We’ve seen political support from rap and hip-hop artists who don’t necessarily claim an LGBTQ+ identity, as well. Rasheeda participated in the NOH8 photo campaign. Snoop Dogg/Lion, Jay-Z, 50 Cent, and Queen Latifah have all spoken out in support of gay rights. Decades ago, Salt-n-Pepa helped dispel myths around HIV and AIDS in some of their songs. “Let’s Talk About AIDS ,” for example, reminds listeners: “It’s not a black, white, or gay disease.” Lil B “The Based God”, named one of his records I’m Gay (I’m Happy). Without context, a title like that coming from a heterosexual man has the potential to be exploitative or appropriative. However, Lil B’s explanation of the album title is beautifully supportive:
I hope that I can turn some of my fans that might be homophobic or supporters that might be homophobic and say, “You know what, we’re all one people. This is love.” It’s just respect, and I did that to bring people together and bring more love and to spark the minds of people and not let words and judgments and stereotypes stop you from loving (Godfrey, 2011).
In the face of homophobic comments from fans, including death threats, Lil B has not diluted his message by asserting his sexuality or writing off people who identify with sexual minority identities. Lil B hopes gay-identified and closeted fans will think, “Well, you know what? If that guy can do it, I can be myself too, and if that rapper can be himself and be free and be happy and still hold masculinity and love people and love flowers and just be happy being alive, well then, I can do that too” (Godfrey, 2011).
While it may be self-evident that having positive role-models and supportive messages within popular media is beneficial to sexual minority youth, there have been ample studies confirming this. Gomillion and Giuliano (2011) found that the presence of LGBTQ+ role models in the media “foster[s] pride in GLB individuals’ identities, provide[s] a source of comfort, and help[s] them view their identities more positively (Gomillion and Giuliano, 2011, p 348). Portrayals of gay, lesbian, or bisexual individuals on television can also assist young sexual minorities finding a culture, understanding their feelings and attractions, and encouraging a more positive visibility in their communities (Gomillion and Giuliano, 2011). Calzo and Ward (2009) studied various influences that contribute to the socialization of sexual minority youth, and found that the media plays a significant role that, they recommend, could be utilized in disseminating positive messages. Additionally, they found that young Black men and women were the most vulnerable to negative messages, and had a more difficult time finding relatable role models (Calzo and Ward, 2009).
This latter finding complements a project undertaken by the Black Youth Project in 2012. Several youth, when asked about conscious rap, or music containing deeper, social messages, responded that the image invoked paternalistic or controlling outsiders. The youth claimed that positive messages in music that are “real, relatable, and enjoyable as the music we currently enjoy” (Talley, 2012) were effective and powerful, in contrast to “some 40 year old-man or something trying to talk at us. It can’t be preachy either” (Talley, 2012).
Even if you’re ambivalent about the ways sexuality is used within media culture, it has to be allowed that musicians like Nicki Minaj and Lil B are queering the ways masculinity, femininity, and sex roles are understood or normalized. Further, one must consider for whom these messages are intended and the benefits they can yield. Ivory tower scholars and laptop activists might scoff at same-sex behavior in individuals who do not fit their ideals of role models, or those who they assume are simply seeking shock-value. However, young sexual minorities with limited exposure to gay culture or communities may feel affirmed just seeing displays of same-gender affection in music videos, let alone hearing successful rappers from their communities proudly state, “I’m also way bisexual” (from Angel Haze’s “Bitches on my Dick“. While Ani Difranco might do the trick for a very specific identity group, popular musicians and artists with a wider audience, or who speak from communities familiar to the listeners, can be more relatable and so provide greater support to young adults.
Talley, A. (2012, July 13). Finding Conscious Rap Youth Can Relate To. Black Youth Project. Retrieved from http://www.blackyouthproject.com/2012/07/finding-conscious-rap-youth-can-relate-to on 12 May 2013.
Calzo, J. P., & Ward, L. M. (2009). Media exposure and viewers’ attitudes toward homosexuality: evidence for mainstreaming or resonance?. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 53(2), 280-299.
Frank, A. (2012, July 23). GEN F: Le1f. Fader Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.thefader.com/2012/07/23/gen-f-le1f/ on 23 May 2013.
Ganz, C. (2010, September 12). The Curious Case of Nicki Minaj. Out Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.out.com/entertainment/music/2010/09/12/curious-case-nicki-minaj on 12 May 2013.
Godfrey, G. (2011, May 31). Rapper Lil B on ‘I’m Gay’: ‘We’re all one people’. CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2011/SHOWBIZ/Music/05/24/lil.b.album/index.html on 16 May 2013.
Gomillion, S. C., & Giuliano, T. A. (2011). The influence of media role models on gay, lesbian, and bisexual identity. Journal of Homosexuality, 58(3), 330-354.
Wilson, D. M. (2007). Post-pomo hip-hop homos: hip-hop art, gay rappers, and social change. Social Justice, 34(1 (107), 117-140.