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Gay Times September 11 - Issue 397

Homophobia in hip hop - Pioneers don’t always come in the size and shape we expect

This year, 20-year-old LA rapper Tyler Okanma, aka Tyler (pictured), The Creator, defacto leader of hysterically provocative hip-hop collective Odd Future, has inadvertently blown the argument over music and homophobia into the spectacular open.

Odd Future have been blog-big for close to two-years now with a string of shocking and brilliant mixtape releases. On the eve this spring of Tyler’s commercial debut Goblin, he found himself on the edge of glory, and since the crew apparently brought the sparing use of ‘bitches’ and ‘faggots’ to apparently new levels, they got just as many letters. Sample lyric, from French!: “Crusin’ in my go kart at Walmart sellin’ cupcakes / Go ahead admit it faggot this shit is tighter then buttrape / That evolves Ballpark franks and silver duct tape”
His breakout single Yonkers retorted, in the grizzled, age-inappropriate rasp that has made him so revered: “Oh, not again, another critic writing report- I’m stabbin’ any blogging faggot hipster with a Pitchfork / Still suicidal I am, I’m Wolf- Tyler put this fuckin’ knife in my hand.”
Shocking stuff. Boundary-pushing, in indulging a violent, nihilistic fantasy through the medium of pop music, but little worse than you’d find in most over-18 graphic novels. Nevertheless, since a major thrust of his champions came from the white, middle-class media, the white, middle-class media were among the first to bring it up. It only made him look more entrancing.
Wearing a wedding dress on the cover of NME, the magazine I work for, the weekend of the Royal Wedding, his answer was suitably delinquent: “People take this stuff so seriously. So some of the time it’s actually for them, my subconscious doing it on purpose, just to piss them off. I want people to take that shit too seriously, especially shit like that. But just, whatever.”
Tyler’s defence, such as it was, was that he’s only 20 and shouldn’t be expected to know any better, but he was self-aware enough to add: “I’m not homophobic. I think faggot just hits and hurts people. It hits. And gay just means you’re stupid. I don’t know, we don’t think about it, we’re just kids. We don’t think about that shit. But I don’t hate gay people. I don’t want anyone to think I’m a homophobe.”
Which is a lot like saying ‘I don’t want anyone to think I can fly just because I have wings,’ but in a world where you can also say with conviction, ‘I don’t way anyone to think I’m gay just because I’m a man who likes men’, then maybe it’s just one we should consider.
Gay and progressive hip-hop fans have been turning an uncomfortable blind eye to apparently homophobic material for almost as long as the genre has existed. And say what you will about Tyler, but he’s an equal-opportunities nihilist, with plenty of the most the hateful material directed toward himself (in the video for Yonkers, he hangs himself in the final scene). And there’s an argument to be forwarded that says that in not precluding us from the spite within his music through virtue of sexuality alone, he’s being more progressive than anyone would care to admit.
But it was what happened next where things got interesting. Faced with the publicity torrent Tyler and Odd Future were creating, Sara Quin, one half of openly gay, Canadian, twin-sister folk-duo Tegan and Sara wrote an impassioned blog post that brought more publicity to her band than most interviews they have ever given.
She wrote: “While an artist who can barely get a sentence fragment out without using homophobic slurs is celebrated on the cover of every magazine, blog and newspaper, I’m disheartened that any self-respecting human being could stand in support with a message so vile. In any other industry would I be expected to tolerate, overlook and find deeper meaning in this kid’s sickening rhetoric?”
It was then that she said the previously unsayable, calling out white journalists on turning that blind eye out of fear of appearing to be critical of what has historically been a black genre. It read: “Is Tyler exempt because people are afraid of a backlash? The inevitable claim that detractors are being racist, or the brush-off that not ‘getting it’ would indicate that you’re ‘old’ (or a faggot?) Because, the more I think about it, the more I think people don’t actually want to go up against this particular bully because he’s popular.”

Words: Daniel Martin

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