“Love & Hip Hop” and Pride

How Hip-Hop Culture Is Becoming More Inclusive

Pride and hip-hop

One of my hobbies is watching reality TV shows that orchestrate frivolous drama and highlight emerging talent.

I know, I know.

There are many reasons why I should not watch these shows, but I do. I enjoy the artistic creativity and fashions that are frequently on display. Plus, as a child of the 1970s, I grew up watching soap operas with my late grandmother (she referred to them as “the stories”).

I recall asking my grandmother why she was so committed to watching these programs and she shared something that stuck with me. “Child,” she started, “life is hard on us as Black people and there is rarely any good news shared on the news. I like the escapism of my stories. It lets my mind rest on something fun and gives me and the ladies something light to talk about while we play pinochle.”

There you have it.

True to form, I became a chip off the old block. I was a loyal viewer of nighttime soap operas like Dallas, Dynasty, Knots Landing, Falcon Crest, and The Colbys. For me, watching these shows was also a means of winding down and I was not alone. Soap operas were at one time in history a form of lighthearted escapism for millions of viewers.

When viewers’ tastes changed and these programs were sunsetted, I turned my attention to reality TV shows (until several of them became exceptionally violent). The portrayal of Black women and the high level of consumerism in these programs is generally quite problematic. It remains a relevant point for scholars to examine the extent to which these shows continue to impact and shape 21st-century popular culture. 

One of the reality TV programs that still periodically garners my attention is the Love & Hip Hop franchise. Now in its 10th season, the show is considered one of America’s guilty pleasures. I was compelled by the show’s cast and the women who served as executive producers. Among one of the program’s earlier breakout stars is rapper Cardi B (paywalled).

While watching a Season 10 overview episode, I was struck by a point made by Derek J., Atlanta hairstylist and frequent reality TV show cast member. Derek indicated that the formula for the show’s popularity is socializing hip-hop with the LGBTQ+ community for the first time in TV history.

I found his statement compelling and decided to examine the facts of the program’s historical portrayal of the LGBTQ+ community:

  1. Love & Hip-Hop (and most specifically the Atlanta franchise) introduced several LGBTQ+ people on the program since its inception.
  2. The LGBTQ+ people on the show are not portrayed as caricatures and are woven into the storyline.
  3. There were “real talk” conversations about and with the LGBTQ+ community, with cast members weighing in with various opinions about homophobia, acceptance, and marginalization.

As a long-time fan of hip-hop music and occasional educator of hip-hop culture, I have to give Love & Hip Hop the accolades it deserves. Hip-Hop has long suffered a hideous relationship with the LGBTQ+ community (paywalled). Many rappers, influencers, deejays, writers, and bloggers built their careers on outing gay rappers. To be gay in hip-hop culture (regardless of one’s role in the industry) was long considered a professional death sentence.

This year, it seems that things are changing for the better as we conclude Pride Month 2021. Queen Latifah acknowledged her wife and affirmed her sexual orientation at the recent BET Awards show (a subject of the whisper network for more than 30 years). Lil Nas X, Tyler the Creator, Syd, Frank Ocean, Azealia Banks, and Kevin Abstract garner press hype for their contributions to pushing hip-hop culture beyond its traditional boundaries.

There are still many layers of hip-hop culture to be explored within the scholarly realm, including hip-hop culture changing its course on the LGBTQ+ community within the span of five decades. Many of us who study how cultures change know that 50 years is considered a short period of time for change to be grounded. Systemic injustice can infect cultures like embedded root rot. However, the lessons of hip-hop culture “flipping its script” from the “No Homo” era to embracing the LGBTQ+ community can be harvested and replicated to address inequality and -isms of all forms.

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Header image is a detail of This is Harlem by Jacob Lawrence. Courtesy of Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. © 2021 The Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence Foundation, Seattle / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. For more information, click here.

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