Hip hop's homophobia problem
NEW YORK (FOX 5 NEWS) - The role of Jamal Lyon is a groundbreaking one on "Empire." The character is the gay son of a homophobic hip hop mogul. The scene in Season 1 when Jamal comes out and finds his true voice touched a deep nerve and put a spotlight on homophobia in hip hop. How close is that to reality? Are gays in hip hop pressured to conceal their sexual orientation? The short answer: sort of, but there has been progress.
We still haven't seen a major gay rapper on the level of a Jay-Z or Eminem emerge. But industry insiders say it will happen. The only question is when. When breakout R & B artist Frank Ocean revealed in 2012 that his first love was a man, some fans were shocked. Others admired his honesty and courage. Many more didn't care -- they just loved his music and kept him on the Billboard hot 100 chart for months.
Allhiphop.com CEO Chuck Creekmur says that hip hop, like society, is changing, too. "I don't think there's a problem with homosexuality in hip hop if someone's being honest and forthcoming," Creekmur says. "We know for a fact there are many gay hip hop heads out there. We know some of them are very prominent, they just haven't come out."
Being rejected because of sexual orientation is a plot line on reality show "Love and Hip Hop Hollywood," which features a same-sex male couple. There were rumors some cast members were uncomfortable working with them, but then it could be hype for shock value, says hip hop artist Skyzoo, whose new album is called "Music for My Friends."
"The agenda is different now," Skyzoo says. "The agenda is whatever it takes to get the views, to go viral, to get to this place, to get from A to Z as quick as possible and skip all the other letters."
That fast-track frenzy based on sexual identity shock value is being mastered by Atlanta-based rapper Young Thug. More than 10 million people have seen his "Halftime" video.
"Young Thug, for example, comes to mine. He's broken every quote-unquote stereotypical image of hip hop you can imagine," Creekmur says. "And he's a hugely successful artist now."
In some scenes, Young Thug is dancing around and rapping about a vintage Chanel coat, mimicking or mocking gay stereotypes. In other scenes in the same video, he's in full Bloods attire, complete with guns and gang signs. His street cred is real. Prosecutors say he is an active member of a violent Atlanta gang.
"I think a lot of people are waiting for young thug to just say 'I'm gay,' however he's never done that," Creekmur says. "So then you start to wonder: is he just playing with this? Is he trolling the community for views, looks, social media, media response? What's really going on?"
Creekmur says there's definitely a generational divide.
"There's an even younger generation than a Young Thug -- even younger -- that's coming up and identifying differently with homosexuality, period," Creekmur says.
Skyzoo, who has worked with many artists including Dr. Dre, Wale, and Talib Kweli, sums up the attitude of the current generation.
"I'm heterosexual but at the same time I don't have a problem with people who live a certain way or a certain lifestyle behind closed doors, or even in front of them," Skyzoo says. "That's what you want to do then so be it."
Creekmur says what's really shocking is that no one has yet capitalized on the huge marketing potential of an openly gay artist, but he predicts that day may be closer than we think.