The air smells like sweat and beer, even though it’s 1:30 p.m. on a Sunday. Chatter and footsteps make the room feel a little smaller, as people fill the space trying to find the perfect spot in which to stand. I’m in the Middle East nightclub, a chic concert venue in Cambridge that is hosting the first tour of two up-and-coming rappers: Lil Phag and Dr. Woke. I remind myself that I’m only here because my friend had an extra ticket.
We were excited to see Elijah Daniel, whose stage name is Lil Phag, perform. He is a proudly-identified gay man, and the content he’s created, both in his music and in Vine, were promised to be representative of the queer community. We were excited for this contradiction to the traditionally hyper-masculine energy of the rap genre.
When the performance began, we realized we may have put too much pressure on a Vine star to “Queer Eye” the world of rap. Once the performance ended, we concluded that Lil Phag’s tour, titled “Probably A Terrible Tour,” lived up to its name.
The logistics of the concert are not what incites my critique. Sure, the concert was scheduled at brunch time, the set was pre-recorded, and the whole event was about a half-hour long. But my real discontent was in the content.
The rap industry has always been, and still is, dominated by straight men. Rap music has been widely credited for objectifying women in their lyrics. Early rap groups and artists like N.W.A and Sir Mix-A-Lot to contemporary artists like Jay-Z and Kanye West have contributed to the trend.
I was excited for a gay rapper to turn the tide on objectifying women, or at least leave the subject alone in his lyrics. After all, girls and gays have to stick together, right? But I was disappointed to hear the same message in his music as I do in straight artists’.
“Now your b—- effin’ with me / ‘Cause she know Phag is a G,” “Snorting dust, call me a fairy / Curious, I’ll pop your cherry,” “I just f—ed your b—-, it’s about time / I’m high and I’m poppin’ on my clout nine” are just a few lyrics from three different songs of Lil Phag’s.
When straight rap artists objectify women, I can at least understand that their lyrics are representative of their real-life experiences. But Lil Phag’s objectification holds no tether to his sex life. Instead, it is directly linked to the entertainment quality that objectifying women provides. Rather than modify his content to his unique place in the rap industry, he adheres to the norms of heteronormative rap. For a man so willing to wave around a pride flag, his music did not portray any signs of allyship that the queer community and women share.
Elijah Daniel is not an overtly influential person in the entertainment industry as a whole. His following is young, mostly high school-aged kids, given his prominence on Vine and Twitter as a “gay icon.” His lyrics do not tip the scale on rap’s relationship with women. That relationship has been established and steadfast for decades now. His music does, however, reflect the perpetuation of this relationship, even from artists who don’t benefit from it, like Lil Phag. If a rap artist, whose entire celebrity persona is a proud gay man, is using his new music platform to produce content dense in female objectification and heavy drinking and drug use, something is lacking in the entertainment industry and in the allyship between queer men and women.
Looking out into the audience, I saw a crowd of mostly young women and queer men, waving pride flags and singing Lil Phag’s lyrics as loudly as they could. His closing song was called “Phaggot.” The concert ended with a couple hundred teenagers pumping their fists in the air, yelling the chorus: “Phaggot! Phaggot! Phaggot!” I looked to the friend I came here with, a proudly gay man, who was singing along. Daniel’s song is simple. It doesn’t mimic Frank Ocean’s lyricism or Kanye’s wit, but it was enough to empower the gay men around me to reclaim a word that had been used against them for so long.
Girls and gays are a partnership for a reason. We have been, and still are, the victims of a heteronormative and patriarchal society. Elijah Daniel has been critical of the heteropatriarchy on Twitter in the past, and he should not forget it when it comes to his music.
Elijah Daniel, in his own way, has given a new voice to the gay community. He doesn’t use his platform as a way to advocate against LGBTQ oppression, but instead as a way to lighten and energize gay youth. In the same vein, his music cannot lift up one community if it brings down another.