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The Nature of Being

rethinking the facts of life

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hauwo

My conclusion on homophobia in Hip Hop

I can’t change rap and we can’t forbid homophobia. That would simply be the wrong approach. While writing these posts I realized that the whole topic is just about opinions. I’d say that the right thing to do would be to abolish homophobia and every kind of sexism out of hip hop because it helps to reproduce it in our society. But the artistic freedom outweighs this – How do you objectively tell if it is homophobia, irony, story telling or whatsoever (see Edgar Wasser – Bad Boy)? I think that there is a responsibility for every artist to make sure her or his work doesn’t create any harm. This is particularly crucial for topics like homophobia and sexism that are still well established in society.

Many do not understand this or refer to the responsibility of the listeners (for more statements have a look into this documentary that just came out recently: http://reportage.einslive.de/plan-b-homophobie-im-deutschrap#18858). From a legal point of view this is absolutely fine but it denies the lacking maturity of many listeners who might adopt the portrayed lifestyles and attitudes or just find encouragement for already consisting opinions.

But there is a good development going on in German rap right now. While still a lot of homophobia can be found in German rap music there are also many successful artists who come up with non-homophobic tracks and often even use their music to deal with the issue. This helps to make the listeners think and raises awareness for the stupidity of other rappers. I also got the impression that homophobia is a topic in interviews more often. Even though the responses are often disappointing I am sure that this aids to reduce homophobia in rap because the rappers simply do not like to be confronted with it or try to avoid a bad reputation. This won’t change their minds but it will keep them from changing other minds.

So what did I learn while writing these posts? Homophobia is still too well present in modern mainstream rap music. All in all, it seems to be declining but it still sells. For that reason, rappers keep on using it in many ways – It is a social problem that gets bundled up and amplified in rap music. We can’t and we shouldn’t forbid it. As long as our society stays as homophobic as it is rap also will be. But I also learned that many rappers become more aware and they use their music to address the problem. Just like in the early days when rap music was used to show the hardship of being part of an ethnic minority (and it is still used for this) rap now starts to address the oppression of LGBT-people. It seems to be in the beginnings and I am confident that this development will continue. The best thing you can do is to choose carefully who you support and if you find someone who has a good approach help to spread the word. Rap will only change if society changes. But it can help to accelerate the process.

A little collection of more conscious rappers

My foregoing posts might have created the impression that Hip Hop is a one-sided homophobic and misogynistic world – But this is not always the case.

Over the months in that I wrote these posts I encountered many artists who are more conscious about homosexuality but also sexism and violence in their lyrics and especially recently more of them are coming up. In this post I would like to introduce you to some of them.

Well known for standing up for LGBT-rights is the German rapper Sookee who studied linguistics and gender studies. She deals with homophobia and sexism in most of her songs. I am not that much into her rap style but I think that her attitude delivers a nice contrast to the usual German rap homophobia.

I already mentioned Edgar Wasser, a rapper from Munich – He often refers to sexism in Hip Hop but also to homophobia. He doesn’t reveal much of his private life so I can’t tell much else about him. I really like how he confronts the modern rap scene in an ironical way. Take some time to explore his music and to think through the lyrics!

Another German rap group with a clear position on homophobia but also on racism is Antilopen Gang from Düsseldorf and Aachen. A good start point to their music is the song “Verliebt” that presents a nice statement to the listener. Their message is exemplary.

Retrogott (former Kurt Huss) deals with gender related topics nowadays way different than on his old songs. Compare these two and you might be quite surprised about the development he made over the years. 1 2

But apart from these there are some lesser known rappers worth mentioning.

MXM & Pavel from Berlin who are part of the label “Upstruct” introduce a nice down-to-earth attitude to the Berlin rap scene. With their modest working class style, they pose quite a difference to most other artists nowadays.

Pöbel MC, also part of Upstruct, positions himself quite clearly against homophobia.

I’d also recommend Dramadigs from Bremen. They also don’t fit into the usual rap pattern. If you like their music also take some time to watch this short movie that Juli Haase made as part of ther master thesis.

This is by far not an exhaustive presentation of “conscious” rappers but I hope I could give you a little insight and a starting point to explore more. No matter what kind of rap you’re into, there is a lot to find. 🙂

Discussion of the statements

In this post I am going to discuss the different reflections by the artist that I introduced you to in my previous post.

