After the death of rapper Nipsey Hussle, there was an immediate outpouring of grief from the African American community as well as from many major sports and music stars. Though he had come from difficult street life, he had risen to become a Grammy-nominated music producer and philanthropist, driven by a mission to give back to urban communities.
I’m a little ashamed to admit I was not aware of him personally. My hip-hop days are mostly behind me, but it was clear that he was a force, and his death impacted many who deemed the prolific artist to be among the leading voices of his generation.
That said, his voice was also a complicated one, in which he shared some of the misogynistic and homophobic views in his lyrics that are pervasive in the hyper-masculine world of rap and hip-hop. These themes collided in a new way recently, when out, African American columnist George M. Johnson wrote a piece on the rapper’s violent death that was published by nbcnews online. Johnson then wrote a second, follow-up piece for the Advocate. Both articles laid out a laundry list of possible components that help to facilitate violence in inner-cities – among them; gang warfare, glorification of thug life in music videos, violent films, blatant misogyny in hip-hop lyrics, and a lack of acceptance of the LGBTQ community.
Johnson’s coverage of Nipsey Hussle’s death was well intended. It seemed he attempted to address the dynamics of urban violence and black males. However, his articles quickly went off the rails with long ramblings about homosexuality, homophobia in rap, the Terry Crews sex assault, Kevin Hart’s gay tweets, the case of Wendell Melton, who murdered his son for being gay, the two black gay men who overdosed on meth at philanthropist Ed Buck’s house and other LGBTQ-related issues.
This ignited an online firestorm; a war of words between black heterosexuals, the black LGBTQ, and their white LGBTQ counterparts –who seemed to rally around Johnson’s somewhat stereotypical perspectives of inner-city black males and violence.
Black Twitter and many from the black straight Facebook community cried foul, accusing Johnson of high-jacking Hussle’s death and using it as an unrelated excuse to advocate against homophobia in hip hop, and for homosexual issues in general.
He did manage to connect one relevant dot, though – a rehashing of a Twitter feud Hussle had in the past regarding homophobic comments he’d made. Otherwise, this untimely death had nothing to do with homosexuality. So the backlash against Johnson’s articles was swift.
One of the most robust rejections of Johnson’s viewpoint came from Black Knowledge, a pro-black Facebook page that boasts nearly 700,000 followers. The page posted Johnson’s article entitled, “Nipsey Hussle’s Murder, homophobia and the toxic black masculinity that fuels it.” Accompanying the post was their own added caption: “It didn’t take long to use this tragedy to promote another agenda.”
The coverage of Nipsey Hussle’s death was perhaps well-intended. I think Johnson honestly attempted to address a litany of variables that can fuel thuggery, but somewhere along the way, he went off the rails. Instead, what he delivered were long ramblings about homosexuality and gay acceptance in the black community.
He went on to address homophobia in rap, the Terry Crews gay sex assault, Kevin Hart’s gay jokes, the case of Wendell Melton (who murdered his own son for being gay), and the two black gay men who overdosed on crystal meth at the home of wealthy philanthropist Ed Buck. None of these things had anything to do with Nipsy’s death.
In Johnson’s writings, societal oppression of the black homosexual male took a front seat and was thoroughly examined, but awkwardly so as it distracted from the actual circumstances that took Nipsey’s life and his fans found it deeply inappropriate. Quite honestly, I did too.
Reportedly on that fatal day, a gang-affiliated acquaintance named Eric Holder had engaged in heated confrontations with Hussle at the store Hussle owned in South Los Angles. Surveillance shows that Holder left the store but returned later with a gun and fired fatal shots at Hussle – also a former gang affiliate. Two other men were also wounded in the gunfire.
As a gay black man, from the inner city of Trenton, New Jersey, I am both an advocate for gay rights as well as one who is conscious of the devastation that gang activity can bring to a community. That said, the terrible crime that took Nipsey Hussle’s life and left his children fatherless is distinctly about the plague of violence in the inner-city and the gang affiliations that continue wreak havoc upon each new generation. It is it’s own terrifying dynamic, made no easier to resolve by highjacking it with the plight of another agenda – be it LGBTQ or otherwise.