t’s not easy being a gay hip-hop fan. For years, I’ve wrestled with my love of the music on one hand with my distaste for the homophobia embedded within it on the other, grimacing at the frustrating ease with which a rapper is able to say faggot, a hateful word that no straight person has any right to be using.
I’ve found this especially problematic with the music of Tyler, the Creator, the 26-year-old provocateur whose lyrics have often aimed to shock and repulse, whether addressing violence against women (“Punch a bitch in her mouth just for talkin’ shit”) or his apparent disgust at gay men (“Come take a stab at it, faggot, I pre-ordered your casket”). They’ve even propelled him into legal troubles after he was prevented from performing in both the UK and Australia, labelled as a threat. ”I’m getting treated like a terrorist,” he told the Guardian in 2015. “I’m bummed out because it’s like, dude, I’m not homophobic. I’ve said this since the beginning. The ‘hating women” thing – it’s so nuts. It’s based on things I made when I was super young, when no one was listening.”
I’ve followed his career and noticed a maturity develop, a softening of sorts, the decision to opt for woozy stoner romance over grim and graphic bile. This progression has come to a crescendo with his latest album, the dreamily melancholic Flower Boy, the title of which potentially acts as a clue to what might be his most controversial statement yet.
Could the rapper who used the word faggot 213 times on his debut album actually be gay or bisexual himself? Since his latest release leaked two weeks early, rumors have been circulating online, similar to those that emanated from pre-release listening parties of Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange five years prior. Ocean, a longtime collaborator of Tyler’s and fellow member of the hip-hop troupe Odd Future, caused speculation when journalists noted frequent usage of male pronouns in love songs such as Bad Religion and Forrest Gump, leading to Ocean’s powerful statement on his sexuality soon after. Similarly, fans have been confounded by lyrics that seem to suggest that Tyler might have been trolling us all along.
Over the pulsating beat of I Ain’t Got Time, he breaks from a braggadocio’s list of achievements to spit: “Next line will have ’em like, ‘Whoa’ / I’ve been kissing white boys since 2004,” which, while hardly an admission, is jarring at the very least. Elsewhere in the track he talks about driving around with a River Phoenix lookalike, a line that links to previous statements about his passion for 90s-era white male pinups. In an interview, he once said he “100% would go gay for ’96 Leo”, and a recent Instagram post married a picture of DiCaprio from Romeo + Juliet with the words “yes boyfriend yes”.
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