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Sean P. Means: Hip-hop attitudes toward gays are evolving

Published October 25, 2013 11:49 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Memo to Eminem: It's 2013. Gay-bashing is soooo uncool now.

The rap superstar is back after a three-year hiatus, with the imminent release of his next album, "The Marshall Mathers LP 2" (out Nov. 5). The first single, "Rap God," came out on YouTube on Oct. 14.

And, once again, because of some of the incendiary lyrics in "Rap God," we're talking about Eminem's problem with gays — instead of talking about Slim Shady's considerable skills at wordplay and rhythm.

Besides his use of the most common slurs for homosexuals — the ones that start with the letter "f" — there's this passage from the third verse, sizing up someone as "gay-looking":

"Little gay-looking boy so gay I can barely say it with a straight face-looking boy / You witnessing a massacre like you're watching a church gathering take place-looking boy / 'Oy vey, that boy is gay,' that's all they say-looking boy."

This isn't the first time Eminem has been called out over anti-gay lyrics. As The Daily Beast's Kevin Fallon enumerated in a column last week, Eminem's gay-bashing goes back to his singles "Criminal" (2000) and "Elevator" (2009).

Eminem has defended his use of gay slurs, saying in 2010 that they are words that were "thrown around so much" as he started rapping — a blame-the-way-I-was-raised argument Fallon derisively called "pull[ing] a Paula Deen before Paula Deen even knew she'd have to pull a Paula Deen."

It's not as if Eminem is the only rapper who has said mean things about gays and lesbians. The prevalence of homophobia in the genre was commented upon by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (who are playing Saturday at the Maverik Center) in the groundbreaking pro-gay hit single "Same Love": "If I was gay I would think hip-hop hates me. / Have you read the YouTube comments lately? / 'Man, that's gay' gets dropped on the daily / We've become so numb to what we're saying."

But, to quote the proto-rapper Bob Dylan, the times they are a-changin'. So are the attitudes.

In interviews this summer, Snoop Dogg — probably one of the most recognizable rap figures to people who aren't up on hip-hop — expressed that he was cool with gay people, which is a considerable endorsement of tolerance.

Snoop Dogg — or, if you prefer, Snoop Lion, his current reggae persona — acknowledges that rap culture has a problem regarding homosexuality. "The mentality of the rap generation is masculine. Macho," Snoop said on VH1 this summer. "That's like having a football player playing in games, and all of a sudden at the end of the season he tells you, 'Hey, you know I'm gay, guys. I like you, too.' "

Brooklyn rapper Talib Kweli (who's also visiting Salt Lake City on Saturday, playing a DJ set at Club Elevate) said in an August interview with Mother Jones magazine that hip-hop culture is socially conservative when it comes to homosexuality, but it's also a meritocracy.

"There just needs to be a gay rapper — he doesn't have to be flamboyant, just a rapper who identifies as gay — who's better than everybody," Kweli said. "Unfortunately, hip-hop is so competitive that in order for fringe groups to get in, you gotta be better than whoever's the best."

Of course, there are gay men and lesbians in hip-hop — some who self-identify as such, and some still closeted.

One who is out is Y-Love, aka Yitz Jordan, a black Orthodox Jewish hip-hop artist who declared his homosexuality in an interview with Out magazine in May 2012.

On his blog this April, Y-Love wrote about the changing attitudes toward gay men and lesbians in hip-hop. While he acknowledged that homophobia still exists in the scene, "stories like mine are happening in every club in every hood — that gay MC who walks in reluctantly, if he can hold it down on the mic, can get respect as much as his hetero counterpart."

In other words, equality for gays and lesbians is becoming an idea that's becoming more and more accepted in the hip-hop world — just as it is in other facets of American culture. Eventually, even Eminem will get the memo.

Sean P. Meanswrites the Culture Vulture in daily blog form, at blogs.sltrib.com/vulture