By Ron Grant
I recently read a story on U.K. emcee Macklemore, who has made a hell of a buzz this year as an independent artist, and a song from he and music producer Ryan Lewis’ latest album entitled “Same Love”. This 7-minute video, published on YouTube only two months ago, has already gained nearly 9 million total views, has been billed by many as pro-equal marriage, depicts the life of a young man struggling to come to terms with his own homosexuality and ends with a statement in support of Ref. 74, the Equal Marriage Act. And the song itself contains lyrics by Macklemore such as the following:
“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 become so numb to what we’re saying/
A culture founded from oppression/ Yet we don’t have acceptance for ‘em/
Call each other faggots behind the keys of a message board/
A word rooted in hate, yet our genre still ignores it…”
The same story gave details about how a teacher in South Lyon, MI named Susan Johnson was suspended for three days without pay for playing the song during a performing arts class at a student’s request. Apparently, another student complained of the song being played, and the superintendent and principal of the school acted quickly in temporarily suspending Johnson, telling her that she should have asked permission before she went through with playing the song for the student.
Eventually, Macklemore heard about the incident and, on November 29, took to he and Lewis’ website in response. Full text of Macklemore’s response is available at the site, but below is an excerpt of the statement:
“I wrote the song ‘Same Love,’ not with the expectation that it would cure homophobia and lead to marriage equality across the US… It was written with the hope that it would facilitate dialogue and through those conversations understanding and empathy would emerge. This incident demonstrates how too often we are quick to silence conversations that must be had. Even if people disagree, there is far more potential for progress when people are vocal and honestly expressing their thoughts about gay rights. When we are silent and avoid the issue, fear and hatred have a far greater life span.”
Later, Macklemore appeared on New York’s top-rated Hip Hop morning show, “The Breakfast Club” and reiterated his stance:
“Rappers have just been really disrespectful to the gay community forever. It’s oppression. It’s 2012 and we need to evolve as a society.”
With his music, what Macklemore has done is reiterate a problem that has existed within not just the Hip Hop community, but in American society for ages. However, Hip Hop itself is a form of music and a culture that was born out of several forms of oppression and a sense of benign neglect that were imposed on people in underserved communities, stripped of so many resources during a time of extreme change that was not always for the better. And in some instances, the song “Same Love” has helped to expose that Hip Hop itself has contributed to a sense of oppression, exclusion and hatred towards the LGBT community.
But this isn’t the first time that Hip Hop has been put on blast for doing so. Just look at the 2006 documentary Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes by filmmaker Byron Hurt, or the episode of The Boondocks entitled “The Story of Gangstalicious, Part 2.” There’s a sordid, troubling and sometimes ironic history between Hip Hop, homosexuality and the idea of homophobia.
In the year where Frank Ocean, not an emcee by any stretch himself but still part of the indie Hip Hop collective Odd Future, came out as being bisexual, it may very well be time for Hip Hop to come to terms with its own demons and face an ugly truth: that it may be doing more harm than good in helping to move society forward on the questions and issues of equal marriage, equal rights and the acceptance of the gay community. Does this mean that Hip Hop will all of the sudden accept gay rappers, stop using phrases like ‘that’s gay” and stop with the rampant homophobia that seems to plague it? Probably not. But at least there can be some type of real and honest dialog started for the benefit of everyone.
We gotta do better.