The “Sorry to Bother You” actor has come under fire for his language in a rap verse, but should he have?
Lakeith Stanfield, a popular actor who starred in “Sorry to Bother You” and is a regular on the show “Atlanta,” recently recorded a rap where at the beginning he offered a disclosure: “Offensive freestyle, not for the easily offended.”
In the song, he raps the line, “Take that chump change back, that's some gay shit/Only black rags in my cab like I'm racist/Fag, I don't really like to brag, but I'm straight rich.”
Black Twitter and the rest of the internet went crazy as the clip was cycled around. People were upset that someone would risk his image and reputation on perceived homophobic lyrics. (Stanfield later issued an apology for the verse.) Usually I agree with the sentiments of my queer brethren, but in this case, in my unpopular opinion, his lyrics weren't all that serious, and I didn't take offense.
My stance will be a surprise to some, but with my understanding of hip-hop, I'm just not mad about the whole thing.
Here's the way that I look at it. For starters, Stanfield's rap wasn't good. And not because it included a homophobic verse, but mainly because, from a hip-hop standpoint, it was wack. The wordplay was simple. It was barely a bar — nothing to be taken seriously — and I take issue with anyone who thinks that I should be taking a specific stance against it.
Hip-hop can be problematic but I feel like some stylings of the culture are only considered this way because we are told that they are supposed to be. My friends and I rapped along to many hip-hop songs that included the word "faggot" and totally understood its intended purpose. Most black gay men in my generation — the ones who know hip-hop more deeply than simply liking the next rap song that comes on the radio — have a similar understanding.
I look at the stance against Stanfield as an extension of white supremacy policing the words of another black man. By white supremacy, I mean the gay white men who bring up issues of homophobia in hip-hop without even knowing the culture. This stance has permeated the way that we approach homophobia in communities of color, and in some cases these concerns are not culturally valid.
It's one thing for someone to make a song that is blatantly homophobic, such as Buju Banton's “Boom Bye Bye,” a song that I danced to in high school not knowing it was about killing gay people. It's another to use specific, pejorative language that everyone understands in a way that is familiar to, well, everyone. I challenge people to ask themselves if they are genuinely hurt by the words Stanfield said, or are they hurt simply because someone, or some entity, told them that they were supposed to be.
Answers will vary, and that's fine.