Can we make two things clear to everyone—being homophobic doesn’t make you more of a man and being gay doesn’t make you less of a man. We should all know this stuff by now but some people are slow and some people are ignorant. And some of the ignorant are ignorant of hiphop history. Hiphop is all about proving your masculinity and I’m not mad about doing that through bravado or lyrical prowess or flashing wealth or talking about your drug world exploits. Even talking about your success with women can be done without tipping into toxic masculinity but when DaBaby went unleashed and “celebrated” men for not being gay and not having AIDS, he was falling into that hoary, boring and dangerous old idea that gayness equals unmanliness. This bullshit declares open season on gay men and puts their lives in danger. And it rests on the stereotype of the effeminate gay man but gay men are far more than that just as all straight men aren’t tough or strong. Indeed, those of us who’ve been in hiphop culture for a long time—a time dating back to when DaBaby was, well, a baby—we recall a specific archetype of Black gay man that people in hiphop culture used to talk a lot about. Men who were called “homo thugs.”
Homo thugs are tough, strong, muscle-bound, Timbo-wearing, streetwise men who love both men and hiphop. If DaBaby, whose shows have him running around with no shirt on while his muscles glisten, thinks that none of his fans are homo thugs, he’s being silly. Those of us who weren’t blinded by homophobia understood that there was no contradiction between loving both men and hiphop. Everyone who loved The Wire rooted for the most famous homo thug of all time—Omar, an ice-cold murderer played brilliantly by Michael K. Williams. His masculinity was never in question—he was one of the dominant street figures in that whole universe. When he strolled through the hood with his long coat and his shotgun, the d-boys ran for cover. And when he wasn’t out looking for blood, he could often be found cuddled up sweetly with one or another cute light-skin boy with devastating cheekbones and thuggish cornrows. Was Omar not a man because he loved men? The toughest thug would be afraid to say that to his face.
But how could there be a contradiction between loving both men and hiphop when hiphop has a deep homosocial spirit? This culture is quite often about what boys or men do with and to other men. We did this on the mic, we did that in the street, etc. This is not to exclude the incredible and important role that women have played throughout hiphop culture but to note this—where R&B and soul, spend a lot of time talking about romantic love and writing songs addressed directly to women, hiphop is generally addressed to men, it doesn’t often talk about romantic love, and musically-speaking, a lot of the songs are not meant to facilitate men and women dancing together. For every lover boy like Drake who’s in touch with his anima there’s ten MCs who rhyme over hard, fast beats about how hard they are in an attempt to impress the boys. Hiphop has long felt like a Black hood version of the Lord of the Flies—a competition among boys.
This is to say nothing of the fact that modern hiphop is more openly gay than ever with Lil Nas X and Tyler, the Creator and Frank Ocean and Big Freedia and more. The idea that they aren’t real men because they love men is bizarre. I don’t really know what a real man is, I’m trying to break out of the prison of masculinity, but I know that judging a man based on what he does with his heart is foolish and I know that masculinity isn’t proven by dissing other men.
This is Black Minds Matter my newsletter with ideas about politics and culture. For the more aggressive ideas, and to help support this mission, please subscribe.