If You Don't Think Rap Is Progressive, Then You Don't Know Anything About Hip Hop

Rappers aren't just pushing creative boundaries, but cultural ones as well. See these moments for proof.

-by Michael Arceneaux

During my appearance on LHH: Out In Hip Hop, which examined homophobia within the hip-hop community, I quipped, “Damn, y’all make things sound so miserable.” It didn’t make the final cut, but it still rings very true to me. While I understand that there are plenty of things to continue complaining about when it comes to hip-hop – misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, not enough varied representation, and so on – there has been some noticeable shifts. This is particularly true within the past decade or so.

Hip-hop, much like the larger society it reflects, is slowly but surely evolving. Or at the very least, there are people moving it in the right direction. It's not always fast enough, and more should join the fight, but the shift should be celebrated all the same. Here are just a few examples of hip hop illustrating a positive progressive change.

Kanye West calls on rappers to stop using “gay” and “fag.”

While may have objected to Vivica Fox’s comments about 50 Cent during her now-infamous appearance on Watch What Happens Live, I didn’t take issue. To me, what was most important was that it called out the penchant many rappers have for being homophobic yet routinely engaging in homoerotic imagery. Yes, that would very much include 50 Cent. His publicist may have backed away from alleged comments made about Empire’s gay character, but he did once tell Playboy, "I don't like gay people around me, because I'm not comfortable with what their thoughts are."

50 Cent also would go on to call Kanye West a “faggot.” Years prior, though, Kanye called on rappers to stop using “gay” and “fag” to discriminate against members of the LGBT community. Just this year, Kanye West was also very supportive of Caitlyn Jenner’s transition. For every 50 Cent and Waka Flocka, who recently made transphobic comments (right on par with the Vatican), remember there is Kanye West – who matters more than both of them in 2015.

Angel Haze opens up about her childhood sexual abuse.

In 2013, the Detroit native released a reworking of Eminem’s “Cleaning Out My Closet” that chronicled her childhood sexual abuse. In the song, she discussed not only her sexual assault, but her community’s silence being on par with the crime itself. Angel should be a bigger deal for many different reasons, but in this instance, she deserves more fanfare for tackling rape culture head on with her art. It was a powerful moment that should happen more often than it does.

Jay Z endorses marriage equality.

When asked about President Obama’s recent endorsement of marriage equality, Jay Z told CNN: “I’ve always thought of it as something that was still holding the country back. What people do in their own homes is their business and you can choose to love whoever you love. That’s their business. It’s no different than discriminating against blacks. It’s discrimination plain and simple. I think it's the right thing to do, so whether it costs him votes or not – again, it’s not about votes. It’s about people. It’s the right thing to do as a human being.”

It was smart and necessary commentary. Other rappers would go on to join in. For those of you quick to snap back that much of that has to do with it being “safe” to have such a stance, remember that President Obama, the former constitutional law professor, had already made a case for marriage equality in 1996 before later needing to “evolve” his stance.

Lil’ B’s I’m Gay Mixtape

Many dismissed the name as a publicity stunt, but when asked about the title, Based God said, “I got major love for the gay and lesbian community and I just want to push less separation. That’s why I’m doing it. I hope GLAAD sees that I’m taking initial steps to break barriers.” For those who think that rappers have a monopoly on homophobia in music, the gesture was necessary.

Fat Joe’s very blunt assessment of how human sexuality works.

His thoughts on a gay mafia aside, Fat Joe saying “If you gay, be gay, what the f--k,” is an all-time favorite. The same goes for “N---s is gay, there’s millions of gays in the world.”

Honorable mention to T-Pain, who stuck up for Frank Ocean last year after blasting urban radio for needing to be more inclusive.

Macklemore’s “Same Love.”

I know, I know, it’s Macklemore. But it was a good moment. Let’s just acknowledge that and move on. Okay? Good.

Odd Future

Tyler, The Creator’s obsession with vulgar slurs aside, this is the same collective that housed Frank Ocean and Syd Tha Kid, the latter of whom very confidentially sings about the love of other women via her band The Internet as much ado about nothing (because it isn’t).

Young Thug’s aesthetic.

The likes of Lord Jamar might be feverish over the perceived feminization of Black men in hip hop, but Young Thug doesn’t give a f-- and we’re all better for it. His openness to wearing women’s clothing without shame challenges gender roles. That said, women rappers who wear clothing typically associated with males (like Siya) should be similarly welcomed.

Le1F’s Letterman appearance.

As the debate on whether or not rap can handle a gay rapper lingers, there was a moment in 2014 where a gay rapper by the name of Le1F was the performer on The Late Show with David Letterman. It was the first time an openly gay rapper performed on a major late night talk show. It’s a moment that shouldn’t be forgotten.

Azealia Banks

Okay, her legitimate issues with gay men aside (yeah, I said it) she deserves credit for being openly bisexual. A lot of other women rappers only teased bisexuality for the sake of feeding into male fantasy. They were just pretending and that can be grating to those actually ‘bout that life. Azealia Banks needs many things – therapy, an episode of Iyanla, Fix My Life – but her living her truth in this context was essential.