by Ellen Gillingham
Constructions of Manhood and Womanhood in the Black Community
Group Paper: Lyrics and Cultural Homophobia of Hip-Hop Music: The Emergence of Homo-Hop in the larger Hip-Hop Culture
Our presentation explored presences and representations of nonnormative sexual practices in hip-hop culture. Homo-hop is an emerging subgenre of hip-hop music made by LGBT artists. This emergence is slightly unexpected due to the manifestation of homophobic lyrics in hip-hop that come from a prejudice against LGBT people. The fluidity of the relationship between American culture and the music industry abides cultural homophobia, which refers to the social norms or codes of behavior that work within a society to legitimize oppression (Guy-Sheftall and Cole). However, homo-hop is a more welcoming space within hip-hop with a possibility for nonnormative sexual identities.
Popular rap artist, Lil B’s 2011 album, I’m Gay (I’m Happy) reveals the tension between the rise of homo-hop and cultural homophobia. The purpose of the album was not to criticize nor was it to enable sexualities. Lil B claims that with the album, he was trying to promote a formal meaning of the term “gay.” Being a rap artist, he plays with words and double-entendres to use language in innovative ways. In an interview, Lil B said, “I’m very gay, but I love women. I’m not attracted to men in any way. I’ve never been attracted to a man in my life. But yes I am gay, I’m so happy. I’m a gay, heterosexual male.” “I got major love for the gay and lesbian community, and I just want to push less separation and that’s why I’m doing it” (McCartney). With respect to the Album’s reception, the lyrical content was well received because it included topics such as race relations, poverty, humanity, and the justice system. However, some of his former fans could not overlook the title, spawning a backlash including death threats.
This controversy expands on class themes of the experiences of black women and men by demonstrating the barriers in the hip-hop world. Terrence Dean, a former MTV producer and hip-hop expert wrote a book, Hiding in Hip Hop: On the Down Low in the Entertainment Industry from Music to Hollywood about being a member of the rap community whom is black and gay. “Hip Hop is a culture and environment which does not provide a safe place for an artist to come forward or to come out,” he marked. “If you listen to many rap lyrics they promote hate and gay-bashing. It is an environment where the thug and gangster mentality is prevalent. Artists boast of a hyper-masculine bravado, with their crotch-grabbing, degradation of women, and their braggadocios lyrical slaying about the number of women they’ve slept with and children they’ve produced” (Dean). He illustrates the environment’s harsh reception to femininity. Although, not all hip-hop music is so discriminatory, many representations of such attitudes can suppress LGBT artists.
Many scholars have written about popular music and its general relationship with culture. In his book Six Guns and Society, Will Wright analyzes Western films and their influence in America to explain their complex popularity. He defines popular texts as representative of a popular social myth
CITATION Wil77 l 1033 (Wright). In Gender and Popular Culture by Katie Milestone and Anneke Meyer, the tie between popularity of texts and influence on culture is more constructive then Wright’s description. Milestone and Meyer draw illustrate how different constructions are produced, represented and consumed (Milestone and Meyer). They examine the role of popular culture in the construction of identities in contemporary society. These sources also illuminate class themes of how different identities are manufactured and mediated in popular culture and performance.
Our presentation included examples of homo-hop, neutral, and homophobic lyrics to show the pervasiveness of songs. This game illuminated how people recognize and sing along to songs such as “Criminal” by Eminem, which sometimes without realizing what you are saying, subconsciously the language and ideas are repeated in your everyday life. Media can be a medium of homophobia and misogyny to create cultural homophobia. This component of our presentation taught me about the relationship between misogyny and homophobia with similar responses to articulations of a feminine gender performance. Through Jim’s work on the presentation, I learned homophobia was often directed toward gender performance as a critique of femininity.
We also showed other representations of hip-hop because not all hip-hop is homophobic and should not be generalized because of multiple readings of homophobic artists. Additionally, we included images of non-normative sexual practices such as Queen Latifah’s promotion of love among all lovers. These images show how notions of race and sexuality are affected by black articulations of gender. In her essay “Thinking Sex,” Gayle Rubin introduces the idea of the “Charmed Circle” of sexuality, that sexuality that was privileged by society was inside of the circle, while all other sexually was outside of, and in opposition to it (Rubin). The “Charmed Circle” expresses the idea that there is a hierarchical valuation of sex acts. Looking at the genealogy of hip-hop, concerning homophobic roots in hyper-masculinity and queer celebration rooted in silence, which Rubin suggests is due to opposition.
Representations of queer sexuality show how non-normative sexuality is expressed in hip-hop culture through homo-hop despite an abundance of lyrics that inadvertently and explicitly advance cultural homophobia. After receiving feedback from peers, I wish to clarify that homo-hop is not a style of music, but an identification that the artist is LGBT. The term is potentially problematic because language can confine concepts or individuals. A principle of language known as the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis maintains that language extensively shapes perceptions of the world and forms ideological preconceptions (Swoyer). Use of the term can create scripts, which bound subjects especially because homo-hop emerged within the recent decades. There are not yet enough representations to create a range of possibilities for the subgenre. Nonetheless, Homo-hop is an important subgenre because it creates a space in which different people can be included. That is, if homo-hop is not isolated to a Eurocentric construction!