Eminem and the F-Word: Why Does Rap Still Tolerate Homophobia?

Too little? Too late? Well, definitely, too little.

Eminem expressed a degree of regret over referring to rapper Tyler, The Creator as a “f-ggot” on his latest single during a September 13 interview with MTV’s Sway Calloway. But as usual, he stopped short of actually apologizing for his offending words.

In fact, the next day he was back to gay-baiting on the new diss track “Killshot.”

Meanwhile, the rap community has once again taken the Switzerland approach. Why so deafeningly silent? Where is the outrage over yet another instance of hip-hop homophobia? In 2018, why is rap still flagrantly using homophobic language or tacitly endorsing it by not calling out its stars for lazily falling back on it?

The late rapper XXXTentacion once bragged about nearly beating a man to death in prison for looking at him a little too long while he was naked. Still, fans and fellow rappers canonized him after his shooting death in June, overlooking his history of homophobia and violence against women.

Earlier this year, when Migos rapper Offset offended the LGBTQ community by rapping “I cannot vibe with queers” on YFN Lucci’s track “Boss Life,” he apologized and claimed to have meant “queer” not in the “gay” sense but in the “strange” or “odd” sense. His wife Cardi B defended him in a Twitter Live video — “He literally told me he didn’t know that was a word for gays,” she said — and scolded his detractors for being offended rather than “educating.”

Can anyone who is fluent in English and whose job revolves around words seriously not know the connection between “gay” and “queer”?

She isn’t the first female rapper to stand by a male rapper accused of homophobia. In 2011, Nicki Minaj tried to rationalize Eminem’s use of the word “f-ggot” on her track “Roman’s Revenge” by saying he was speaking as a character he was playing. Fast forward seven years, and Minaj is casually tossing off homophobic rhymes on her latest album “Queen” (presumably a reference to herself and not to gay men).

“They switchin’ like sissies now/You n-ggas is iffy now,” She raps two tracks in, on “Majesty,” which features — surprise! — Eminem. On the next song, “Barbie Dreams,” she’s skewering Young Thug for wearing dresses and mocking the “gay lisp.”

Minaj has a significant gay following, and her dropping the S word doesn’t mean she has anything against them. But if she isn’t homophobic, if Offset respects “gays” as much as Cardi B claims he does, then they should be as sensitive to LGBTQ feelings as black rappers expect white teenagers at their concerts to be respectful of theirs. They need to hold each other accountable rather than enabling each other by making weak excuses or saying nothing.

Predictably, the LGBTQ community has been expressing most of the indignation over Eminem’s Tyler-bashing lyric on his current global hit “Fall.” The track appears on his 10th studio album “Kamikaze,” which sold 434,000 copies in the U.S. the week after its August 31 release.

“Tyler create nothing/I can see why you call yourself a f-ggot, bitch,” Eminem, 45, raps on the song, in belated response to 27-year-old Tyler’s tweet from last year criticizing his Beyoncé collaboration “Walk on Water.” “It’s not just ’cause you lack attention/It’s because you worship D12’s balls /You’re sack-religious.”

— Tyler, The Creator (@tylerthecreator) November 11, 2017

Eminem has been casually diminishing gay men in his raps for years. His first LGBTQ controversy was in 2000, over the lyrics to the song “Criminal,” on his third album, “The Marshall Mathers LP”: “My words are like a dagger with a jagged edge/That’ll stab you in the head whether you’re a f-g or les… Hate f-gs?/The answer’s yes.”

Although the media excoriated him for those homophobic lyrics — it took a 2001 Grammy collaboration with Elton John to quell the furor — the response from the hip-hop community then was as muted-to-non-existent as it is now.

A few white music celebs have been vocal about their objection to the “Fall” slur. Bon Iver’s lead singer Justin Vernon, who appears on the song, has called out Eminem and tweeted that he asked the producers to remove the word from the track. (They obscured it, but not enough to make it completely inaudible.) Imagine Dragons frontman Dan Reynolds also gave Eminem a thumbs-down.

— blobtower (@blobtower) August 31, 2018

Eminem is one of the best rappers of all time , there is no doubt. I have and will respect that. Tho, this is not the time to criticize Youth, it’s the time to listen. To act. It is certainly not the time for slurs. Wish they would have listened when we asked them to change it

— blobtower (@blobtower) August 31, 2018

it’s never ok to say a word that is filled with hate. I don’t care what year you were born in or what meaning it has to you.

if it contributes to hate and bigotry then it is hateful. period.

there is never an ok time to say the word fa**ot

I don’t care who you are.

— Dan Reynolds (@DanReynolds) August 31, 2018

Good for them, but it would be such a powerful statement if a high-ranking black rapper censured Eminem for his homophobic words. Hip hop has been a galvanizing political force since the ’80s, from Run-D.M.C. and Public Enemy then to Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino now, exploring the racism, the poverty, the police brutality, the oppressive legal system, and the sense of hopelessness that weighs down black America.

That not one big-name rapper has challenged Eminem over his continued homophobia, that the genre hasn’t used its influence and clout on behalf of other disenfranchised groups, diminishes rap’s activism. It’s time for hip hop to broaden its scope.

Saying neutral is especially disappointing because, in some ways, hip hop and R&B have come so far in embracing LGBTQ people. Tyler, who has used the F-word himself in the past, now raps about hooking up with other guys and propositions Oscar nominee Timothée Chamalet in rhyme.

Tyler’s ex-Odd Future bandmate Frank Ocean revealed in 2012 that his first love was a man, and his solo career still thrived, and his street cred remained intact. Both Kanye West and Jay-Z, who rapped about his mother being a lesbian on his 2017 album 4:44, have been openly supportive of the LGBTQ community.

As far back as 2005, Kanye, who admits he was homophobic as a teenager, told Sway during an MTV News interview: “Everybody in hip-hop discriminates against gay people. Matter of fact, the exact opposite of ‘hip hop,’ I think, is ‘gay.’ You play a record and if it’s wack, ‘That’s gay, dog!’ And I wanna just come on TV and just tell my rappers, just tell my friends, ‘Yo, stop it fam.’”

Ah, 2005 Kanye, you’ve been missed. Please come back. We need you now.

Even Eminem has evolved  —  somewhat. After his initial controversy, he performed at the 2001 Grammys with Elton John and gave England’s piano man and his husband David Furnish matching diamond penis rings on velvet cushions as a gift for their 2005 civil union. He also expressed his support for gay marriage in a 2010 interview with the New York Times.

“I think if two people love each other, then what the hell. I think that everyone should have the chance to be equally miserable, if they want,” he said, adding, “It’s the new tolerant me!”

In his September 13 chat with Sway, Eminem admitted that he may have gone too far by calling Tyler a “f-ggot.” “I was angry when I said the sh-t about Tyler,” he said.

“The word that I called him on that song was one of the things where I felt like, ‘This might be too far.’ Because in my quest to hurt him, I realized that I was hurting a lot of other people by saying it.”

He still hasn’t really apologized, though, and the rap community still hasn’t held him accountable. As if to prove his insincerity, the next day Eminem released the track “Killshot,” in which he fired lyrics that could be construed as ridiculing gays at Machine Gun Kelly: “You would suck a d-ck to f–kin’ be me for a second/Lick a ballsack to get on my channel.”

Kanye? Jay-Z? Ocean? Fam? Anyone?

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