Art & Culture / Music

Lil Nas X’s coming out and what it means for hip hop

“Deadass thought i made it obvious.”

Very few artists are able to cultivate virality from simply being. Bar the shenanigans, bar the scandal and especially the speculation of being linked romantically with another. Lil Nas’  short burst to fame has been laced in witty banter and a rather polarising musical outlier. The 20 year old Atlanta artist had the internet ablaze as he came out to 1.32million followers and beyond.  Followers were tasked to embark on a riddle-like quest; “Some of y’all already know, some of y’all don’t care, some of y’all not gone fwm no more. but before this month ends I want y’all to listen closely to c7osure,” the song discusses the desire and need for comfort in the decisions that one makes and freeing yourself from the burden of regret. “I know, I know, I know it don’t feel like it’s time/But I look back at this moment, I’ll see that I’m fine.” 

In true Nas X fashion, the tweets was followed by “deadass thought i made it obvious.” highlighting a rainbow on his cover art.

The rapper has joined the likes of a few prominent hip hop artists to come out as gay. Yes, in the current climate, and quite frankly, for all of time, has resulted in the demonisation, criminalisation and execution of those living authentically. 

It is perhaps a subconscious desire for humanity to misrepresent society as an ever advancing realm of progressiveness, but do take a moment to reassess your privilege. Accountability is recognizing your contributions in firstly, premising a state in which individuals are forced into confinement entirely. Thinking that tolerance is merely your cosigning of the entertainment that the community provides you. Attending pride one day out of the year with a group of cis het women and your one gay friend in the supposed stance of allyship, yet, dismissing the plight of having to defend their humanity, daily, because its a mere micro aggression and not threats of physical violence (so you think). If you still wince at the sight of a same sex couple, or, marvel at their “bravery” without the foresight of how patronising your assertion is on individuals who’ve chosen to be. 

In Lil Nas X’s case, the news was met, partly, by the utmost support and allyship, but, to a lot of his fanbase, it remained a shit-stain on their heteronormative conscious.

Think back to the Billboard country chart controversy. The 20 year old was subject to pushback by country music fans who called for the ‘Old Town Road’ single be removed form the chart as it wasn’t country enough. Described as country- trap yet rose to prominence as a Tik-tok aided hit, to becoming a hit by country music fans. You would think a young, presenting male, singing about horses, tractors and the old town would be widely accepted as a country artist, regardless of whether or not he chooses to confine himself by a single genre. But of course, blackness is an issue. They couldn’t possibly let a young black male compete on a chart that’s become so identifiably white and southern. So, where does that leave him? A hip hop artist. Not that that makes life any easier. 

Whether it’s hip hop with country elements, country with trap elements the root of the issue lies in the fanbase. Both fanbases are fueled by machismo, braggadocio and irrefutable bouts of toxic masculinity. 

Take hip hop for example. Every year for the last few years, an artist will come out. Follow this sequence: artist reveals their sexuality- artist is forced to go on an “I am” tour- artist faces backlash- artist goes into hiding- artist may or may not return. Overtime such occurrences arise, we are reminded of just how ridiculous the assumption of a progressive society. To proclaim that the tides have changed in hip hop, in particular, is laughably sensational. It may be have experienced a slight jolt, a tilt, but never a shift. What’s probably the most unfortunate of the situation is Lil Nas X’ statement, “some of y’all not gone fwm no more”. As expected, the vitriol erupted underneath the post. It’s as though, their masculinity’s compromised by airway penetration…

Now, let’s go on and discuss the toxicity of hip hop as a whole. To be a fan of hip hop as a woman, a member of the LGBTQ+ community, or more deplorably physically impaired is a game of stealth. Women hating, sexist, homophobic, and unabashedly violent. Yes, it is all of those things, but how can it not be? A genre so rooted in clashes and bravado to not be comprised of these characteristics (as is country music) is stupendously habitual. The difference however, resides in the looseness and comfortability in the use of slurs as modes of communication. Hip hop is consistent in its intolerance. From the use of the N word, f*g and Bitch as fillers. They’ve gone decades without being implicated for their offenses. which came as a surprise that as Cancel Culture grew so did accountability. 1/3 of Migo’s, Offset and (finally) Eminem couldn’t go by without being called out for their ignorance. One of the most recent critiques of homophobia was in 2018. After featuring on YBN Lucci track, “Boss Life” Offset states:

“I cannot vibe with queers (hun hun)

I got the heart of a bear (huh)”

Which led him on a tangent of defending the use by presenting an alternative definition of the word queer as something strange, or, odd.

Okay… yes words mean things. But also, words are malleable and can take on various different meanings and intentions over time. Oppressed groups have been reclaiming and reappropriating slurs for years, so for that to be Offset’s rebuttal is proof that a PR officer was not present at the release of said “apology”. And, well, Eminem’s favorite word is f****t, seeing as he can’t use the N word due to the fact that his black cosigners and gatekeepers to the genre in which he has emboldened as his own would certainly purge his hip hop repertoire. 

Hip hop has reached a point of being held accountable for their actions, but has not made any further efforts towards addressing the fact that in a genre that spans 5 decades, only a handful of its artists have revealed their sexuality. Note that those artists, that are given free reign (of sorts). They all exist within the “weirdo rap” category, not trap, not gangster rap; they exist on the fringes of the genre and so does their status within the game. 

Lil Nas X being so, open and honest about his sexual identification is to be commended, truly. For a rookie in the game, at such a tender age, to feel free to express that information is evidence of the generation in which he has risen. A black, young man from the south, with religion and patriarchal values so intrinsic to the culture is not to be taken lightly. Only  time will tell, of the trajectory of his career past this point. Hopefully it accelerates. After all, his presence as a public figure is greater than the music. The music is a bonus. 

1 July 2019