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The Year Hip-Hop Went Queer

From Frank Ocean to Jay-Z, the genre made major leaps forward with the LGBT community in 2012.

In one answer, Jay-Z cemented a new era in hip-hop.

Courtesy of Roc-A-Fella/Arthur Elgort

“I’ve always thought it as something that was still, um, holding the country back … You can choose to love whoever you love … [It] is no different than discriminating against blacks. It’s discrimination plain and simple,” Jay-Z said to CNN.

It wasn’t forced. It wasn’t qualified. Less than a week after President Obama became the first sitting president to publicly support same-sex marriage, one of the genre’s most successful and prolific artists echoed his sentiment.

The rapper’s stance on gay marriage was a big issue because he (along with Obama) forced the hip-hop community to publicly address the issue. Within days of Jay’s statement, T.I., Diddy, and others vocalized their support for Obama and marriage equality.

And shockingly, 50 Cent flipped his opinion on homosexuality (even if it was qualified).

Courtesy of Aftermath/Lionel Deluy

“I think everyone should be happy,” 50 Cent said to Vibe in the magazine’s July issue. “I think a fool is going to go against same sex marriage at this point.”

Though, he did qualify his statement with the suggestion that “[w]e need organizations for straight men.”

However, this is quite the reversal from a few years back when he said, “If you [are] a man and your [sic] over 25 and you don’t eat pu**y just kill yourself damn it. The world will be a better place.”

Even 50 has realized he can’t fight the changing tide in hip-hop. Whether or not he turns into a genuine, vocal ally remains to be seen.

Macklemore, a Seattle-based rapper, became the type of ally we needed in the hip-hop community.

Courtesy of The Island Def Jam Music Group/Jason Koenig

Sure, a big name like Jay-Z meant that many in the hip-hop community would rethink their positions on homosexuality, but it was also the rise of acts like Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, and Murs that represented a true shift in culture. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis produced the powerful yet sweet song “Same Love.” Within that, Macklemore addressed the homophobia he faced as a kid and what it was like to be bullied for just being perceived as gay.

The song was also a comment on the silence that he felt became so commonplace among the straight community. “I wrote the song ‘Same Love,’ not with the expectation that it would cure homophobia and lead to marriage equality across the US (although that’d be awesome),” wrote Macklemore. “It was written with the hope that it would facilitate dialogue and through those conversations understanding and empathy would emerge.”

Murs kissed another man to address homophobia.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Records

Murs (aka Nick Carter) portrayed a closeted teen in the music video for “Animal Style.” The video follows his secret relationship with another teenage boy. The video showed how intolerance (from others) can lead to suicide — an issue that is still a major problem in the LGBTQ community but rarely addressed by the hip-hop genre.

“I just felt it was crucial for some of us in the hip hop community to speak up on the issues of teen suicide, bullying, and the overall anti-homosexual sentiment that exist within hip hop culture,” wrote Murs. And with that video, he challenged the perceptions that many of his fans may or may not have had.

“No Homo” became a thing of the past.

Courtesy of Cash Money

Gone are the days of “No Homo,” a term that was commonly used to state one wasn’t gay and only perpetuated the fears of certain stereotypes surrounding homosexuality — appearance, acting effeminate, etc. Instead, a term like “You Only Live Once” became popular largely in thanks to Drake’s late-2011 song “The Motto.” While not a queer phrase, “YOLO” was a far more inclusive and generally popular term that wasn’t about being disassociated from one particular group. It was more about embracing your life (and to me, who you are).

Azealia Banks and Frank Ocean both came out as bisexual.

Courtesy of The Island Def Jam Music Group; Courtesy of Interscope/Brooke Nipar

For Azealia, it meant a new status as a gay icon. While she didn’t walk the line back nearly as ridiculously as Nicki Minaj did, she didn’t take her new status lightly either. (Whether conscious of it or not.) Jamieson Cox pointed out, she deftly paid homage to Paris Is Burning and NYC’s drag scene in the song “Fierce.”

But “Fierce” isn’t just sonically suitable for nights in the gay village and associated self-realization — it’s indicative of a connection to the gay community that transcends a flashy synth or a thumping four-on-the-floor beat. Banks goes further than the hat-tips to proud sexuality offered by the likes of Katy Perry in “Firework” and Ke$ha in “We R Who We R” by referencing seminal movements and moments in the history of queer culture. The courage of this decision is only amplified by her chosen art form, given the hip-hop community’s current status as one of America’s final remaining bastions of homophobia in pop culture.

Meanwhile, Ocean went on to release the most critically acclaimed album of the year. And when asked about his sexuality, he kept his answers vague — forcing audiences to focus on what’s important to him: the music. (This editor fully understands the irony of writing about this while highlighting Ocean’s sexuality.)

But for such a fresh, promising artist to come out as he did created a new wave in the genre pool: acceptance. Tyler, the Creator, known for his controversial use of the word faggot**, was one of the first to publicly support Ocean. His support was echoed by Russell Simmons, 50 Cent, Jay-Z (again), and others.

**It should be noted that Tyler’s producer and fellow member of Odd Future, Syd Tha Kyd, is an out lesbian rapper and partially responsible for his homophobic lyrics. For what it’s worth, she told Out, “[m]ost of the homos I know use homophobic slurs, and it’s never a problem unless someone who’s not a part of [Odd Future] is using the word.” However, what is especially not right is the new meaning of faggot as “weak,” to help give license to the likes of Tyler and Eminem, who have used the word in their lyrics.

Media pulled back the veil on out LGBT rappers who slowly proved to be as progressive as they were gay.

Roger Kisby/Getty Images

The scene was first exposed to the masses in one of the best pieces of music journalism of the year. As Matthew Perpetua explained, Pitchfork writer Carrie Battan profiled “rising stars like Mykki Blanco, Zebra Katz, and Le1f while thoughtfully placing their music in the context of the rich history of queer subcultures and a hip-hop culture that is very slowly learning to accept non-straight sexuality after decades of outright hostility toward gay men.” Details followed suit and proclaimed these artists as pioneers of a new movement in rap. And it wasn’t without merit.

Le1f released one of the best and most ridiculous jams this summer: “Wut.” (Click, listen, and jam. I’ll wait.) Diplo took notice of Nicky Da B and featured him on “Express Yourself.” The fierce duo House of Ladosha opened for Azealia Banks. Meanwhile, “Ima Read” by Katz became the soundtrack of Paris Fashion Week, and like Azealia, the song also paid homage to Paris Is Burning.

“We’ve gotten attention not just for being gay rappers but for being particularly progressive rappers,” Le1f told Details.

A$AP Rocky warned that the genre would fail if the community continued to embrace homophobia.

Courtesy of RCA Records/Brock Fetch

“[Rappers] need to stop being so close-minded because that will just cause the genre to fail. Look at pop. Pop doesn’t discriminate against people,” Rocky told Spinner in February. Unfortunately, Rocky also implied that homosexuality was a choice (“I don’t plan on being gay”), but the argument he was attempting to make was more important.

He was making the case that artists like Lady Gaga embraced the LGBTQ community (with monumental success) and answered to no one.

“Who the f—- makes the rules for hip-hop? Who the f—- dictates who’s cool and who’s not?” he later asked. A question that seemed to be answered by the likes of Jay-Z, Ocean, Banks, and Macklemore: oneself.

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