This video started me thinking, so you should watch it first. Go ahead. I’ll wait. HOLY SHIT DO NOT WATCH IT AT WORK.
If you want, I’ll save you the trouble of watching/listening to any other Die Antwoord songs; this is as good as they get. I like this song quite a bit, but the catalog in general is in the vein of that “grimy” rap think that I just don’t care for. Die Antwoord is the crown jewel in a style called “Zef”, which is South African for “Kid Rock White Trash Is So Universal That A Penguin In Antarctica Just Got Chlamydia From A Stripper”. The video really caught my eye because the hype (wo)man Yo-Landi is wearing Where The Wild Things Are pajamas and Ninja has a District 9 Prawn claw for an arm. Oh, and the seemingly nasty bit of gay bashing in the middle. Let me spell it out, for the sake of reference:
“Listen here, you fucking asshole. I don’t want to go to the bush with you. Don’t touch my penis. I am not a gay. My penis is for the girls. My penis is clean. My penis is strong. I am a big boy. I don’t want to be a man. Evil Boy for life.”
So is my Universal Metaphor Penguin understood to be homophobic, too?
I should probably start out by letting you know what my temperment is when it comes to people saying “fag” and “gay”; I’m a lot less tolerant as I used to be, and I’m probably still more tolerant than my more activist friends would want me to be. That being said, I would defend an artist saying either word. That freedom of expression doesn’t keep you from being a homophobe, but you have the right to use it.
Anderson Cooper, a homosexual in the “glass closet” to bolster his journalistic integrity(has he called you yet, Keith?), recently interviewed Eminem and asked him about the use of gay hate speech in his lyrics. Eminem gives the defense he has given before, and I understand part of the angle; he doesn’t say “fag” or “bitch” to his kids, and parents shouldn’t let their kids listen to him say it, either; he has no problem with gay people; “fag” was just a word thrown around a lot where he grew up; he represents a character(Slim Shady, Eminem) in his albums and that character does not represent himself.
I 100% support his right to say whatever he wants. He has a modicum of talent, but his hot gimmick when he first went national was wild misogyny and tales of grindhouse-style murder. The unfair focus on a strain of homophobia in his lyrics is similar to the focus Body Count got for “Cop Killer”. No one seemed to say a word about the penultimate song, “Mama’s Gonna Die Tonight”, which was about Mama dying tonight in a particular gruesome way. Baseball bat, burned to death, chopped up and put in Hefty bags and distributed Johnny Appleseed style. But shoot a cop. . .
The point Eminem can never make, however, is that he is not using the word “faggot” in a derogatory way. That’s the point of rap: I am awesome, and you are not awesome. Or: I’m “fly”, and you’re “gay”. If “faggot” didn’t deeply effect the status of the person he’s battling against, or the focus of the speaker’s ire in a rap song, Eminem wouldn’t use it. “Faggot” means something horrible enough in the rap world to be an insult. And, regardless of who says it and in what context, if you use the word “faggot” in a hurtful way, you are responsible for perpetuating it’s use in the purposeful context of hate speech.
It would be a racist comment to say, “African-American culture is inherently homophobic”. It is as unfair and inaccurate a statement as saying “all gay guys are sissies”. It is fair to say, however, that there were many examples, as I scourged sources, of African-American rappers saying, “hey, our culture just doesn’t support homosexuals”. The worst example? My favorite living rapper, Busta Rhymes.
In the excellent documentary, “Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes”, the documentarian Byron Hurt asks Busta Rhymes’ opinion about homophobia in rap lyrics. First Busta says, “I can’t partake in that conversation. That homo shit that you’re talking about? I can’t even talk to you about that.” He goes on to say after first hitting us up with the International Sign of Something Offensive Being Said: I Don’t Mean Any Offense, “what I represent, culturally, doesn’t condone it whatsoever.” When Hurt asks if a gay rapper would ever be accepted in the community, Busta Rhymes just walks out. The interview took about twenty-six seconds. It was enough time to paint Busta in an intolerant light.
