Last October, Kid Cudi checked himself into treatment for depression and suicidal urges. After an outburst on social media, in which the rapper called out Kanye West and Drake for not being there for him when he needed them most, he apologized, as well as Kanye, and got the help he needed. A month later when Kanye West was hospitalized for a similar breakdown, Cudi was there for him as well.
It started a conversation in the hip-hop community, with fellow-rapper Isaiah Rashad and SNL cast member Pete Davidson both giving interviews describing their respective battles with mental health. “Don’t go through problems in your head alone,” Rashad told The Fader, “there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. The worst thing to do is think ur [sic] alone in it.” Travis Scott also gave his support, and Lil Wayne even addressed his own suicide attempt in his feature for Solange’s song “Mad.”
In his interview with The Breakfast Club, Pete Davidson stated that he would have killed himself if not for Kid Cudi’s music. Drake; however, continued to mock Cudi’s mental health on several diss tracks. Surprisingly, a large amount of the hip-hop community stayed silent on Cudi, yet were very vocal when Kanye West was out of the hospital and meeting with Donald Trump.
In the LGBTQ community, there is a saying that “Silence = Death,” a phrase tied to the Aids epidemic that describes the effects of inaction. Without a conversation, nothing changes. It’s a similar mindset to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, a cause that most-if-not-all African-American rappers easily get behind. Bring up struggles with mental health or homophobia; however, and the crowd falls silent.
In an article for Complex titled “How Homophobic is Hip-Hop in 2016,” Steven Horowitz wrote, “Hip-hop was established to bring people together; inclusion was part of its foundation. And yet rap music is still dominated by straight men. If you aren’t one, you’re considered a minority.”
After the Pulse night club shooting in Orlando, it was Kid Cudi who was the most vocal yet again. “My heart and prayers go out to the LGBT community and everyone affected by this tragedy. Really upset today,” Cudi wrote on Twitter. “The Hip Hop community is the least outspoken about gay rights and Ima [sic] go out my way to change that.”
In the early 2000’s, the word “faggot” was thrown around by artists such as Jay-Z, Nas, 50 Cent, and in later years, members of Odd Future, Chief Keef (above), Meek Mill, J.Cole, Chance the Rapper, and even more, but some have apologized, thanks to a more open-minded younger generation, yielding the continued use of the homophobic slur to appear only on rare occasion.
Whether the word is said or not however, doesn’t mean the sentiments aren’t still shared. Most rappers did not vocally offer support for the victims of the Pulse night club shooting, let alone even mention the tragedy itself as a gun control issue. Sure, it’s great that homosexuality isn’t the go-to insult for rappers anymore, but ignorance is as much a step forward as it is being cast aside. Homophobic slurs can hurt but “Silence = Death.”
The newest generation of MC’s are thankfully the most inclusive, with artists such as A$AP Rocky, Lil Yachty, Syd, Cakes da Killa, Taylor Bennett, and Young M.A paving the way forward. Cakes, Syd, and Young M.A are openly gay artists, while Taylor Bennett identifies as bisexual. Young M.A’s newest feature with T-Pain, “F.B.G.M.,” isn’t really that great of a song on the surface level, but put it into context and it means so much more.
The song has a catchy chorus, as T-Pain’s work usually does, but the lyrics are pretty standard when it comes to rap braggadocio. “F.B.G.M.” stands for “Fuck Bitches Get Money,” after all. The element that makes “F.B.G.M.” so amazing however is that Young M.A raps the same kind of verse as T-Pain, or any other straight male dominating rap music, even though Young M.A is female and openly gay. It might not seem like such a big deal, I mean it’s just “all she wanna do is fuck bitches, get money,” but coming from Young M.A on a song as equally as it comes from T-Pain, it’s a tiny step in the right direction.
With Atlanta rap-trio Migos recently under fire from the media about their homophobic comments, I don’t know how far we’ve actually come even since Complex‘s “How Homophobic is Hip-Hop in 2016” article yet alone fifteen years ago during the height of Jay-Z and Nas’ “Ether”/”Takeover” feud, but Young M.A on “F.B.G.M.” is a tiny step forward, even if it didn’t receive a lot of attention. I say “tiny step,” because the issue of homophobia in the rap community exists primarily for gay men. Not to diminish the struggles of gay women, but in an industry dominated by straight men, sexual relations involving two women have historically been fetishized, while homosexuality among men has been regarded as a weakness.
The hip-hop community might be just as silent as ever, but as the old guard slowly gets replaced with the new, artists like Young M.A, and possibly future LGBTQ rappers, might feel more comfortable existing in and molding the minds of a group whose culture expresses such fragile views of masculinity and self identification. Even Chance the Rapper’s younger brother, Taylor Bennett, identifies as bisexual, yet still has never released a song about a relationship with another man. It would be horrific to think of all of the potentially closeted rap fans who are afraid to come out to their community in fear that they’ll be viewed as less of a respectable artist, or even human. If “Silence = Death,” then it’s about time the hip-hop community, and their fans, started flooding the conversation.
UPDATE [6/30/17: 11:50am]
The legendary T-Pain responded on Twitter late last night, stating:
— T-Pain (@TPAIN) June 30, 2017
It was a good point made: I didn’t mention Frank Ocean in the article. The Odd Future affiliate and frequent rap collaborator is openly bisexual, has made plenty of songs about his sexuality, spoke out after the Pulse shooting, and even criticized his estranged-father for being homophobic in a letter from his Blonde zine.
While Frank Ocean does occasionally fights the good fight; however, he’s also widely known for staying away from the spotlight, as he rarely talks to the public at all. After the Migos comments, Quavo doubled down and said he couldn’t be homophobic because he made a song with Frank Ocean—”Slide” by Calvin Harris. It was the age-old “I can’t be racist because I have black friends” excuse. Frank was silent through it all.
If this article called on anything, it was to get everyone involved, gay, straight, bisexual, queer, transsexual, what have you. Frank Ocean might be the largest name in the LGBTQ community to collaborate in hip-hop/rap, but it takes more than one elusive artist, as most of the dominating figures in the industry stay silent.
In fact, just last night, as this article went live and T-Pain said “it was cool,” Jay-Z released his record 4:44, which includes the song “Smile (feat. Gloria Carter),” in which Jay’s mother comes out:
Living in the shadow
Can you imagine what kind of life it is to live?
In the shadows people see you as happy and free
Because that’s what you want them to see
Living two lives, happy, but not free
You live in the shadows for fear of someone hurting your family or the person you love
The world is changing and they say it’s time to be free
But you live with the fear of just being me
Living in the shadow feels like the safe place to be
No harm for them, no harm for me
But life is short, and it’s time to be free
Love who you love, because life isn’t guaranteed
There’s nothing more immediately gratifying than that. Let’s keep it going.