It is still uncommon for a gay rapper to achieve major success, but there was a time when such a thing was thought impossible. Today, several of the most accomplished rap and R&B artists are openly gay or bisexual. Tyler, the Creator, Frank Ocean, and Kevin Simpson from Brockhampton are examples. Yet, there are repercussions to coming out of the closet, even for famous musicians. Chris Brown and a couple of his friends assaulted Frank Ocean in 2013, threatened to shoot him, and called him a “faggot.” Eminem, in his new surprise album “Kamikaze,” uses that same word to insult Tyler, the Creator.
To be clear, it is unlikely Tyler cares at all about that insult. His first few albums used the “F-word” dozens of times, earning him a reputation as a homophobe. He has always been adamant that the “F-word” is only as powerful as everyone believes it to be. He has even claimed that he has no problem with white people using the “n-word.” Even though Tyler, the Creator might not be bothered by what Eminem said, plenty of music fans and journalists were incensed. One writer for The Independent penned an article with the title, “Eminem is still rapping with gay slurs in 2018. If that’s his only way to get people talking, he should just retire now.”
The writer for The Independent has a point. Eminem took aim at Tyler, the Creator purely because Tyler claimed in a Tweet that a song off Eminem’s 2017 release “Revival” was “horrible.” Not only is Eminem’s use of the “F-word” on the song “Fall” indefensible, it suggests that he can only respond to criticism by resorting to petty insults. He disses Tyler with the lines, “Tyler create nothing, I see why you called yourself a faggot … If you’re gonna critique me / You better be at least as good or better.” Tyler spent the better part of his life hiding his sexuality from his fans, and after he finally decided to come out, he was barraged with think-pieces by people who wondered if he was “a button-pushing attention-seeker ridiculing the gay experience for puerile effect.” In reality, the writers who suggested Tyler was faking being bisexual were the ones “ridiculing the gay experience,” but it seems Eminem has volunteered to pick up where they left off.
Tyler revealed a very important part of his identity to the world and incorporated that personal journey into the story of “Flower Boy,” which was widely considered one of the best rap records of 2017. That artistic choice should not be used as fodder for a cheap homophobic barb. Eminem has been using the “F-word” for his entire career, and has been criticized for it endlessly. He defends himself by saying he has never “equated those words with being gay.” If that is true, perhaps Eminem should explain why he singled out an openly gay artist to be the target of a homophobic slur.
In 1991, Ice Cube released the seminal diss track “No Vaseline,” in which he suggested Eazy-E and Dr. Dre were “bending over” and getting screwed out of their money by NWA’s manager, Jerry Heller. Cube’s use of gay slurs was controversial even at the time, but it is worth noting that none of his targets were actually gay. In 2018, the best-selling rapper of all time can get away with calling a fellow rapper who has just come out of the closet a “faggot.” “Kamikaze,” for all its clever wordplay, suggests Eminem is stuck in the 1990s while other artists have moved on. It is telling that Tyler has not bothered to comment on the diss. He either does not care or thinks responding would be a waste of his time. Though Eminem may continue to release number one albums, his legacy and relevance in contemporary hip-hop is diminishing, and that might be for the better.
Alex Klein is a staff columnist for the Daily Campus and can be reached via email at email@example.com.