Rising hip hop artist Isaiah Rashad broke his silence on the highly publicized controversy over his sexuality at his performance at the 2022 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.
In February, a sex tape was leaked, allegedly depicting Rashad with other men, intended to ‘tarnish’ his reputation. Rashad remained out of the public eye following the incident, and his Coachella performance marked his first comments on the subject. Before coming onstage, a montage of prominent voices in the hip hop community speaking in defense of Rashad was played. It was a powerful moment that begs the question of whether or not this development marks a cultural shift in hip hop, eventually leading to inclusivity of LGBTQ+ artists.
Historically, masculinity and queerness have been wrongfully depicted in popular culture as mutually exclusive. This misconception is beginning to be debunked, now that we are more accepting of different identities. Displays of masculinity have long been a prevalent theme in the hip hop genre (as well as many others), which has created a culture that frequently rejects and disparages homosexuality.
This change has been in the works for a long time. In a 2005 interview, Kanye West spoke on the issue of rampant homophobia in the hip hop industry, “Everybody in hip hop discriminates against gay people,” he said. “Matter of fact, the exact opposite word of ‘hip hop,’ I think, is ‘gay.’ You play a record and if it’s wack, you say ‘That’s gay, dog’.”
In recent years, music artist Lil Nas X faced criticism over his lack of collaboration with other distinguished male hip hop artists, to which he replied, “They just don’t wanna work with me,” due to him being openly gay. Blatant homophobia has gone unchecked in the music realm.
We are starting to see this culture change for the better. This can also be seen in the overwhelming support of Rashad during this major breach of privacy that undoubtedly was very difficult for him, and is yet another testament to the advancement and the acceptance of LGBTQ+ artists in more mainstream music culture.
Rashad’s Coachella montage featured several anonymous quotes regarding the situation, one of which stated, “The purpose of doing that was to try to embarrass him, however it backfired; when his video leaked his streams and everything went up.” Other featured quotes by anonymous respected media figures expressed themes of overall dismay at the disrespect of such a talented and beloved artist. The quotes also displayed a refreshing indifference to the star’s sexuality. “I’ve been hearing a lot of ‘I’m never listening to him again!’ Why? Guy can rap,” said one such figure.
At the end of the day, why should an artist’s sexuality be at all relevant to the reception of their music? Music has always been a tool of expression and has challenged many to think differently about the world, and we should listen and learn as it continues to do so.