By: H. Melt
During my freshman year of college, my girlfriend at the time bluntly asked, “do you think you’re Black?” because I listened to hip hop. Some of my queer friends in Chicago have a similar ignorance about the true range of hip hop—who listens to it, what it is, and its influence on musical, literary and all forms of artistic movements worldwide. And some of my friends in various hip hop communities lack an understanding of queerness. It’s time to change that.
Queer people have always had a presence in hip hop. There is even a word for it—homo hop (though rarely used today). Artists like Deep Dickollective helped foster the tradition of queering hip hop. Recently, hip hop has begun to create more space and visibility for queer people. In the past few months, there’s been a focus on the queer hip hop scene in New York, which features artists like Mykki Blanco and Le1f. Chicago has its own queer arts scene filled with performance artists, rappers, dancers, and DJs like +, Shea Couleé, Vajequeque Brown, [X]P, and Swaguerrilla who use hip hop as a main element of their work. Many queers still wonder, why listen to hip hop? Isn’t it homophobic?
As I was listening to a new mixtape, I heard something that surprised me. Sort of. In the background vocals of a song, the word “faggot” was used in a derogatory way. This struck me because that word was said by someone who I am cool with, by someone who supports me enough to read my poetry, clap for me after a performance about queer issues, and who seems to respect me. However, I do not fall under the category of what most people associate with that term. Perhaps they’re okay with my performance of queerness, but not all forms of queerness–especially those associated more closely with femininity, and male femininity in particular, which is embodied by the F word.
As a hip hop fan, I was not surprised by its use. I frequently hear that word uttered by people who do not identify with it. Even Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message” – one of the most classic hip hop songs of all time uses the F word. Even so-called “conscious” rappers like Common have used it. In his book One Day It’ll All Make Sense, Common discusses how he didn’t stop using the word until a fan approached him about it after a show. In an essay for Huffington Post, Brother Ali—who has used the F word in the past—commented on the use of homophobic language in hip hop by saying, “as people who have never been on the life and death end of those terms, we don’t get to decide when they’re ‘okay’ for us to use.” Hip hop is constantly evolving, just like the culture around it.
Hip hop is often a scapegoat for the homophobia that exists in other, whiter forms of art, media, and culture. It is now up to hip hop to embrace queer artists and be an active ally by not ignoring and degrading our presence. This means erasing the expectation of some queer people that they will hear homophobic language when listening to hip hop. More broadly, it means eliminating the expectation that queer people and other marginalized groups face that we will be misunderstood, stared at, feared, verbally or physically assaulted just by walking down the street. It is not only hip hop’s job to create a more inclusive art form. The work of eliminating bias, discrimination, and hatred in all its forms to create a more inclusive world is the job of every single person on this earth.
This essay was originally written as an introduction for The Queer Cypher: a showcase of queer hip hop in Chicago that took place on Monday March 25th at Beauty Bar Chicago as part of LEXICA at Salonathon.