Hip-hop is routinely criticized for its explicitly sexist, misogynistic and homophobic environment, particularly evident in its lyrics. In one song, Eminem declares, “Bitch I’ma kill you … you ain’t nothing but a slut to me,” while in another song, raps, “You faggots keep eggin’ me on till I have you at knifepoint …Hates fags? The answer’s yes.” Lyrics about “bitches and hoes” dominate mainstream hip-hop, and artists who have recorded homophobic music include Cypress Hill, DMX, Ice Cube, Ja Rule and Jay-Z.
Much of these trends are reflective of wider societal values and stem from long-standing structural intricacies. However, with such virulent degradation against women and gay people commonplace, where are individuals who exist at the intersection of this antagonism, such as gay and bisexual women, left? Arguably the most disenfranchised in commercial hip-hop, queer women operate on a tenuous framework in their performance and consumption of and representation within the culture.
A glance at most homophobic lyrics indicates that the bigotry is primarily focused on the idea that male homosexuality is incongruous with the machismo conceit of hip-hop. However, female homosexuality is also negated, perceived as a threat to masculinity either via a rejection of sexual advances or a willingness to confront and challenge men’s dominance. According to academic Tricia Rose, “women who are considered too independent, tough or powerful are negatively labeled as lesbians.” Here, “lesbian” is rendered as an insult showcasing clear homophobia, while the fear of a “strong woman” indicates a misplacement of sexual roles in which any woman not submissive is deigned wrongful.
The best example of masculinity challenged by the lesbian identity within hip-hop came via Queen Pen. In her 1997 song, “Girlfriend,” she raps, “If that was your girlfriend, she wasn’t last night,” and positions herself as the dominant suitor in a lesbian relationship, warning male counterparts in a discourse that mirrors their own braggadocio and misogyny.
Other successful female rappers are subject to rumors about their own sexual orientations. Missy Elliot mocked such rumors in the lyric, “I heard the bitch [Missy] … started f—ing with [female rapper] Trina,” before warning people to “stop talking about who I’m sticking and licking / Just mad it ain’t yours.”
Progressions in commercial hip-hop attitudes have allowed lesbian and bisexual women to coexist with the culture’s masculine ideal, however, only as fetishized sexual entertainment for men. An examination of lyrics suggests that only traditionally feminine-appearing lesbianism is acceptable, and bisexuality is far more preferred to a rigid lesbianism. In “Late,” Kanye West asks, “What would you do for a Klondike bar, or two dykes that look Christina Milian-like?” Here, the “dykes” are positioned as conventionally attractive women who sleep with women but would also sleep with men.
The consistent lyrical abuse of lesbian and bisexual women and the absence of any openly queer mainstream female hip-hop artists are worrisome, and the record industry is largely to blame. However, the growing success of popular underground lesbian hip-hop acts like Midwest transplants God-Des and She could mean the tide is shifting. This vibrancy of so-called “homo-hop”culture and the increasingly positive treatment of gays and lesbians by some popular male and especially female hip-hop artists suggests the potential for a more welcoming mainstream attitude to lesbian and bisexual women in hip-hop.
Daniel Haack is a senior integrated marketing communications major. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.