It took balls for A$AP Rocky to speak out against the lingering culture of homophobia that remains entrenched in hip-hop. “I don’t give a fuck about your business,” the world’s hottest new rapper told Spinner last week.
Man, if you’re gay we can be friends. If we’re straight we can be friends. I’m not gay, I don’t plan on being gay, I don’t condone it and I’m not saying I’m against it. I really don’t give a fuck and I don’t think anyone should care about what another man’s preference is… unless he’s interested, if you know what I’m saying.
Okay. Let’s leave aside for a second the "it’s fine until one of them looks at me funny" line. Let’s leave in the same place the suggestion that in 2012, homosexuality should be something that needs ‘condoning’ and put that down to an unfortunate choice of words. Because for even speaking on the issue while so many others won’t, Rocky deserves our applause.
It’s his reasons for saying it that rang the alarm bells. “I’m not saying that hip-hop needs gay rappers or anything,” he went on, “but they need to stop being so closed-minded because that will just cause the genre to fail. Look at pop. Pop doesn’t discriminate against people. Look at Lady Gaga. Y’know, what I mean? Who the fuck makes the rules for hip-hop? Who the fuck dictates who’s cool and who’s not? Fuck you.”
Who indeed? And while it’s encouraging that the hottest name in the world is taking such a progressive stand, the trouble is, he’s wrong on one important count. Hip-hop is doing perfectly well keeping things business as usual, and doesn’t look in danger of failing at all, despite using language and refusing to attack perspectives that would be completely unacceptable elsewhere.
Alongside football, it remains one of the last corners of culture where it seems that gay is not okay. Except that football and hip-hop are not corners of culture all, but two of the biggest businesses and most aspirational worlds that appeal to young people. All of a sudden, what’s at best a 'Don’t Ask Don’t Tell' policy, at worst a hateful conspiracy of inaction, all of a sudden becomes a dangerous thing indeed.
After all the Tyler stuff kicked off last year, I wrote a feature for a gay magazine looking into this whole issue of supposed homophobia in hip-hop. The idea was to mount a proper investigation, giving people the right of reply. It goes without saying that Tyler wouldn’t take part, but out of all the other parties I approached, a depressingly small number were eager to talk. It was a similar story in football, when Amal Fashanu made a BBC Three documentary investigating why no professional British player has come out since her uncle, Justin, who committed suicide in 1998 after years of abuse.
She spent months approaching players, but it became apparent that gayness in the game was something that you just don’t talk about. Eventually, QPR’s Joey Barton agreed to talk, spurred on by a similar experience within his own family with an uncle who stayed closeted and unhappy for years in fear of rejection. Barton spoke with refreshing insight and wisdom about how it falls to the football establishment to lead by example.
Just as it’s inconceivable that the only gay professional footballer in the world is third division Swedish player Anton Hysen, it’s hardly likely that all the prominent rappers in the world are heterosexual. Of course, nobody should be hounded out of the closet if they don’t want to be, but protecting commercial interests held back by an outmoded status quo is no good reason to stay there either. Especially considering what could be achieved. At a time when teen suicides caused by homophobic bullying remain shockingly high, role models and representation are more important than ever in saving those kids’ lives. And this stuff matters because these spheres are among the final battlegrounds left as we move towards the genuine equality that many people wrongly think already exists.
So yes, bravo A$AP Rocky for having the balls to take on an issue not many will. Yesterday’s spat between The Game and Perez Hilton (admittedly a shrill muckraker himself) over the #FagSwag tweets suggest these conversations might be approaching critical mass. But his suggestion that this is a non-issue is too optimistic. What it does do is sell the genre short. As Kanye said in 2005, hip-hop represents “speaking your mind and breaking down barriers, but everyone in hip-hop discriminates against gay people.”
Well, maybe ‘everyone’ is a little extreme. But unless we keep this on the agenda, and continue to say out loud that liberal use of ‘faggot’ and gay murder fantasies have no place in modern music, not much is going to change.