If you haven’t heard, the hip-hop community can’t stop talking about Mr. Cee’s alleged public lewdness with a transgender woman. Between the homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic rants that have surfaced in the blogosphere, I’ve personally tuned out just to maintain my sanity. However, 50 Cent’s recent denunciation of homophobia in hip-hop, simply because it isn’t profitable anymore, has me enraged. Some may call it a step in progress, but I find it quite insulting that the primary, if not only, reason 50 Cent is now tolerant of homosexuality is because of the proven profitability of the LGBT market. See Miss Info’s interview for 50 Cent’s words verbatim.
During the interview, 50 Cent encouraged Mr. Cee to simply be “out” about his sexual orientation with a bravado similar to “I’m Rick James, bitch” (his words, not mine) and capitalize off the LGBT market. Briefly mentioning Lady Gaga’s success and profound gay fan base, he concludes that it’s time for hip-hop to jump on the pro-gay bandwagon. As a dynamic businessman, 50 Cent is an opportunist and recognizes the community’s proven profitability, not to mention the past inconvenience of his homophobic rants. Greeted on different occasions by the LGBT community’s swift intolerance for anti-gay artists, he tells Miss Info, “…if you say it’s not fine, you’re going to get attacked. You’re going to write apology notices.” Maybe Kobe Bryant didn’t get the note?
If avoiding apology letters, public relations disasters, and missed business opportunities have inspired 50 Cent and other celebrities to be anti-homophobia, can we call that a victory for the LGBT community? Analyzing hip-hop’s current business climate and 50 Cent’s remarks, Kenyon Farrow writes, “…hip-hop artists have learned that there is money to be made in a gay market—and not just by Lady Gaga. Younger hip-hop artists are not using homophobia to sell records in the way their elders often have. Nicki Minaj has written songs about having sex with other femmes and regularly autographs the breast of female fans. She’s also been outspoken in support of queer youth. And many gay clubs—and not just the black or Latino ones—are incorporating more R&B and hip-hop into their set lists… Mainstream hip-hop is not getting soft on gays, it’s mostly getting hard up for money, and as one commenter on Miss Info’s blog noted: You don’t bite the hand that feeds you.”
While clearly this new move toward “tolerance” is bittersweet, it is not sustainable for LGBT progress if deep down these artists still believe that homosexuality is deviant and wrong. Tomorrow, if society were to move backwards, 50 Cent would no longer be an ally and we’d return to the familiar days of LGBT intolerance in hip-hop. Capitalism fueling social progress is not real social change. There needs to be a robust integration of LGBT artistry into mainstream hip-hop along with frank conversations on why so many artists consider it acceptable to be anti-LGBT. Homophobia’s roots are deeper than the “benjamins,” and if hip-hop is going to make an ideological shift, we must address the cultural force behind it.
Not only is mainstream hip-hop and popular culture accepting of homophobia, but it also facilitates the livelihood of other oppressions, most notably misogyny. Jamilah Lemieux, also known as Sister Toldja, recently wrote about 50 Cent’s new gay-friendly attitude, noting that all of these social issues are intersectional. She writes, “I’m not one of those folks who believes there should be a pecking order for who gets their ‘freedom papers’ first; however, when the same rappers and rap fans who have supported the genre’s misogyny over the years now decide to have some sort of moral fiber when it comes to homosexuality, I can’t help but to think it’s little more than patriarchy becoming more inclusive. Women of all races are voracious consumers of Hip Hop music and there have been campaigns, books, letters, articles and all sorts of backlash demanding for the end of the genre’s sexism, in both content and access to the mic. Would there be a financial payoff for treating women better? I’d say so, but if it would come at the expense of playing to the patriarchal ideals and fantasies of men…I guess it isn’t worth it. ”
Same script, different cast.
Clearly, hip-hop’s flaws are deeper than simply homophobia; mainstream hip-hop’s messages are the spawns of society’s bigotry. It would be admirable for hip-hop’s leaders to say “the buck stops here” and join forces with LGBT activists along with hip-hop feminists. But again, social change rarely solidifies when money hungry businessmen only want another dollar. It’s simply not enough to be a capitalist, you genuinely need to care about the communities that you’re affecting. Otherwise, this “movement” will simply be another temporary trend and hip-hop will continue to walk at turtle speed toward being LGBT inclusive.