I was in a bit of shock when Frank Ocean revealed to the blogosphere that he had been in a romantic relationship with a man. In part, because no one in the hip-hop community had ever openly identified as anything other than vehemently heterosexual, let alone one of the younger, more promising icons of the new generation of hip-hop. The black community–a group inundated with homophobia–finally had a voice singing boldly against homosexual discrimination. Frank Ocean gave the young men and women singing along to “Thinking About You” a chance to empathize with his ballad, and understand his perspective, regardless of their sexual orientation.
For me, the news also hit a more personal nerve. I had slowly embarked on a journey to discover my own identity as a gay man, moreover a gay man obsessed with the lyrics of hip-hop. I grew up with rap streaming through my ears. On the bus, in the hallways, and pretty much any other place you can imagine young Pittsburgh kids gathering, we found a way to play blast our favorite artists: DMX, Lauryn Hill, and Lil Wayne, to name a few. For years I turned a blind eye to the homophobic remarks littering the verses of almost every artist I admired. “Faggot” this, “No-homo” that. Surely, my role models were just trying to assert their masculinity, a mindset that plays a tremendous part in a rapper’s persona.
Years passed before I realized the cowardice of homophobic slang. To repeatedly boast their bitch smacking, pussy popping journeys wasn’t enough: Lil Wayne had to reassure us even after he degraded “his” women, that he most certainly wasn’t a faggot. We get it, Weezy, you’re heterosexual; but, I wouldn’t go so far as to say you love women, as you spend far too much time telling the world how much you disrespect them. Lines like “You homo niggas getting’ aids in the ass while the homey here tryin’ to get paid in advance,” slowly began to make me cringe; Dear Mr. Carter: was it really necessary, in 2005, for you to perpetuate the myth that HIV is limited to homosexuals, solely to clarify your money-making ambition? No, Tunechi, it most certainly wasn’t.
I single out Lil’ Wayne here, primarily, because he shares an intriguing connection to Frank Ocean. Both men were raised in the “Creole Cockpit” of New Orleans, equally emerging from their hometown into the spotlight of hip-hop at a very young age. I only came to realize this upon revisiting Lil’ Wayne’s track “Tie My Hands,” his cry for help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The song is refreshingly moving for Weezy, providing a hometown commentary to the racial undertones of the disaster, voicing a message of hope for New Orleans natives struggling to survive. Here, we see a brief example of Lil’ Wayne lyrical promise when he chooses to portray a motivational message in his music.
The opening lines, spoken softly by Robin Thicke, “We are at war with the universe, the sky is falling/And the only thing that can save us now is sensitivity and compassion,” speak against the Lil’ Wayne’s entire catalogue of hatred and discrimination. Offering “sensitivity” as the savior, Wayne speaks up against blind hatred harnessed in racism, ultimately blaming a lack of “compassion” for his personal struggle.
With the third verse, Wayne offers his final point of hope to the oppressed youth of New Orleans:
And if you come from under that water then there’s fresh air
Just breathe baby God’s got a blessing to spare
Yes I know the process is so much stress
But it’s the progress that feels the best
Cause I came from the projects straight to success and you’re next
So try they can’t steal your pride it’s inside
With each line, Wayne portrays an encouraging voice of “progress” and “pride” amid personal struggle. If he could only apply this message to his own homophobic views, he might understand Frank Ocean’s brave proclamation . Alas, Wayne only felt compelled to speak out against discrimination when it hit his hometown. Yes, Frank, “it’s the progress that feels the best…so try they can’t steal your pride it’s inside.” Indeed, Lil’ Wayne’s hands are tied. They are lashed with a blind homophobia that could easily be freed with “sensitivity and compassion.”
After Frank Ocean’s announcement, several hip-hop moguls–Jay-Z, Russell Simmons, and Busta Rhymes to name a few– stepped bravely to the forefront in support. And there I was, waiting patiently for Weezy to denounce his old ways. Instead, the hip-hop world got an affirmation that Lil’ Wayne was stuck knee deep in his homophobic mindset. Featured in Future’s “Turn On The Lights remix,” Weezy rapped “Tell her I skate/I ain’t got no worries/No Frank Ocean, I’m straight.” Finding a new, uninventive way to say “no-homo,” Lil Wayne’s croaky voice made me cringe yet again. Armed with blind hatred, Mr. Carter passed up an opportunity to support a fellow New Orleans native to yet again assert his masculinity.
For the hip-hop community, a group already behind the times with regards to sexual discrimination, the self-crowned “best rapper alive” wouldn’t budge. He turned his back to Frank Ocean, cowered in the face of progress, and let me down. Perhaps Lil’ Wayne will come around; maybe he’ll wake up one day and realize how wrong he was to denounce Frank Ocean’s moment of pride and progress. If not, he’ll slowly fade out of the spotlight, along with the archaic, discriminatory views of older generations. Until then, I’ll just keep listening to Channel Orange.