So the Migos are giant fucking homophobes. That’s just wonderful. Nearly as soon as I sent in my four-star review of Culture to Spectrum Culture, I found out that the official Next Beatles apparently think being gay disqualifies a rapper from talking about selling drugs. Of course, the Migos have a number-one album to keep on the charts, so almost immediately came the apology. “We love all people, gay or straight,” they bleat, which entirely sidesteps why their comments were so fucked up: being gay doesn’t disqualify you from rapping about anything, and countless queer people without money, homes, or accepting families to turn to are currently selling drugs just to stay alive. “We apologize if we offended anyone,” they continue. If.
This is disappointing, especially given that Atlanta rap — for all its nihilistic hedonism and rampant sexism — seems relatively enlightened compared to its more respected coastal counterparts. I, as a gay man, appreciate that none of the new generation of ATLiens seems to ever say anything homophobic; Young Thug has used the word “faggot” once, I believe, and Migos have never used it to my knowledge. And even if Thugger’s post-gender politics are mostly confined to his wardrobe, it’s hard to think of another rap landscape in which a dude could rock a dress on an album cover and not have every weed-carrier in town drop a diss.
It’s also disappointing because I love Culture. It’s my favorite album of the year so far. I thought it’d enjoy plenty of replays to come, but I don’t know yet how I’ll feel listening to it in the future.
But if I end up still liking it — hey, I’m fine with that.
I’m gay and I love a lot of homophobic artists. Buju Banton sings about killing gays, for Christ’s sake, and Mr. Mention (1992) is one of my go-to party starters. Two of my favorite musicians of all time, Prince and John Lennon, didn’t like gay people. On the other hand, it takes very specific circumstances for me to like and respect a homophobic artist. Prince and Lennon I loved long before I knew the former was a religious zealot and the latter once hospitalized a dude who accused him of having an affair with another man. But, say, A Tribe Called Quest I just can’t get into. I admire the hell out of them, they’re great rappers, Q-Tip is an invaluable marvel, but I knew them as homophobes before I knew them as artists, and I mostly associate them with their horrific song “Georgie Porgie” despite all the classic albums and great songs under their belt.
I’m OK with liking homophobic artists, and I’ve long tried to reconcile the “separating the art from the artist” dilemma. (Usually, the artist and their shitty attributes bleed into the art: if you’ve ever seen Manhattan (1979), you might remember how much the fact that Woody Allen’s lover does homework turns him on.) I’ve come to the conclusion that liking artists who do shitty things is fine as long as you understand why other folks might not want to separate the art from the artist.
A couple months back I was listening to R. Kelly’s R. (1998) a lot. My roommate had expressed the desire to get more into R&B, and I figured — hey, if you want to get into R&B, why not try the dude who defined its sound for a decade? I personally can overlook what a monstrous human being Kelly is while listening to his music. My roommate couldn’t. I tried to convince him to do so: “James Brown’s a piece of shit too,” I recall saying. I kept the album playing for a few more tracks, which, in retrospect, I think made him and his girlfriend extremely uncomfortable.
This was around the time A Tribe Called Quest dropped We Got It 4 Here… Thank You For Your Service (2016), and every straight rap bro I knew was breathing “bro, have you heard the new Tribe?” down my neck. I just answered “not yet,” because I knew if I said I had little to no interest in listening, they’d try and convince me otherwise — just like I did with my roommate and R. Kelly.
I can afford to ignore the fact that R. Kelly is a pedophile and a rapist. I’ve never had an older man take advantage of me, and I understand some folks who have — even folks who haven’t — might be triggered by the mention of R. Kelly. I can’t pretend I don’t enjoy listening to his music. But I’ve realized I shouldn’t coerce anyone to get into him. Ditto Migos. Next time I play them for someone they’ll probably immediately mention their homophobia. Which is good. We shouldn’t pretend artists don’t say and do awful things. If you can afford to still enjoy their art, so be it. But not everyone can, and next time you put on “Bad and Boujee” it’s best to remember this.