by Diego Martinez
On November 20 1999, Fox’s MadTV introduced the world and its audience to Def Con 1, a fictional rap artist played by the comedy show’s regular, Phil LaMarr.
In the skit, Def Con 1, “the number 1 selling rap artist of all time”, is a guest at a late-night talk show presenting his latest album “Better Kill Me First”, unfazed by his success and more interested in shouting out to his peeps. Apparently, rumors of his groupie antics in the tour bus are public but he’s calm. “Nah, that ain’t my thing”, he says. After much pressing of a certain special someone, the hard-looking Def Con tells it like it is. “I mean I’m gay. When I’m sexin’, I’m sexin’ up to fellas”.
What comes after is part camp, part comedy bluff: A rhyme about being in a man’s world, into brotherly love (“I think you understand”) and dividing appreciation between a 9-millimeter gun and the work of Barbra Streisand.
It seems that before the end of the millennium, the mere thought of a queer rapper looked like a laughable novelty. These days, it’s a reality. Frank Ocean, Mykki Blanco, Le1f, Zebra Katz, Big Freedia, Solomon Ray, Deadlee, Angel Haze, Young M.A…the names, faces and sounds are out, proud and abundant.
A new name, face and sound joined the rank as lately as January 20 2017. His name is Makonnen Sheran, better known as iLoveMakonnen. As a teenager, the Atlanta-based fashion icon hung around hustlers, sold drugs and fake designer purses for pocket money. He released several mixtapes on his own and under the radar for quite some time before he caught the attention of producers Mike Will Made It, Sonny Digital, 808 Mafia and Metro Boomin. Then came Drake and the breakthrough with the 2014 hit “Tuesday”. An Internet star was born.
As soon as his notoriety began, so did the unexpected obsession to dig into his personal life. Ridiculous, isn’t it? Just like the fictional Def Con 1, iLoveMakonnen played it cool. In fact, he took a rather progressive stance on whether he or anyone should place a label on his sexuality. “The rap world thinks I’m gay. A lot of people out there do. They think I’m a homosexual, which is not a problem. I don’t want to say I’m gay, I’m straight, I’m bisexual or any of that, because that’s just… Who cares? All that’s doing is dividing us”, he told the New York Times in 2015.
It might’ve been the constant pressure or maybe he just needed to level with himself and his following. Whatever the reason was, iLoveMakonnen decided it was time to set the record straight on the matter and put it to rest, by way of Twitter.
The response from fans was overwhelming, appreciated by the man himself on his social media, where he encouraged them to embrace who they are. “Go learn about yourself first. Self awareness is caring. Treat others the way you wanted to be treated, yes true colors are being shown,” he tweeted. However, not everyone was happy, as he also addressed haters who tried to bring him down after he revealed his secret.
The insecurities also ran deep in some of iLoveMakonnen’s peers. Migos, yet another Internet sensation and past collaborators of Makonnen, reacted to the news in a rather awkward manner during an interview with Rolling Stone.
“Damn, Makonnen!” Quavo bellows after an awkward interlude. I mention support I saw online for Makonnen’s decision. “They supported him?” Quavo asks, raising an eyebrow. “That’s because the world is fucked up,” says Offset. “This world is not right,” Takeoff says. “We ain’t saying it’s nothing wrong with the gays,” says Quavo. But he suggests that Makonnen’s sexuality undermines his credibility, given the fact that “he first came out talking about trapping and selling Molly, doing all that.” He frowns. “That’s wack, bro.”
After the damage was done, the group clarified the comment and apologized on Instagram. But they weren’t alone on the letdown. The outspoken MC Joe Budden tweeted: “Makonnen the only person that didn’t know he was out the closet.” The truth of the matter is, no one actually knew. But that is not even for discussion.
So the question arises…is Hip-Hop less or more homophobic than it used to be? Let’s say that it’s still a work in progress. While the burdens are present in terms of attitude changes, there are more and more performers who feel comfortable with opening the book of their personal lives, dealing with the naysayers’ comments in the process. It’s getting better, for them as human beings and us as listeners.
Long gone are laughingstocks like the MadTV character, tucked in a dreadful past and not even representing the edgy present. As for the future, it’s taking constant learning to get there. Makonnen said it well on Twitter: “If u have issues with others, u probably have issues with yourself and that sounds like a traffic jam on personal problem avenue. I’m just growing and learning. And can only wish the same for u.”