Terrell’s Barbershop looks like many other similar spots across Chicago. Portraits of political leaders such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the late Mayor Harold Washington cover the walls. Posters of Minister Louis Farrakhan and Michael Jackson. Back issues of EBONY dating to the 1990s. And on Tuesday afternoon the customers were debating “the announcement.”
“I figured he was okay with gays—but didn’t expect him to come out for gay marriage,” said one young customer from the barber’s chair.
The “announcement” at issue was not President Obama’s historic declaration for marriage equality last week—but Jay-Z’s comments co-signing the President. “What people do in their own homes is their business,” the superstar rapper, producer and entrepreneur said on Monday. “It's no different than discriminating against blacks. It's the right thing to do. Whether it costs him votes or not—it’s about people.”
“That was a special moment in hip-hop culture,” says Marc Lamont Hill, PhD, and Associate Professor of Education at Columbia University. Hill is also one the hip-hop generation’s leading public intellectuals and the host of Our World with Black Enterprise. “Hip-hop has been marked by a narrow notion of masculinity that rests upon hyper-sexuality and a deep homophobia. And to see the most powerful figure in hip-hop affirm the legitimacy of [gay rights] and gay marriage? That was a powerful statement.”
“Young people are listening. They look up to Jay-Z more than they look up to politicians and civil rights leaders,” Hill told EBONY.com.
Just like President Obama’s statement has had a “halo” effect among some Black voters, Jay-Z has had a similar effect in hip-hop. The rapper’s endorsement has sparked a major conversation about gay rights and homophobia in the American hip-hop music scene—and the conversation has jumped from the barbershops to talk radio, Twitter and Facebook.
Hova’s comments were rapidly followed by similar endorsements from actor Will Smith—who began his career in rap—as well as legendary rap icon Chuck D of Public Enemy. Entertainment, rap icon and fashion mogul Russell Simmons—a longtime gay ally—tweeted his support to his 1.6 million followers: “Extremely proud of Jay-Z for this.”
And that was just on Tuesday.
On Wednesday: Boxer Floyd Mayweather–who has a history of gay-baiting and homophobia–came out for marriage equality. (Maybe that had more to do with his rival Manny Pacquiao’s violent condemnation of gays in an interview—which he was forced to retract days later.) So did dancehall artist Beenie Man, who has a troubling history of violent anti-gay lyrics. Ice Cube came out for same-sex marriage the same day, too. “I'm already married, so I ain't worried about too many other people, what they're doing,” the West Coast actor/rapper told Ad Age.
On Thursday: “I don't see what the big deal is,” rapper and actor T.I. told Hot 97. “Why would you be so against it if it doesn't affect you?”
This week’s narrative was a breath of fresh air in an industry better known for its homophobic lyrics and hostility toward gays—such Busta Rhymes violent remarks about gay men and Ja Rule’s whack comments about gays “ruining” society. And this is despite the fact that many younger Black gay men and women are die-hard hip-hop lovers.
“That’s great they’re coming out for marriage—but we still have to address hip-hop’s negative attitudes toward homosexuality,” DJ Baker, the host of the popular gay-themed, hip-hop internet radio show of The Da-Doo Dirty Show told EBONY.com. “Why can’t we be successful in hip-hop besides being a wardrobe stylist or a closeted producer? Why aren’t their openly gay rappers on major labels? There are bigger issues of concern to the young Black gay, lesbian and transgender audience listening to hip-hop—like being able to walk down the street or to attend school without being gay-bashed. Why don’t they speak about that?”
It’s been a minute since hip-hop had a serious conversation about homophobia—remember the drama when Kanye started it in 2005?—but apparently it’s starting to happen. “The problem was that people in the industry didn’t feel that there was a safe space to articulate it publicly,” Dr. Marc Lamont Hill told EBONY.com. “Now you’ll see the floodgates open.”
Part owner of an NBA team, songwriting, husband to Beyoncé, a brand new father…Jay-Z has 99 problems but same-sex marriage ain't one. Hopefully many fans and artists in hip-hop are beginning to feel the same way.
Rod McCullom is a multimedia journalist who has written and produced for ABC News and NBC, and whose writing has appeared in EBONY, The Advocate, Out.com and many others. Check out his award winning site Rod 2.0. Follow him on Twitter: @RodMcCullom.