Long accused of homophobia, some of America’s most prominent rappers and hip-hop artists are now on their best behavior when it comes to the LGBT community, leaving fans and critics alike to wonder if these are sincere gestures or PR stunts.
Curtis Jackson, better known by his nom de record 50 Cent, serves as executive producer on the new Sundance Channel program “Dream School,” a show that puts hard luck kids under the tutelage of celebrity teachers: Oliver Stone teaches American history, for example, while producer Swizz Beatz teaches music.
The students, all dropouts whom the show hopes to mentor back on track, include Alan, a transgender boy who left school to escape bullying and who has a strained relationship with his family. “I wish I was the person my parents wanted me to be. I wish I was born the person I am now,” Alan says in the premiere, airing in early October.
In an interview with The Wrap, Jackson said that hip-hop is changing and that he has always supported the LGBT community. His mother, he points out, was a lesbian. But Jackson long faced criticism for frequent use of the word “faggot” in this lyrics, and for incidents like a 2010 Twitter flap when he drew criticism for comments like “Perez Hilton called me a douchebag, so I had my homie shoot up a gay wedding,” and “If you’re a man and you don’t eat pussy, just kill yourself.”
Jackson has since endorsed marriage equality and has agreed to interviews with Perez Hilton, but defends his lyrics by saying his writing reflected the language of his environment. Now, pointing to his help mentoring Alan, he again insists “I don’t have homophobia; I never did.”
Chris Brown has also been long noted for casually dropping “faggot” and similar sentiments into the midst of his lyrics. And his tweets. And his autograph signings. Even a pickup basketball game with fans, once.
He even allegedly tossed it at fellow rapper Frank Ocean when the two got into a fistfight in a West Hollywood parking lot in January—particularly sensitive, since Ocean had just come out as bisexual (though he dislikes the label, instead simply saying he’s had romantic feelings for another man in the past) six months earlier.
Now Brown is again trying to fix up his image, promoting LGBT rights group All Out’s petition to protect the gay and lesbian population of Cameroon from violence. “Love is not a crime, gay or straight,” Brown said via Twitter.
In June, Brown released “Don’t Think They Know,” a single he cites as the inauguration of his “Unity Campaign” to promote diversity and discourage discrimination, including against gays (though the song itself is about gang violence), saying he “encourages everyone, gay or straight, to love each other!
Time will tell if Brown has really changed or if this is just a lull between his signature blowups. The All Out petition presently has over 71,000 signatures; “Don’t Think They Know” peaked at number 81 on the Billboard 100 chart and number 29 on the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop chart.