DaBaby is the most talked about rapper this week, and unfortunately, the commotion has nothing to do with new music. After making a series of incredibly insensitive and homophobic comments at Rolling Loud Miami in July, the rapper has been dropped by seven festivals, including Lollapalooza, Governor’s Ball, and Day N Vegas.
On Monday, the rapper issued an apology via Instagram. “Social media moves so fast that people want to demolish you before you even have the opportunity to grow, educate, and learn from your mistakes,” he wrote. “I want to apologize to the LGBTQ+ community for the hurtful and triggering comments I made. Again, I apologize for my misinformed comments about HIV/AIDS and I know education on this is important.”
The problem with DaBaby’s apology, and simply removing him from festival lineups, is that it doesn’t actually address the elephant in the room: This isn’t the first time hip-hop has been homophobic, and it won’t be the last. But we’re going to have to ask more of musicians, and the businesses that hire them, if things are going to get better.
If there’s anything we’ve learned about public apologies, it’s that everyone wants the space to “listen and learn” or, as DaBaby put it, an “opportunity to grow.” Despite DaBaby suggesting that he’d been provided with the resources to learn, and 11 HIV organizations offering to help him, we still know very little about the steps he is taking to educate himself, or to correct the misinformation he is responsible for spreading.
The fact that hip-hop is even still having this conversation in tandem with Lil Nas X's sustained rise—a rapper whose performances and music videos have consistently pushed the boundaries for Black gay men in the mainstream—is even more frustrating. We’re nearly a decade into a shift that opened the door for a new wave of queer hip-hop artists, including Makonnen, Kevin Abstract, and Tyler, the Creator. Whether it’s as subtle as the “he/him” pronouns on Channel Orange, or as flamboyant as Lil Nas X’s shower scene in “Industry Baby,” popular culture is inching closer to embracing and honoring sexual fluidity. Whether DaBaby, and those who defend him, like it or not, queer culture is defining pop culture—just look at the title of his latest single, “Giving What It’s Supposed To Give.” A straight Black man didn’t coin that term.
Lil Nas doesn’t exist in a vacuum. He represents millions of people who are finding the courage to live life as they are. But for every hip-hop artist charting a path for queer liberation, there seems to be another one looking to respond to this cultural shift by asserting and reasserting a kind of toxic masculinity. The moves of both factions—whether they be newsworthy for their bold assertions of queer sexuality, or newsworthy for their retrograde homophobia—are becoming viral moments. And thus, what we witness playing out is a battle of representation, with one camp celebrating the first same-sex kiss at the BET Awards and the other making violent threats because of it.
In some ways, it feels like hip-hop hasn’t evolved past 2003, when phrases like “homo thug” existed and calling something “gay” meant it wasn't cool. For too long, it’s seemed like hip-hop will only tolerate queerness—if it’s accepted at all—if it presents a certain way, which was a queasy undertone in DaBaby’s rant to begin with.
“If you didn’t show up today with HIV, AIDS, or any of them deadly sexually transmitted diseases that’ll make you die in two to three weeks, then put your cell phone lighter up,” he said. “Ladies, if your pussy smell like water, put your cell phone lighter up. Fellas, if you ain’t sucking dick in the parking lot, put your cell phone lighter up.” The next day, when he took to Instagram Live to justify his comments, he only made things worse. “My gay fans—they take care of themselves,” he said. “They ain’t no nasty gay niggas. They ain’t no junkies in the street.”
To clarify that his initial comments about HIV/AIDS were about gay people at all confirmed what people suspected: DaBaby’s comments were not only deeply homophobic, but they also came from a place of perpetuating problematic and wildly misinformed stereotypes about both the LGBTQ community and HIV/AIDs. Rappers like T.I., Boosie, and Tory Lanez—who have a litany of allegations against them including sexual assault, child sexual abuse, and endangering women—came to DaBaby’s defense, suggesting that he has a right to an opinion. And while everyone does have the right to an opinion, those opinions should be checked when they negate facts, and especially when they put people in harm’s way.
It’s not enough for festivals to drop artists from bills. Corporations use allyship as a way to save face, as seen in the rainbow logos put on display every June for Pride Month. It’s convenient to want to distance yourself from an artist who has made some pretty damning comments, but the real question is this: What steps are being taken to make sure it doesn’t happen again?
Kristin Corry is a Senior Staff Writer for VICE.