Earlier this week, R&B singer Frank Ocean came out, sharing the story on Tumblr of his first love, a man. He has since received praise and support from prominent voices in hip-hop, most notably Russell Simmons.
One person who has not yet issued any public response? Ocean’s collaborator and quasi-mentor Kanye West, who made news years ago when he denounced the “mental prison” of anti-gay hate and told his fellow rappers, “Yo, stop it.” But Kanye’s queasy acceptance of male homosexuality—“I still wouldn’t feel comfortable at a gay bar,” he once said—hardly measures up to his exuberant and oft-professed love for lesbians.
It’s a passion that precedes his well-publicized romance with the biracial, bisexual model Amber Rose (about whom he once rhymed, “Everybody wanna be what Kanye West be in / … / With a half-black, half-white lesbian”). As far back as 2005, Kanye has expressed a special fondness for gay women, especially when they come in pairs. In “I Need to Know,” he rapped about the “dyke twins” in his white Benz, saying “they only fives but together they tens.” Then on Late Registration, he asked,
Like them Eskimos, what would you do for a Klondike?
Or two dykes that look Christina-Milian-like?
A couple of years later, on Graduation, Kanye updated that couplet:
Heard they’d do anything for a Klondike
Well, I’d do anything for a blonde dyke.
He also added a Sapphic riff to a line from Tribe Called Quest:
I’m on a world tour with Common, my man
After each and every show a couple dykes in the van.
There are other examples, too, of this hot-blooded young man—and confessed porn addict—blowing off steam about his girl-on-girl fantasies. But is Kanye simply rapping about a common, straight-male preoccupation? Or is there something more going on?
His use of the word “dyke”—a term more often associated with hard-core lesbians than the kind of women who would make out in the back of a rapper’s Benz—suggests the latter. (It may also be an easy word on which to rhyme.) Consider his most recent variation on the theme, from a remix that came out a couple months ago and was repurposed last week as a Chris Brown diss track:
Girls kissing girls, cause it’s hot, right?
But unless they use a strap-on then they not dykes.
They ain’t about that life, they ain’t about that life.
West acknowledges that “girls kissing girls” is sexy or fashionable (or both), but then he calls out these lipstick lesbians for being inauthentic. They’re just playing: A real dyke enjoys having sex with other women. (With a strap-on. Let’s leave that requirement aside for the moment.)
The deeper message here is that Kanye doesn’t (just) get off on seeing women have sex; he admires them. He’s in awe of their self-sufficiency, and he’ll do anything for a blond dyke.
West: How does it feel to know that you could have any man in the world? Or woman? How did it feel to know that you can turn straight women gay?
Rihanna: Is that a real question?
Rihanna: Well … Thank you. I don’t know how to feel about that. [laughs] I guess that’s flattering.
West: But just to have that level of power. How do you deal with it? No one woman should have that much power.
That last comment from West is straight out of the chorus from one of his singles, “Power.” And power is an essential part of Kanye’s respect for “dykes,” who come closer to the macho ideal that pervades hip-hop culture than stereotypically effeminate “faggots.” Consider Frank Ocean’s Odd Future colleague, Syd tha Kid, a lesbian who dresses boyishly and can be fairly misogynistic herself.
It’s worth noting, too, that Chris Brown’s diss track, the one in which Kanye raps about real dykes with strap-ons, comes out of an ongoing feud over Rihanna’s affections. Brown has called his rival Drake a pussy, and Drake called Brown a fag, all while they tussle over a lesbian icon.
I asked rap critic Brandon Soderberg about this confluence of homophobia and homophilia, and what he thought of Kanye’s gay-girl fixation. He chalked it up to the rapper’s tendency to both address and indulge the conventions of hip-hop. “I think his obsession with lesbians is there,” Soderberg told me, “because it’s a rapper cliché that he can really mess around with.”
TODAY IN SLATE
More Than Scottish Pride
What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture
Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You
Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows
Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?
The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.
Happy Constitution Day!
Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.