artists. Hip-hop was and is where taboos can be expressed and related to, and to suggest that it is not (anymore) is disingenuous to the function of the genre and nothing short of a coordinated effort.
The democratization of music by social media and streaming platforms has allowed LGBTQ artists to make and share their music without the oversight of traditional industry gatekeepers, who are often homophobic, biphobic, or transphobic and discriminate against qualified talent, or at least encourage them to conceal what the audience seeks — truth and authenticity — something to remind us that we are alive and sharing this experience.
Music’s strength comes from its capacity to speak for and to everyone, and the hip-hop genre is no exception. The more stories and representatives we have to showcase the scope of life, the more opportunities we have to connect. And feeling connected is the launch point for self-empowerment.
Previously Published on Medium
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