Hip Hop’s LGBT Space Expands to Include Lil Nas X

Homophobia has deep roots in hip hop. 

Since the genesis of hip hop, it’s been commonplace to insult the notion of gayness, on and off the mic. Notable expressions of homophobia stretch back to 1986, with the debut album by hip-hop trio the Beastie Boys. The group’s first album was originally titled “Don’t Be A F*ggot,” but was advised against doing so by Columbia Records. 

Has homophobia in mainstream media changed?

This habitual homophobia has seemingly become a doctrine for the genre and an ingrained belief of the artists within it. Even today, current rappers have expressed their distaste towards homosexuality, sometimes in the most violent of terms.

Rapper Eminem has been consistent with homophobic slurs, lyrics and statements. Among the most disaffected of the rapper’s lyrics are in his 2000 song “Criminal”. Once confronted about the issue in an interview by openly-gay journalist Anderson Cooper, Eminem claimed that he did not genuinely mean what he said. He defended himself saying these themes were simply “thrown around” in current battle rap.

Offset and Quavo of rap trio Migos also implied homophobic beliefs in a 2017 interview. When asked their thoughts on fellow rapper iLoveMakonnen’s coming out, Quavo called people’s acceptance of Makonnen “wack”. Offset claimed that fans’ support stems from “the world (being) f*cked up.”

Who is allowed to toe the line?

While this off-the-mic expression of homophobia from some rappers can be seen as bleak, there is a certain leniency towards others. Tyler, the Creator has repeatedly used the term ‘f*ggot’ in his lyrics, used most heavily in his earlier work. Many of the songs off of his debut studio album Goblin feature the slur, among other dark themes and language. The most popular song from the album, “Yonkers”, features lyrics such as I’m stabbin’ any bloggin’ f*ggot hipster with a Pitchfork.”

Tyler The Creator's album cover Goblin

However, listeners do not raise their eyebrows on this track for one bolded reason: The rapper himself identifies as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.

It is not clear whether the rapper identifies as gay or bisexual. However, he has expressed multiple times, in lyrics and interviews, that he identifies as some orientation other than straight. Further, his discography since debut Goblin has developed to be progressively less violent and more colorful in how he addresses his identity. This has solidified him as one of the biggest queer rappers to date, while documenting growth in a real, raw way. 

Fellow openly-gay artist Kevin Abstract of the hip-hop collective Brockhampton is also no stranger to the use of the f-slur. He uses it repeatedly in his lyrics, and has appeared in performance donning a bulletproof vest with the word printed across the chest in all capitals.Kevin Abstract wearing "Fagg*t" vestKevin Abstract and Tyler, the Creator are not the only artists to express an openness about their sexuality. Steve Lacy and Syd Tha Kyd of the R&B group The Internet, UK artist Dev Hynes, AKA Blood Orange, and R&B artist Frank Ocean are all LGBT rappers. Many of these artists even collaborated in Tyler, the Creative’s artist collective, Odd Future, from as early as 2007. 

rappers of Odd Future all together

Lil Nas X comes out on Twitter

Newest to come out is Montero Lamar Hill, better known as Lil Nas X. The young rapper recently hit mainstream fame when his song “Old Town Road,” which went viral in March. The rapper has since released an EP entitled “7”, and will later this year release his breakout album “Panini.” 

Lil Nas X’s music is of a different sound; in contrast to the vibey R&B tracks produced by the likes of Syd, Frank Ocean and Steve Lacy. He makes rap music (save for Old Town Road, of course) more-so in the style of Tyler, the Creator and Kevin Abstract.

Critics speculated that the rappers fame might fade in the months following the success of his viral song. Lil Nas X surprised the internet by coming out on Twitter on June 30th, the last day of pride month.

Lil Nas X coming out tweet

Lil Nas X tweet

In a now-viral post, the rapper tweeted, “some of y’all already know, some of y’all don’t care, some of y’all not gone fwm no more. but before this month ends i want y’all to listen closely to c7osure.”

He tweeted again the next day, pointing out the rainbow building on the EP cover, stating that he thought he had “made it obvious”.

Intolerance towards gayness is a recurring theme in hip-hop, which is notably a black artist-dominated genre. It is quite the overage (and truthfully, inspiring) to have these artists, gay and black, making music in a space that once had no capacity for them.

Moreover, it is a beautiful thing for Lil Nas X to have come out after claiming his place in the genre. He expands the typical notion of the gay black artist into the typical hip hop sound, one that has so long had seemingly no place for him.

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