The reflections ranged from ignoring the issue to full comprehension. First of all, a summarization of the “types” of statements:

 

  • Semantic re-interpretation of homophobic terms compared with:
    • a tacit change in appearance (Eminem & Sido)
    • ignoring the issue (Bushido)
  • Omission of homophobia during the performance of former homophobic lyrics (NAS)
  • Full comprehension of the issue (Retrogott)
  • Usage of homophobia to raise awareness on the issue (Edgar Wasser)

 

A semantic reinterpretation does not reduce the issue – homophobic terms are still being used as an insult and simply mentioning that there is no semantic connection intended does not necessarily induce a change in the understanding of the (mostly young male) listeners. To me it is just a failed attempt to extenuate the own foolishness without admitting a fault. These artists are still homophobic and try to avoid social sanctions. But I would suggest to distinguish between these artists based on their shown behavior over time. I think some of them are aware of their faults and even reconsidered their view on homosexuality but do not want to devaluate their old songs while others still do not know any better.

 

Simply omitting homophobic lines during live performances does not solve the issue at all. Especially because it might be due to instructions by the organizers and not caused by a change of mind. You just cannot tell if no other statement can be found.

I am convinced that homophobia should have no place in a modern society.

Due to this the only considerable way to deal with your own (former) homophobia is to admit to your fault. The only artist I encountered on my research who did this step was Retrogott (former “Kurt Huss”, better known in combination with his DJ “Hulk Hodn”: “Huss & Hodn”). He also made use of a justification based on semantic reinterpretation but later, actually three years ago, reconsidered his view: He admitted his fault: He tried to justify something you cannot justify. I see it as an artist’s responsibility to take up a stance on their former homophobia. Whoever does not just loses their credibility.

For me, this is the only way an artists can go to rectify their former homophobia.

The only exemption that can be made is when homophobia is used to show up our social drawback – Edgar Wasser does a good job on holding up a mirror to all those rappers.

Some of you might wonder why I did not mention any artist who is homophobic and never even talked about it. This is not because there are none to find, actually there are heaps of them. But what is there to say?

My next post will focus on artists who follow a more contemporary approach to homophobia.

What artists say about their own homophobia

In this post I am going to show you some statements by the artists I introduced you to last time about their homophobia. First I planned on differentiating between different types of homophobia that can be found. This would be possible for sure but I came to the conclusion that it would not be beneficial for this analysis for one simple reason: There might be different types and intensities of homophobia but eventually they all have similar effects on the (young male) listener: Many incorporate it in their word pool without reflecting it any further.

A more interesting approach is how the artists think about their own homophobia and if they changed their attitude towards it over the years. On the basis of the artists I introduced you to last time I am going to show you different types of reflection.

Let us start with the most famous rapper and probably the most controversial one, too. Eminem is well known for his lyrics and often has been accused of being homophobic. His justification always remains the same – He just denies using homophobic terms as an insult to homosexual people rather than using them in another semantic context: 

You’ve made it clear again and again that you don’t actually have a problem with gay people. So why, in 2013, use “faggot” on that song? Why use “gay-looking” as an insult?

I don’t know how to say this without saying it how I’ve said it a million times. But that word, those kind of words, when I came up battle-rappin’ or whatever, I never really equated those words . . .

 To actually mean “homosexual”?

Yeah. It was more like calling someone a bitch or a punk or asshole. So that word was just thrown around so freely back then. It goes back to that battle, back and forth in my head, of wanting to feel free to say what I want to say, and then [worrying about] what may or may not affect people. And, not saying it’s wrong or it’s right, but at this point in my career – man, I say so much shit that’s tongue-in-cheek. I poke fun at other people, myself. But the real me sitting here right now talking to you has no issues with gay, straight, transgender, at all. I’m glad we live in a time where it’s really starting to feel like people can live their lives and express themselves. And I don’t know how else to say this, I still look at myself the same way that I did when I was battling and broke.[1]

 

But there is more to mention about Eminem. He is friends with Elton John who is homosexual and even had a show with him at the Grammy Awards 2001.[2] In 2010 he openly supported gay marriage in a NY Times interview:

 

You’ve been accused of writing gay-bashing lyrics in the past. Would you like to see gay marriage approved in Michigan, where you live?

I think if two people love each other, then what the hell? I think that everyone should have the chance to be equally miserable, if they want.[3]

 

The most surprising thing I found was the contrived outing of Eminem in „The Interview“[4]. It is worth a look!

