Is It Hip-Hop Homophobia Over French Nails and Skirts?

Battles over fashion expose hip-hop’s continuing struggle with the boundaries of black masculinity.

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Apparently, veteran gangster rapper Snoop Dogg still enjoys defying all the rules of so-called authentic black masculinity found in mainstream hip-hop culture. After reinventing himself as a devoted father and Snoop Lion—the reggae-infused advocate of black consciousness and universal love—he is now using Instagram to promote his fierce, duo-chrome French manicure, complete with marijuana leaf and dollar sign.

Do real Gs get manis?

The news has left hip-hop fans debating whether Snoop is “gay” or mind-controlled by the “Illuminati,” while rapper 50 Cent has questioned Snoop’s sexuality. In response to 50 and the haters, Snoop replied that he is still a gangster: “Real playas keep they nails fly fresh n dipped at the tip.” A few days later, 50 Cent posted photos suggesting that P. Diddy, Steve Stoute and Rick Ross are in a gay love triangle. In the mind of a hip-hop homophobe, “something ain’t right (#smsaudio)” when black men get their nails done, wear pink and/or hug each other.

We could dismiss 50 Cent’s antics as a misguided marketing stunt for his new line of SMS Audio headphones, were it not for another style-centered controversy surrounding Omar Epps in a man-skirt. The back and forth shows how black men’s passion for fashion has become the new battlefield over definitions of acceptable masculinity.

Last week, Epps, wearing a black leather skirt over his jeans, appeared on The View to promote his new show, Resurrection. Lord Jamar, of the legendary rap group Brand Nubian, took to Twitter to denounce Epps as a new member of “the skirt gang.” According to previous rants by Lord Jamar, the gay mafia—a group of queer white men—have feminized hip-hop and have pressured artists like Kanye West and Trinidad James to wear skirts.

On Twitter, Marlon Wayans attempted to defend Epps’ fashion choice by arguing that it is time for black men to move beyond the 1990s ghetto style of baggy pants, hoodies and Timberland boots. Lord Jamar fired back that Wayans was a “sell out,” whose movies encouraged homosexuality among black men. A retweeted photo of a bare-chested Lord Jamar wearing a kufi with tassels only escalated the Twitter beef over fashion and sexuality.

The prominence of hip-hop’s antigay lyrics has been debated for decades, but this string of online controversies surrounding French nails and man-skirts highlights how black men’s fashion has been surveilled and reprimanded by hip-hop culture. Despite claims that hip-hop empowers black men, sexism and homophobia have severely limited the fashions, styles and expressions deemed acceptable within the narrow boundaries of heterosexual black masculinity.

Looking back over the years, it would seem that every fashion-forward trend has at some point been attacked as “gay” and a threat to hip-hop’s realness. Remember those glittery suits and punk-rock chains worn by the Cold Crush Brothers and Dr. Dre (of the World Class Wreckin’ Cru) during the late 1970s and early 1980s? A few years later, the disco-funk-R&B outfits became the homophobic punch lines in Easy E’s beef with former NWA group member Dr. Dre.

Hip-hop's changing definitions of authentic black masculinity can even been seen in the treatment of stereotypically urban street wear, including sagging pants.

Public-service announcements against sagging pants and visible male underwear have attempted to scare youth into pulling up their pants by associating the style with male prison sex. Born-again Christian rapper Dooney Da Street Priest reinforced this point with the lyric, “I think it’s rude, but some of y’all think it’s cool. Walkin’ around showin’ yo behind to other dudes.”