For years, celebrities have chosen to use their influence as an opportunity to speak out about causes they see a need to bring to the public attention. In recent years, gay rights have raced to the forefront in such cases, with celebrity advocates, from Lady Gaga, to Ellen DeGeneres, to Hilary Duff, each fighting the “equal rights” cause in their own ways.

Celebrities have a very interesting social advantage over most people, given that they have an automatic platform that they can choose to project their influence and opinion about subjects close to their hearts. Last year, famous advice columnist Dan Savage's "It Gets Better Project" opened a gateway to thousands of regular people as well as a slew of famous ones each speaking out to bullied youth, particularly gay and lesbian youth, aiming for the negative connotations around being “different” to be triumphed by hope and courage.

But while the mainstream focus in the entertainment and media industry may be moving in a positive direction regarding gay rights, the world of hip hop traditionally has not been the most accepting scene. Regardless of the context, rappers from Dr. Dre to 50 Cent have used the highly sensitive term “faggot” in various songs.

However, even in this genre, heavy hitters have taken a stake in the cause. In 2009, Kanye West famously went on record saying "Take the word ‘gay’ like in hip-hop, that's a negative thing, right? Kids will say, 'Dude, those pants are gay.' I think that should be said as a compliment. Like, 'dude, that is so good, it is almost gay.'"

Perhaps it was in a chase for press, but he saw the opportunity to take the word 'gay' back, much like black culture and rappers in particular have done with reassigning “n-word” from hate speech to empowerment.

Yet despite support from West, the rap scene saw a continuation of its usage of the hate speak, and particularly the term “faggot”, in 2011, with the major success of Tyler, the Creator, a member of rap group Odd Future. Tyler, a 20-year-old Los Angeles native, has gained quite a name for himself in hip-hop, winning the Best New Artist trophy at this year's MTV Video Music Awards, and releasing his mainstream debut to both critical and commercial praise. But it hasn't been Tyler's award win, nor his success, that has put his name in the headlines as of late; rather, it is his continuous social battle against his fellow artists, journalists, and human rights groups that has people talking.

Tyler's most recent release, Goblin, has sold over 100,000 copies. It also, according to UK music magazine NME, "uses the word 'faggot' and its variants a total of 213 times" in its 15 tracks. Given Tyler's quick rise to fame, endorsements by MTV, and heavy internet buzz, he has become someone with a viable voice, one that young people, music fans, and basically anyone with a pair of ears have been exposed to.

With such excessive use of an already unsavory word on his album, not to mention the countless times he's used such terminology on his Twitter account, Tyler is easily setting himself up as a target for those not willing to sit back and take his behavior lightly.

Sara Quin, of Tegan and Sara, responded to Tyler's popularity in an interview, saying, "While an artist who can barely get a sentence fragment out without using homophobic slurs is celebrated on the cover of every magazine, blog and newspaper, I'm disheartened that any self-respecting human being could stand in support with a message so vile."

Herndon Graddick, Senior Director of Programs for GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) responded to Tyler's crowing of Best New Artist by writing, "Rather than providing simply a larger platform, MTV and other networks should educate viewers about why anti-gay and misogynistic language has no place in the music industry today. Given Tyler’s history of such remarks, viewers and potential sponsors should refrain from honouring homophobia and in the future look to a more deserving artist."

In the face of such complaints, Tyler failed to step up the plate and properly explain his side of the story, instead choosing the immature and shocking route, stating, "Well, I have gay fans and they don't really take it offensive [sic], so I don't know. If it offends you, it offends you."

While there may be some blindsided gay people out there willing and able to listen to someone yell slurs into their ear, I would think it's safe to say most of the gay public are turned off from Tyler the Creator on principle alone.

Perhaps Tyler the Creator isn't homophobic; but, he certainly hasn't gone out of his way to clarify the rumours stating otherwise that he has certainly only brought upon himself. In 2001, Eminem was dragged through the press on speculations of homophobia, based on lyrics. He famously shut down the rumours by taking his friendship with a famous homosexual, Elton John, and performing together at the Grammy Awards. Despite this performance, Eminem never issued a public apology or statement for his behavior, which left his message up for discussion.

Ten years later, when Anderson Cooper asked Eminem to clarify some of the questionably seemingly homophobic and misogynistic lyrics in his earlier albums, he replied by saying, "In the scene that I came up in, that word, 'faggot', was thrown around constantly to eachother in battling. I didn't just invent saying offensive things... I don't have any problem with nobody."
If Eminem were to apologize for his lyrics, he’d be going against his art—words that he’s written as part of an album as an art piece. But maybe if this type of behavior is something that will never be apologized for, it shouldn’t happen in the first place. West is an example that the hip-hop industry doesn’t need to use “faggot” or “gay” as a derogatory term to find mainstream success—last year, his album was given 5 stars by Rolling Stone, and sold millions of copies.

Yet, despite not needing to use offensive terminology to find mainstream success, Tyler the Creator does so with no shame. If his predecessors and colleagues hadn’t opened the floodgates and desensitized their audience to such harmful wordplay, Tyler would be less likely to use them. Responsibility to an industry can only go so far: it’s not as if it’s mandatory to include “faggot” on a rap album. While Eminem is placing the blame in the industry that gave him his career, Tyler is happy to blissfully spew off remarks that really don't satisfy any of the queries.

"I’m not homophobic. I just think 'faggot' hits and hurts people. It hits. And 'gay' just means you’re stupid. I don't know, we don’t think about it, we're just kids," he says. Not only is he blaming his lack of understanding on his young age, he's coming up to bat as a pretty unappealing and uneducated twit. Nothing in his response clarifies anything, let alone makes much sense.

Tyler tries to justify the use of such hateful statements as being just a string of words that don't mean anything other than sounding good. Turning the conversation onto his own skin colour, and the struggles black people have faced, he says "If you call me a n***a, I really don't care, but that's just me, personally." Unlike Kanye West, who sees the idea of 'taking back' a historically harmful term as a means to empower the people who have been hurt by it, Tyler is flirting with disaster, continuing on the same hateful path that birthed such words in the first place.

Blame him on being a product of the rap industry. However, rap in 2011 is much different than it was decades ago. This year, Nicki Minaj took home the Best Hip-Hop Video trophy at this year’s MTV Awards, trumping woman-beater Chris Brown, and the other all-male artists in her category. Viral internet hip-hop icon Lil B released an album titled I’m Gay (I’m Happy), and in the face of death threats and controversy surround the release, said, “I really seen that the hip-hop community is being very close-minded and very hateful, very violent...People use evil words, money, separation, stuff like that. I just wanted to make this to show words don't mean anything.”

Taking responsibility for your own actions, or in this case, lyrics, is a huge start. Hip hop was founded as a form of expression, like most music forms, but especially with this genre, was created as an outlet for a traditionally black culture to express themselves after a historically long oppression. In general, hip hop has a long way to go. Not all rappers need to be painted with the same brush, but sadly, the use of “faggot” in rap has been seen as “normal” for so long that the continuation of its use has been excused as a characteristic of the industry.

It took Tyler the Creator’s high word count of the term to finally result in people saying something about it. Hip hop is made for pushing boundaries, and I respect that. But using insensitive terminology isn't necessary, nor is it really shocking anymore, considering it's been done so many times before.

Rap music has been given more and more credit as a legitimate musical style as the years have gone by, and it’s a wonderful addition in the music industry. But using that creative outlet as a new way to point the finger and spew hatred onto other sects of society is defeating the purpose of an otherwise fantastic means of expression.

// JJ Brewis
Art Director

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com