 

Also quite controversial and from Germany are Bushido and Sido. Both are known for their controversial lyrics, especially from their first records they made with „Aggro Berlin“. They showed up at „Markus Lanz“ (German TV show) and spoke about their controversity, especially about their homophobia.[5] Their justification remains the same as with Eminem – Another semantic context for homophobic terms. Bushido repeated this in an interview with „Focus“ by the help of a real poor comparison of homophobia with arachnophobia.[6]

If you watch this video (http://www.queer.de/detail.php?article_id=8987) which is only three years older than their appearance at Markus Lanz and also take the newer Tracks by Bushido in consideration (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Odu8UlL4uew) his credibility in terms of not being homophobic just disappears.

Sido seems to be going another way nowadays. In the official video to his Song „Liebe“ (love) you can see two men kissing (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wPuJlNSigHM). But I do not claim for myself to judge it this was a moral change rather than a financial one…

From NAS I could not find any statements. The only article I found states that he skips homophobic parts while his hype still shouts parts of it in the background.[7]

More interesting is how Retrogott reflects his older homophobic tracks. Lyrics from his older songs can be seen as quite homophobic without any doubt and have been part of public debates.[8] [9] But if you listen to newer tracks homophobia decreases more and more from each album until you cannot find it anymore. In some lyrics you will find the same approach many other rappers chose – a semantic separation:

„Ihr seid schwul!

Und das mein ich nicht im Sinne von Sex

Sondern im Sinne von ‘ihr macht schwule Tracks“

Huss & Hodn – Rokin’ (Jetzt schämst du dich!)

But in an interview from 2013 he refers directly to this line:

„Ich habe versucht, etwas zu rechtfertigen, das nicht zu rechfertigen ist“ (Melodie & Rhythmus Nov/Dez 2013)

 

So as you can see big differences between the artists can be found. Some just stick to their idiotic views while others changed and admitted their faults. In the next post I am going to discuss these positions.

But what about Edgar Wasser? Did you get it? If you did not, watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGM5a6-77o4

 

 

[1] http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/exclusive-eminem-responds-to-rap-god-homophobia-accusations-20131104

[2] http://www.mtv.com/news/1629030/eminem-talks-about-his-friendship-with-elton-john/

[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/20/magazine/20fob-q4-t.html?_r=1

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qW31MBrbZnM

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOolAfjv3xg

[6] http://www.focus.de/kultur/musik/tid-32375/jetzt-raeumt-bushido-gegenueber-focus-online-ein-wenn-sich-claudia-roth-entschuldigt-werde-ich-das-auch-tun-ssss_aid_1045142.html

[7] http://www.thewrap.com/nas-cuts-homophobic-lyrics-tribeca-film-festival/

[8] http://www.wn.de/Muenster/2013/10/Homophobie-Vorwurf-gegen-Rapper-Freiheit-der-Kunst-oder-Hetze

[9] http://www.laut.de/News/Retrogott-Hulk-Hodn-Homophobie-Vorwurf-gegen-Rapper-11-10-2013-9883

How did homophobia find its way into hip hop?

Before we discuss where homophobia in hip hop developed I would like to introduce you to some tracks to give you an understanding of the issue. Most of them are German but I also included some tracks in English. Take a few minutes to listen to some of these lyrics – But do not judge the artists too quickly. Some of them will be discussed in the following posts and they might surprise you. This selection does not exactly reflect my taste in rap music.

 

Huss & Hodn – Radiowecker:

Lyrics

 

Edgar Wasser – 44 Bars:

Lyrics

 

NAS – Ether:

Lyrics

 

Royal TS – Westberlin:

Lyrics

 

Bushido – John Wayne:

Lyrics

 

Eminem – Criminal:

Lyrics

 

Masculinity, violence, misogyny and homophobia – These four aspects seem to be tied together in hip hop. Take a look at any given rap music video and you will find many barely clothed girls, presentation of wealth in numerous forms and weapons – All to underline hypermasculinity (for a definition of hypermasculinity have a look at the end of this post). Homophobia can be seen as a non compellent but often established concomitant of hypermasculinity. Many rappers make use of homophobia but examples of hypermasculinity without homophobia can be found.

Due to this, all four aspects need to be included into the discussion of homophobia to get the full picture.

