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Aged 44, Hip Hop Still Struggling To Grow Up

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Top 20 Hip Hop Artists Of All Time:

#1 Notorious B.I.G.#2 2Pac#3 Jay-Z#4 Outkast#5 Rakim#6 A Tribe Called Quest#7 Nas#8 Lil Wayne#9 N.W.A#10 Wu-Tang#11 Public Enemy#12 DMX#13 Mobb Deep#14 Missy Elliott#15 Run-DMC#16 Afrika Bambaataa#17 Beastie Boys#18 Eminem#19 Snoop Dogg#20 De La Soul

In case you weren’t paying attention, hip hop turned 44 this past August, a momentous milestone from the subculture and art movement’s humble beginnings in the late 1970s New York City. Everybody paid their respect. The media, here at home and abroad, gushed over hip hop’s resilience, its adaptability to various cultures, its outsized impact on global culture. Even Jay-Z called his latest album 4:44, though that could be a semantic coincidence-- or maybe not (just keep on reading). Not to be outdone, Google immortalized the occasion with one of its most popular doodles to date.

Hip hop has evolved tremendously since its birth in 1973. Sonically, lyrically, and culturally, hip hop has shown remarkable endurance, seamlessly adapting to changing times and remaining relevant either way you approached it. But while many within the hip hop community have embraced openly gay or bisexual artists, such as Frank Ocean and ilovemakonnen, the genre is still-- arguably, I’ll give you that, perpetuating homophobia, transphobia and other unpalatable stereotypes in our “post-racial” America.

Anti-LGBTQ sentiments lurk in some quarters of the hip hop world

Celebrities, politicians, and individuals with differing agendas have been rightly denounced for homophobic or transphobic language. Careers have come undone (think standup comedian Michael Richard, of Seinfeld ’fame) and reputations have been damaged for intolerance and discrimination aimed at women, minorities, gays, lesbians or transsexuals. As a woman, an LGBTQ rights proponent, a feminist and lifelong hip-hop fan, I often find it difficult to enjoy music that, at times, can be so blatantly disrespectful of anyone who does not identify as straight and male. I often find myself repressing my loathe for such lyrics in order to listen to my favorite artists or bust a move on some killer tracks. It boggles the mind.

The roots of homophobia and transphobia run far deeper than hip hop. But time and time again we are reminded of how truly intolerant many of our celebrated artists and cultural influencers are. Take comedian Lil Duval, for example, who recently shocked audiences when he went on The Breakfast Club, a hip hop radio show (“the world’s most dangerous morning show” on Power 101.5 FM), to threaten to kill a sexual partner if the woman turned out to be a transgender.

Not only was Lil Duval’s statement vile and inflammatory, it further entrenched the widespread perception that hip hop cannot outgrow or mature beyond its hypermasculinity. Flippant language like this only encourages violence against a group that is already quite vulnerable. But Duval has refused to apologize, and The Breakfast Club was left taking most of the heat because its hosts did not challenge Lil Duval on the air.

This incident is indicative of a larger issue facing hip hop today. Without explicitly denouncing Duval’s comments, the radio hosts passively supported and endorsed them. With such a large fan base, the Power 101.5 FM producers showed a grave lapse in judgment and bungled a rare opportunity to openly discuss the anti-LGBTQ sentiments that still lurk in some dark recesses of the hip hop world.

Thankfully, Jay-Z’s highly anticipated album 4:44, released around the same time, makes a forceful counter-argument on one of its most talked about tracks, Smile. The song features a cameo from Gloria Carter, Jay Z’s mother, in which she publicly comes out as a lesbian, a mother’s gift that was greeted with enthusiastic shout-outs from fans and critics alike. Lil Duval’s comments may have renewed the national debate on LGBTQ rights. But the coming-out story of a relative of the genre’s reigning kingmaker raises the tolerance bar very high for hip hop artists, a precedent I hope we’ll be referring to for years to come.

True hip hop fans must speak out against hyper-macho steorotypes

In a similar vein, Young Thug and Lil Yatchy have been using fashion to bend hip hop’s entrenched gender lines, wearing skirts, dresses and other traditionally “feminine” clothing, a trend championed by Andre 3000 of OutKast that has conservative hip hop fans spewing all sorts of disapproving posts across social media.

RELATED ARTICLE: Nuthin’ But a G Thang: The Rise and Lasting Influence of G-Funk

America remains deeply divided over LGBTQ rights. Two years after the Marriage Equality Act became the law of the land during Barack Obama’s administration, President Donald Trump has announced, via Twitter of course, that transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve in the military. This is a shockingly irresponsible policy reversal, even by Trumpian standards, one that will land the thousands of trans men and women currently serving in a bizarre career and legal identity limbo.

We must resist such blunt assault on America’s values. Along with fighting back Trump’s discriminatory policies, anyone who calls themselves a true hip hop fan must speak out against the negative hyper-macho stereotypes still pervasive in hip hop. We owe at least that much to the rebellious spirit of the movement that burst forth from the South Bronx on August 11, 1973, to rule the world for 44 exciting years.


Desiree Bascomb

Desiree Bascomb is a recent graduate of Rutgers-University in Newark with degrees in journalism and political sciences. She enjoys writing about social issues and American politics. She is passionate about what she believes in, and is determined to positively influence change on a grand scale.
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