Queer Detroit vs. Everybody: The Struggle to Support Detroit Hip-Hop as a Gay Man

A constant criticism of hip-hop has been its homophobia, and even as society progresses, many in the genre still seem to be stuck in the hate-filled past.

Detroit hip-hop

Opinion

A decade ago, a bunch of civic do-gooder types launched a boosterism campaign in Detroit called I’m a Believer. It sought to promote unity across the city and suburbs, attract investment to the region and, generally, make people feel good about the metro area in the wake of the automotive bankruptcies that were crippling the tricounty area at the time.

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As part of the campaign, local celebrities looked into a camera and jovially declared “I’m a believer!” – although, to this day, I’m not sure what this was supposed to accomplish. (Apparently not much; the website for the Believer campaign is now a dead link.)

But one of those celebrities enlisted was rapper Trick Trick, who had made some homophobic statements just weeks before the campaign launched. I tried to raise the red flag at the time and say this was a bad look, and that maybe gay Detroiters – myself included – wouldn’t feel right with someone who tossed around the F-word being an ambassador for our city. No one listened.

When it comes to Detroit hip-hop and homophobia, no one ever does. For years, those of us who are fans of the music and the artists have had to contend with casual slurs in the lyrics and unprovoked verbal attacks on gay people in interviews.

Personally, I don’t listen to certain radio DJs – looking at you, Foolish – for their views on same-sex relationships, and I always have to butch up a little if I find myself at St. Andrews or anywhere else there might be a show.

The height of this tension, of course, was Eminem’s odd pairing with Elton John on the Grammys stage in 2001 at a time when Em himself bounced around a few slurs in his music over the years. Two decades after that, you’d think, by now, rappers would get it, that, as comic Quinta Brunson says, people be gay – and that should be the end of that. It’s not.

Some folks just now dug up some old tweets from up-and-comer Sada Baby, in one of which he wrote, “Being a fag should be illegal,” as well as some recent – as in, a few weeks ago –comments aimed toward a Lil Nas X fan page where he throws the F-word again.

Sada struck gold this year when “Whole Lotta Choppas” went semiviral on TikTok this summer, catching the attention of Nicki Minaj who added a verse to a remix. In a time when Detroit rappers are fighting other cities to lay rightful claim to the Detroit sound, Sada seems poised to lead the charge. 

Alas, when called out about his comments, Sada took to Instagram and dismissed it as just hood dude talk from a typical hood dude. He said he has a few “homosexuals” on his team anyway and there’s no big deal. Pro tip: No straight person who truly has queer people in their inner circle ever refers to them as “homosexuals.”

And so here we are again – no apologies, no growth, no consideration for the queer folks who want to support, but, as always, are conflicted about subsidizing artists whose comments are hurtful and dangerous.

(Incidentally, I came to know Sada’s music as a byproduct of dating another man. While dating him, I used to smoke and drink with his best friend, a straight man, and we had a mutual affinity for Detroit rap. He told me I had to get into this “dude who dances in all his videos,” and that’s how my casual fandom started.)

There are a number of theories around why homophobia keeps Detroit from being the forward-thinking city it likes to pretend to be. The top reason is that we don’t talk about it. But beyond that, there are other things: the fact that church, and the messages projected from within, is still king here.

The fact that Black people as a whole – of which 80% of this city is made of – are still evolving in their views of sexuality. The fact that, unfortunately for Detroit, the most visible queer personality the city has ever seen, is in prison for a sexual crime – only adding to the misperception that all gay men are sexual predators.

It’s wild to think that this is the same Detroit (and Michigan) that has produced some of the queerest music in gay canon. From Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” to Detroit techno to the very existence of Madonna, our hometown music can be very, very gay.

(And that’s before you get into how gay men are attracted to the pomp, circumstance and dramatics of the gospel singers our city produces, but the relationship between the church and church gays is a whole ‘nother discussion, chile.) But hip-hop in Detroit is no different than anywhere else, and those hypermasculine attitudes will always prevail.

Here’s game, though: We all know how notoriously hard it is for a Detroit rapper to transcend beyond Detroit. On a mainstream level, Eminem and Big Sean are all we got. Tee Grizzley, Kash Doll and – it hurts my heart to say it, but we gotta be honest as she drops this new album – DeJ Loaf have had some false starts and aren’t quite there. 

If this new crop of rappers truly wants to be the next big thing and not end up going the Slum Village route and only being big overseas (hard truth again, but we gotta be honest, right?), they’d be smart to embrace all their audiences. Ain’t nobody saying you have to be the grand marshal at Motor City Pride. We just want y’all to stop calling us fags and let us enjoy your art without prejudice.

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