Recently, VH1’s mega-hit reality show Love & Hip-Hop Hollywood debuted its second season with a new cast member, hip-hop artist Milan Christopher, the show’s first openly gay cast member. Before the show even premiered, rumors began swirling in the media that Milan’s male cast mates, including hip-hop superstars such as Omarion and Soulja Boy, didn't want to film with him because he was openly gay.
Milan, who is a model, rapper, and producer, told me, “I never said that they didn't want to film with me, but somehow this story went viral. The show follows me in my day-to-day life, and I don't interact with them. I’ve never asked to shoot with them and haven't experienced anything bad at all from them.”
The show’s producers and the male cast members in question never confirmed nor denied the rumors. Why would they? It’s good publicity. But it did get us, the public, wondering if hip-hop was still riddled with homophobia. Or is this just an isolated case of successful rap divas not wanting to share the spotlight with the new kid on the block?
We’ve all heard rap lyrics from the ’90s and even early 2000s that expressed disdain for LGBT people through rhymes that were down right hurtful. Songs like “Nag Champa” by now Academy Award winner Common, or from the ’90s rap group Band Nubian, whose song “Punks Jump Up to Get Beat Down” said it all in the title.
By no means am I excusing homophobic rap lyrics, but as a product of the same environments that birthed hip-hop, I fully understand why those lyrics existed. Milan noted, “Rap is a product of the black community, which can be homophobic.”
Historically, hip-hop is about a generation of artists rapping about the realities they see in their neighborhoods or the “truths” they hear growing up in their homes. The marginalization of African-Americans within their own community based on sexuality is a construct that is more complex than the idea that “blacks just hate gays.” Homophobia, racism, and sexism are all rooted in the same oppression that causes a group of people to internalize the oppression they’ve experienced and then continue the cycle of abuse. Simply put, hurt people hurt people.
But hip-hop artists (and African-Americans) are healing and evolving, which makes this narrative of hip-hop being the most NOTORIOUS H.O.M.O-phobic genre, bullshit!
Hip-hop artists and fans don't hold the patent on homophobia. Other genres, such as country music, have been expressing their dislike for LGBT people for years. Let’s recall country singer and Voice judge Blake Shelton, whose homophobic tweet a few years ago encouraged violence against gay men. Or the fact that country music fans demanded that the song “Girl Crush” by the band Little Big Town be taken off the radio because it was perceived to be pushing the so-called gay agenda. And don’t get me started on pop music and its constant agenda to push heteronormative ideals that make listeners think, I guess I have to be straight if I want to be happy and have fun.
As a hip-hop fan, I have to recognize the strides that have been made. I know not all high-profile rap and hip-hop superstars have joined the LGBT bandwagon, but a large majority have in the past five to 10 years. They range from hip-hop veteran Kanye West, who can be seen supporting and encouraging his transgender parent-in-law Caitlyn Jenner on her reality show I Am Cait, to rap newcomer Fetty Wap, who performed during Atlanta’s 2015 Labor Day Pride celebration.
Milan said, prior to being on the show, hip-hop artists who he worked with didn’t care that he was gay, stating, “I've done music videos with Kanye West, The Game, Ne-Yo, worked with Scary Spice on her fitness video, with rapper and model Lola Monroe, and even with Too Short’s producer A-nyce and never had any issues. I think its because I’m myself, I’m about my business, and I never push up of anyone in the business. And those who have been uncomfortable [with me being gay], I don't fuck with them, because that’s their issue, not mine.”
Hip-hop fans have spoken too and showed their support of LGBT artists and songs. The hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s hit song “Same Love,” which features out singer Mary Lambert, peaked at number 3 on the Billboard U.S. Hot R&B/Hip-hop Charts, selling over 2 million copies in the U.S. alone. Then there’s the success of gay hip-hop artist Frank Ocean, who won a Grammy for his debut album, and bisexual rapper Azealia Banks, whose hit song “212” has over 98 million views on YouTube. And don’t forget about the success of actor and hip-hop singer Jussie Smollett, whose openness about being gay in lyrics like “this the type of song to make a man love a man” has catapulted him to superstardom. Not to oversimplify, it but it seems like hip-hop loves the gays just as much as the gays love hip-hop! And I am sure we will see the same success from Milan Christopher, if not more.
So, if hip-hop artists are evolving (at least publicly) and hip-hop fans are buying records from LGBT-identified hip-hop artists, where’s the disconnect?
Milan says, “My experience with the industry is unique to me. I know that there are gay artists that have had issues. I’ve had record executives tell me that they didn't want to work with me unless I got rid of my 'gay past'online. But that happens to women too, who executives don’t like something about them. At that point it’s not about my talent, it’s about who is going to move these units. And if executives think you can’t move units, then they wont take a chance. But on the flip side, look at the executives who took a chance on Sam Smith. They are winning. I believe they will continue to take a chance on me. This is an evolution, and it will happen.”
In my research, I could only find one LGBT-identified artist, Le1f, being signed to a major label in the past year. It’s clearly not for a lack of talented LGBT artists who are hungry to get in the game. With the underground success of “homo hop” or “queer hip-hop,” artists are building large social media audiences and fan bases without the help of record labels.
The only logical conclusion that I can gather is that the industry executives are responding to a narrative that is outdated or not real any more. Some ass-backwards A&R rep must be going around to the labels, selling this notion that the “hip-hop community will never accept gay rap artists,” and the old white executives are believing it.
So it’s time for us as hip-hop fans and young activists to take a cue from Taylor Swift when she got gangsta with Apple, and say if you don't want to pay, then you can’t use my music. They listened, and surely the record executives will too when it comes to their bottom line.
If you are a hip-hop fan who wants more sexual and gender diversity in your artist line up, then it’s up to you to stop supporting labels that don't have someone LGBT-identified on their roster. But you can’t just stop buying the music. You have to make them and their current artists aware that until they have more LGBT artists signed and putting out their music, that you are not going to support them. It’s this simple: “@SonyMusic you don't have any LGBT hip-hop artist, why? Not supporting you till you do. #IllWait.” The power is in your hands.