Over the last couple of weeks, record label Rainbow Noise’s video for “Imma Homo” spawned a lot of blog posts, links and inevitable comments on homophobia in hip-hop. While it’s a topic that has been discussed at length in articles, books and films like the 2006 documentary Pick Up the Mic, it seems that 2011 is the time in which the idea of erasing homophobia from hip-hop is really becoming a topic of plausible discussion.
Spin.com.com wrote of “Imma Homo”:
It knocked over quite a few people for being, well, a pretty hot song. “Imma Homo” is nice, minimalist party rap (think Los Angeles’ Jerkin’ scene with a little Young Money thrown in) boasting punch lines for days (current favorite: “I beat the p—y up, call me Dyke Turner”). It isn’t that far removed from a lot of rap that is played on the radio today.
Spin called the lesbian-owned label “Hip-hop’s great gay hope.” Complex magazine wrote: “Say word, some of them were spitting better than your favorite rapper?” Considering the LGBT members of Rainbow Noise are not the first out MCs, it would appear that the reason “Imma Homo” is getting the most play is not because of its possible novelty of being a “gay anthem,” but because it’s actually good.
In the past decade, we’ve seen several out lesbian and bisexual MCs put out their own albums and videos. In some cases, they’ve scored record deals and had some funding and support behind them (Shunda K/Yo Majesty, Psalm One). But largely, they’ve had to be DIY because hip-hop, like some other genres such as country and Christian rock, hasn’t been the most welcoming to gay and lesbian musicians. Whether it comes from the audiences, the industry or a combination of both, there is a distinct pressure on MCs who want to “make it” to be straight, to be desirable and to be — above all — marketable. And in the hip-hop community, lesbian has yet to be marketable.
But when there’s a song like “Imma Homo,” one you might find as smart and funny as it is catchy and danceable, it’s impossible to deny that the song works. It does everything a good song should, and the theme happens to be overtly gay. The MCs can rhyme, and they do it so well you can recite their lines long after hearing the song. When it comes down to what makes a song “good,” these are several points to that argument.
This isn’t to say that songs from other lesbian MCs aren’t good — it’s just that we will never like music just because it comes from someone who is gay. If you do, that fandom can’t last long. An artist will tell you music always comes first, and image is secondary. It’s a part of the package, sure, but it’s not going to deliver the longevity that a timeless tune can.
Some of hip-hop’s most talented females have fought off gay rumors, most famously Queen Latifah, Da Brat, Missy Elliott and Nicki Minaj. If one of them were to come out, would they lose fans? Probably — and some sponsors, too. They have a lot to lose, but if they were gay and out, they’d also have a lot to gain in terms of being right with themselves and with the people who support them and buy into what it is they are selling. Fans are the ones buying the music and the image.
On the flip side, when there are homophobic rappers like 50 Cent who create music you hear on the radio, or while out dancing, and you want to sing along or move with it, what is a lesbian to do? Supporting artists who don’t support your sexuality — whether or not it’s in the actual song — is a struggle. And how are we to know who is or isn’t a homophobe until they do or say something offensive? Liking the music but not liking the person is what homophobic music fans face when their favorite artist is gay. Will it help them become less homophobic? Probably not. Will they stop liking the music? No, but they might stop buying it.
Rainbow Noise has just as many hateful comments as positive ones on its “Imma Homo” video on every place its embedded on the web. But what’s interesting about the Vancouver-based crew is they are encouraging conversation about even the most negative things said about them. MC Jaysqured has one of the most memorable lines in the song (see Spin’s aforementioned post on the song.) She searches for people who Tweet the line, whether they enjoyed it or are making fun, and responds to them, saying things like: “You know you laughed!” “You know you liked it!” And her Rainbow Noise crew member Loco Ninja posts the negative reviews the video has gotten and asks for people’s thoughts on the article’s points.
And another one of the rappers Hart posted this video about how she was verbally attacked the week “Imma Homo” hit the web. She was recognized while out running an errand and was called “a fat she-man” by two men.
When it comes to homophobia in rap music, the most frequent question posed becomes “Is hip-hop ready for a gay rapper?” Whether it’s ready or not, there are many of them out there. But will they be successful? Will they be mainstream and played on the radio along with Missy and Young Money? Unfortunately, that still seems highly unlikely. As for the women who are already successful and rumored to be lesbians, coming out isn’t looking so likely for them either. In her book Pimps up, Ho’s Down: Hip-Hop’s Hold on Black Women, T. Denean Sharpley-Whiting writes:
That there are black lesbian hip-hop artists is an open secret in the industry and the hip-hop nation. Of course, the lesbiphobic lyrics that spew forth from the mouths of various underground and mainstream colleagues are troubling. Yet truth be told the most concentrated lesbiphobia and backlash — the kind that inspires compulsory silence — can be found among the multi-racial, hip-hop CD purchasing public.
So what can we do to take the hip-hop community from “No homo” to “Yes homo”? Promote not only tolerance and equality but the making of good music. If gay artists only write songs about being gay, chances are it’s going to get old after a while. (You can only rhyme “lesbian” with so many words.) And most true artists are going to write about things other than the fact that they identify as one — at least the good ones will.
Check out this behind-the-scenes video of Rainbow Noise, which highlights the work they are doing to help ensure LGBT artists are creating the music they want to while being true to themselves.