Gay-bashing Finds A Home In Rap, Metal

Posted: September 01, 1990

Hatred of gays is apparently a growth industry in pop music these days. Especially in the teen-targeted genres of heavy metal and rap, homophobia seems to be on the rise.

In Big Daddy Kane's rap "Pimpin' Ain't Easy," a choice lyric goes, The big Daddy law is anti-faggot/that means no homosexuality. The rap group MCJX contemptuously quips, Your girl left town, paid you back in spades/Now you're marching with the gays in the AIDS parade. There's also Axl Rose's infamous line from "One in a Million" about "faggots" who are "spreading some disease," along with such unforgettable public spectacles as Skid Row's singer, Sebastian Bach, posing for a picture with a T-shirt reading, "AIDS Kills Fags Dead."

Even a respected pop figure like Public Enemy's Chuck D told Melody Maker back in March that "AIDS, it's spread from man to man, and all I know is, once they start violating, sticking things where they don't belong, they don't know what they're f - - - - - - with."

A few months back, Audio Two became the first group to directly advocate gay-bashing. Their track "What You Lookin' At" includes lyrics like, I hope you ain't gay, cuz gay mothers get punched in the face/I hate faggots/they're living in the Village like meat on some maggots.

Audio Two has yet to officially apologize for these lyrics, though the head of their distribution company, Atlantic Records' Ahmet Ertegun, has since stated he would not have put the track out had he heard the lyrics first. Still, that hasn't stopped Atlantic from putting out tracks on the new 2 Live Crew album in which the group indulges in its idea of the worst possible put- down - suggesting their enemies engage in homosexual acts.

Such lyrical insults turned violent last month when Turbo, lead rapper for the hit dance group Snap, allegedly assaulted the owner of a gay nighclub in Boston after hurling bigoted remarks at him. The group was appearing there, incidentally, as part of an AIDS benefit.

Gay observers find such actions particularly heinous coming from pop stars.

"Heavy metal and rap are targeted at vulnerable young people who are just making up their minds about questions of sex and identity," said Adam Block, music critic for the national gay magazine The Advocate. "I think it's particularly reprehensible to capitalize on their fears."

Especially since, gay leaders say, it's precisely this age group that most often resorts to gay-bashing.

"The average age of those committing crimes against gay people has actually gone down, from 19 to 17," said Matt Foreman of New York's Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project.

At the same time, the numbers of those crimes are on the rise. According to Foreman, in the first seven months of this year, the Project received reports of 316 bias-motivated crimes in New York City, an 82 percent rise over last year. The month of July alone found the highest number of crimes in the Project's five-year history.

"It seems to be a trend," Foreman said. "Unfortunately, the lyrics are just one more element which reinforces what kids hear from their churches and parents and teachers - that homosexuality is bad."

Observers like Block say it's especially distressing that rappers should take such an active part in this bigotry.

"This is music that's meant to be the voice of the young black underclass," Block said. "It would be nice if they could make that leap to form an alliance with people who are also at the bottom, instead of just echoing the prejudices of the power structure."

On the contrary, at last month's New Music Seminar, when a panel featuring such prominent black artists as Queen Latifah and Ice-Cube was asked to comment on the homophobic lyrics of Audio Two, they dismissed as racist any criticism of the group.

"Somehow we seem to have black pitted against gay," said Victoria Starr, music editor of the lesbian and gay publication Outweek. "There are concrete reasons for that. The way society is set up is to pit oppressed people against one another to fight over the same tiny slice of pie."

In the case of gay people, Starr thinks the oppression is rising in direct proportion to rising visibility.

"We're getting more power, and it's harder for people to ignore us," she said. "They're not very happy about that."

But there's a positive side to this as well. As gay organizations have gained a higher profile, it seems they've become more effective at fighting homophobia - at least in pop.

After the Snap incident in Boston, for instance, an organization called Zapsnap persuaded a local chain store to pull the group's music from their shelves and two pop radio stations to stop spinning their record. They also got a written apology from Turbo, though it has yet to be accepted.

Still, what the group has accomplished already pleases Block. He believes gay leaders should concentrate less on holding bigots' feet to the fire than on educating them.

"I don't want people to discontinue using this kind of language simply out of fear that they will offend a pressure group and lose sales," he said. "I hope we'll actually be able to sensitize them to the fact that this kind of music hurts people. And if you make it, you have to be ready to take some responsibility."

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