It could be said that Busta Rhymes was referring to his Muslim beliefs, but there aren’t a lot of his Muslim beliefs prevalent in his lifestyle. His Jamacian upbringing? Certainly a lot of homophobia present in reggae music. But I think Busta Rhymes was trying, wrongfully, to speak for the African-American culture.
Firstly, homophobia isn’t even defined as simply as it used to be. In the past, anything anti-gay was labeld “homophobia”. But with the culture change in America moving toward the “normalcy” of homosexuals, the word “bigotry” has been replacing “homophobia”. That distinction pairs more closely with Busta Rhymes’ problems; it is less bigotry, but homophobia manifested in both the machismo that is prevalent in the community and Busta’s insecurity. If you have the Busta Rhymes catalog, like I do, you’ll notice the insecurity coming forth in the amount of personnel changes and the people he chooses to keep(Spliff Star, a no talent yes man stays, Lord Have Mercy goes; breaking up Leaders of the New School because he wanted to get head from a girl instead of go to a gig; refusing to promote the solo success of remaining Flipmode Squad members), the number of record companies he has been with and the short time he stays with them(seven throughout his career), and the overall petulant nature of his public persona. Homophobia and insecurity go hand in hand(The opposite is Li’l Wayne who was non plussed after kissing Birdman in public. When confronted with the gay rumors, he said something to the effect of “all those guys that say I’m gay? All their women want to kiss me.” Handled).
Secondly, I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that every sector of the music industry is filled with homos, including the rap industry. In “Hip Hop America”, by Nelson George(do yourself a favor, music geeks and non-music non-geeks, and read all George has to write), a particular point is brought up in relation to the perceived anti-Semitic nature of Public Enemy: not only were Public Enemy working directly with Jewish people(starting by being signed by Rick Rubin, all the way down with Chuck D’s buisness partners), but white, Jewish record producers were more willing to work with rappers than African-American A&R people. The perception, however it came about, was that African Americans hate the Jews. Not really true, and as unfair a statement as hating the gays. I’m sure there are plenty working, although behind the scenes, with rap artists, including Busta Rhymes. In fact, with his success, I can almost guarantee it.
Thirdly, Byron Hurt is an African American. The people who speak, eloquently, to the role of machismo and it’s damning effect of homophobia? African Americans. The transsexuals who hint at the “down-low” culture in the rap game? African Americans. Even if it is fair to say that homophobia has unique facets in African-American culture, much like “Down Low” men are a facet of bisexuality that exists almost uniquely African-American culture, Busta Rhymes is painting with too broad of a stroke. The film is full of African-American men, immersed in culture, who think differently.
Fourthly, behind the scenes doesn’t even cut it anymore. There are plenty of out-of-the-closet, African-American rappers. I couldn’t vouch for wether or not they are accepted by the music community at large, but they do exist. Which brings me to this–
GAY RAPPERS SAY “FAGGOT”, TOO. In the same way that Eminem says it. There weren’t many gay rap songs at my disposal, but well over two-thirds had “bitch” and “faggot” in the lyrics. Cross dressers talked about how much they liked hearing the “aggressive” tone of homophobia. Some of the “sissy rap” that I could get my hands on seemed to have a more “reclaiming” approach, but mostly all the gay-identifying words were derogatory. The “free speech of the character” angle doesn’t really work when your “character” is openly gay. There doesn’t need to be a consensus, necessarily, but I seem to be on the side of “just don’t say it in a derogatory fashion”(I called a friend of mine a faggot recently because he wore the same, exclusive t-shirt as me. He is gay, too; we were total fags for wearing the same shirt). When Anderson Cooper referenced gay speech to Eminem, he said the now-popular phrase “the F Word”. As much controversy as there has been in rappers using “the N Word”, it seemed like a fitting context. Hopefully the mindset will catch on.
Die Antwoord? Totally off the hook.
Those lyrics were about not wanting to get circumcised as a teenager, with a machete and no antibiotics. Rap loud about that shit, brother. Unfair of me to assume homophobia? Totally. But I’d love to be proven wrong more often.