F. Virtue: Hip-hop doesn’t care if you’re gay [Article]
Manhattan, NY – On Aug. 25, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis pulled a double whammy at the MTV Video Music Awards. The hip-hop duo took home two VMAs — one for the Best Hip-Hop Video (“Can’t Hold Us” ft. Ray Dalton), and one for Best Video with a Social Message (the LGBT-supporting track, “Same Love” ft. Mary Lewis). Unfortunately, Miley Cyrus’ little twerk show seemed to distract the public from the great feat that Lewis and Macklemore accomplished: acceptance of homosexuality in mainstream hip-hop.
Calgarian rapper-turned-New York MC, Will “F. Virtue” Kowall, recently dropped some new visuals for the track “Anita Bryant” off his recently released We Are Not The Shame album. For the record: F. Virtue is openly gay, and he doesn’t really care if it rubs people the wrong way. But it’s taken him more than a dozen albums to reach a point where he can openly convey his message through his craft. “The hip-hop scene hasn’t been open to homosexuals because it’s made up of homophobic lyrics and sentiments—whether [people] are conscious of it, or not,” said Kowall. “Telling an MC he is gay has been the quick go-to diss [that] rappers have used since its inception. Which is ridiculous.”
F. Virtue grew up — admittedly, in the closet — as a Calgary kid with a love of hip-hop. He winced when his favourite rappers used offensive slurs, but came to accept it as part of the culture. “When I was in Calgary, sexuality wasn’t discussed much— ‘gay’ was used so often as a derogatory word in daily language,” said Kowall. Virtue didn’t know any openly gay people at his school — or Calgary, for that matter — prior to his move to Boston to attend college. “I am not saying Calgary is more homophobic,” said Virtue. “My close friends there were very accepting, and supportive. I love my Calgary people very much. But in terms of the [hip-hop] scene, it wasn’t a topic. It wasn’t a thing.”
Oddly enough, Virtue is hesitant to define himself as a “gay” rapper. But it’s not because he’s afraid of potential anti-gay backlash. It’s because sexual orientation shouldn’t be relevant in an artist’s reception. “I don’t want to ever promote myself based on my sexuality. I am only promoting “Anita Bryant” and discussing my sexuality as a way to reach the proper audience,” said Kowall. “[It’s for] the kids who feel shunned and need to hear this.”
We Are Not The Shame is F. Virtue’s 13th studio album. The 10-track record is extensive, and “Anita Bryant” doesn’t actually showcase the full technical extent of F. Virtue’s rhyming abilities: The BPM is slowed down. The words are over-annunciated. And you probably won’t find yourself popping or locking it to this joint on a Friday night. But the message is so poignant. And the over-annunciation is intentional — it allows for full digestion of the track’s hip-hop commentary: “Though its roots are from oppression/ His objections are rejected.” And in case you’re not familiar with Anita Bryant, she was a Miss Oklahoma hotshot who pulled double-duty as an outspoken, anti-homosexual “religious freak.” “She had a platform to be heard,” said Kowall. “Luckily, she’s pretty much been blacklisted and forgotten since.”
F. Virtue has latched on to a growing development in hip-hop: challenging the perceived norms. Last year, Angel Haze dropped the raw, real-talk track, “Cleaning Out My Closet,” about her traumatizing childhood sexual abuse. The track served as a stepping stone for some tough conversations about the hip-hop industry. And then when Rick Ross dropped his controversial Molly verse in “U.O.E.N.O,” people got mad. The rape culture that frequents the verses of fan-favoured jams was called out and thrown under the bus. And it looks like the anti-gay hoopla may be the next to go.
Regardless, F. Virtue is signed to Fake Four Inc. He’s hustled out 13 albums. He’s opened for the likes of Sage Francis, KRS-ONE, R.A. the Ruggedman, and then some. And he produced this album, too. He didn’t accomplish this because of his sexuality. He accomplished it because he’s dedicated to his craft. So head over to Bandcamp to cop a download of We Are Not The Shame. By no means is it “gay” music. It’s just hip-hop. And it is dope.
Written by Sarah Sussman for HipHopCanada