 

„When you think about American society the notion of violent masculinity is at the heart of American identity.“ – Dr. Michael Eric Dyson

 

This quote, taken from the movie “Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats & Rhymes” by Byron Hurt sums up the root of masculinity, violence, misogyny and homophobia in hip hop culture. The picture of the pioneer extending the frontier with armed force, many international wars, the right to bear arms, even football – The USA can be considered a violent nation without any doubt.

This thesis might not be conclusive at first glance. But imagine growing up as an African American male in a ghetto in the US, always surrounded by potential threats and equipped with really poor life chances. It is no surprise that violence and the display of your masculinity become key elements in your life to survive.

This construct of masculinity and violence, in combination with governmental and religious homophobia favors homophobia in hip hop in many ways. If you are not strong, tough, dominant, independent – what else than “gay”, a “faggot” or a “sissy” can you be in this background? So I think it is no surprise that rap artists often choose homophobic terms to “battle” their adversaries in their lyrics. But for these reasons I think that homophobia should be seen as something that develops in a society and finds its way into hip hop rather than an isolated issue of hip hop. And in the end it is us, the people who buy this music, who help to reproduce homophobia in hip hop.

 

It is hard to answer where homophobia made its transition into German rap. It could have been simply adopted like many other things of American rap or maybe it has always been here and there was no need for a transition – it just found its way into German rap!? I think it is a combination of both points. Germany always has been a quite homophobic society and if you grow up in certain precarious social environments homophobia is an everyday thing that finds its way into your vocabulary.

 

In the next post I am going to show you how rapper reflect their homophobia and what other people write about homophobia in hip hop.

 

 

 

 

 

The history of homophobia in hip hop – Part 1

Homophobia in hip hop – An issue well present but rarely discussed. Everybody knows about these ugly terms many rappers use in their lyrics but as it seems there has never been a serious discussion about it. Most people just say it is a stylistic device not meant to villainize homosexual people. But that is not a good justification. Sociology made me think about the problem and also made me question the music I love.

There should be no room for homophobia in our society – But there still is. Everywhere. Especially in Hip Hop. So I believe it is time to have a closer look at the issue.

To fully understand homophobia in German Hip-Hop we need to find out where homophobia in Hip Hop evolved from.

For that, first we will have a quick look at the history of Hip Hop.

A consistent history of Hip Hop has never been written. Most sources locate the origin of Hip Hop at the block parties of 1970s New York, especially those in the Bronx. At these parties DJs played popular music and started to isolate percussive beats from songs and used two turntables to extend the breaks. “Kool DJ Herc” might be the most popular DJ from these times and often is referred to as the “founding father of hip hop”.

As sampling technologies and drum machines became more affordable for the general public hip hop gained in popularity. Rapping got introduced into hip hop and evolved from simple rhymes to more complex techniques and in the 1980s rappers faced social issues of young African Americans in their lyrics. In the 1990s gangsta rap arose and gained mainstream success. Drugs, violence and misogyny found their way into hip hop but social issues still took their place in the lyrics.

Hip-Hop early developed as a mean to express the bad life circumstances in black US-American ghettos. Rappers described their lives in ghettos, their poor life chances, police brutality, high crime rates – More general: What it is like being part of a suppressed minority. This contradiction is why I always wondered about the omnipresence of homophobia in hip-hop.

To give you an early example of Hip-Hop’s role to point out adversities have a listen to these two classic examples:

Lyrics: The Message

Lyrics: Lord Knows

Even in “The Message” you can find homophobic terms. But it is remarkable that 2Pac is one of the few rappers who did not make use of homophobia (or can anybody proof me wrong?).

In the next post I will try to outline where particularly homophobia in hip hop evolved from and how it found its way into German hip hop. I will also introduce you to some hip hop tracks which can be characterized by homophobia to give you an idea of the issue. Some of the artists will be covered in the following posts and you might be surprised which developments in their reflection of homophobia in hip hop can be found.

 

Homophobia in german Hip Hop

Hi, my name is Hauke. I am a student of sociology and criminology in Tübingen. My blogposts will be focused on homophobia in german hip hop. Homophobic terms of all forms have always been a well used stylistic device in rap music and still are. Although I am really into hip hop I always felt bothered by this and would like to get a deeper insight and a better understanding of the topic.

I will have a look on different artists, which forms of homophobia you can encounter, statements and what others who dealt with this topic found out. I will also look for reactions/statements by others. Based on this I hope to deliver a good commented overview on the issue.

 

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