I might not be as big a hip-hop head as some, but as a Nigerian with brothers and sisters, hip-hop has been an integral part of my childhood and adolescence. It influenced the way I dressed, the things I valued, the way I spoke and still speak today. I idolised rappers like Eminem for being a white boy in a black dominated industry and making a name for being crazier than any of them. I loved rappers like Lil’ Kim for her almost vulgar sexuality and Missy Elliot for her super intelligent lyrics, her sexual innuendo and her avant-garde music videos (music videos that as an adult I have to clock as very, very queer). Hip-hop was a almost exclusively black space in Hollywood, an industry almost entirely white in its scope and representation.
The one thing classic hip-hop of the 90’s didn’t even want to touch with a ten foot pole was homosexuality. There are whole songs dedicated to the bashing of gay people, laced with threats to beat, maim, shoot and even kill them. Heterosexual hypermasculinity was placed on a pedestal, higher than any other value pushed on young, impressionable teenagers by impressionable adults, trying to perpetuate a system they had been raised in, and there were few men as integral to the movement than rapper Jay-Z.
While he might not have personally glorified the homophobia that went on in the rap scene, he was front and centre when it came to reinforcing the harmful hypermasculine stereotypes that the industry perpetuated. His song “Girls, Girls, Girls” glorified promiscuity, “99 problems” perpetuated harmful stereotypes about black women and his entire oeuvre is filled with misogyny. So it came as a huge surprise to many hip-hop heads, especially the purists who have been complaining bitterly about the new generation of rappers coming out as gay, when JAY-Z’s mother Gloria Carter, came out as lesbian on his new album 4:44 and JAY-Z came out as an LGBT ally. This is important for several reasons.
First, Gloria Carter coming out reiterates yet again, that there is always a gay person closer to you than you think. JAY-Z’s mother lived in the closet for decades, marrying a man, having and raising four children and doing everything in her power to appear straight, afraid of the consequences if she didn’t. We shouldn’t have to wait till its our mothers/sisters/brothers/children who are gay before we see that gay people are first and foremost, human.
Second, for JAY-Z, one of the most respected rappers in the industry to come out as pro-LGBT sends a very strong message to everyone in hip-hop; the reaffirmation that no matter how many years a person has indulged in homophobic behaviour, they can always turn around and change.
Third; there is no right time to come out. There is no wrong time to come out either. We shouldn’t pressure anyone to stay in the closet, any more than we should pressure them to come out. Everyone’s journey is different.
It would be naive to expect that this will bring about a change in Hip-hop in America and maybe trickle down here. But we can dream, can’t we?