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Azealia Banks Ignites Twitter Controversy With Homophobic Slur

Azealia Banks and Perez Hilton

The beef was supposed to be cooked. Scorched. Inedible. “I’m done,” said rapper Angel Haze in reply to a Tumblr questioner a couple of days ago, after having had the last word in a fiery yet still somewhat wince-inducing exchange of dis tracks with fellow female, New York City-repping hip-hop upstart Azealia Banks. If only Banks, who graced the cover of SPIN’s September/October issue, had been willing to follow her Virginia-transplanted rival’s lead.

Unfortunately, beef is no longer the operative food metaphor here. Instead, Banks came out of the episode with some serious, regrettable, and unmistakable pie on her face — a mess from which she has fought to extricate herself through a series of tweets today. Banks is continuing to defend herself online after the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation sharply criticized her over the weekend for her use of an anti-gay slur and her initial, eyebrow-raising defense for doing so. And she’s inviting all comers to direct further questions directly to her Gmail account. 

It all began on Friday, when Perez Hilton, the gossip blogger, appeared to side with Haze in her feud with Banks. Banks responded with a series of tweets load with homophobia-tinged language, even telling Hilton to “just kill yourself,” before eventually tweeting at him, “lol what a messy faggot you are.”

GLAAD weighed in after Banks initially refused to back down. While she did sort of apologize, at least to those “indirectly offended” by her use of the slur, she refused to apologize to Hilton and concluded her apology tweet with an “lol.” Her early explanations didn’t help matters: “A faggot is not a homosexual male. A faggot is any male who acts like a female. There’s a BIG difference,” she wrote. “As a bisexual person I knew what I meant when I used that word … When I said acts like a female I should’ve said acts like a cunt.”

Since then, Banks hasn’t backed away from her earlier use of the word “faggot” against Hilton. Instead, she staunchly maintained she was in the right, writing: “Glaad and all these others need to give it a break… Picking and choosing when to be offended….. Pfffft, as fucking if.”

She framed the argument in terms of a broader culture where such offensive language is widely tolerated, dimissing critics as “hypocritical” while noting, “These words get used, in movies, books, songs, films……,” and arguing, “As if all ‘derogatory’ words are not now in 2013, simply just expletives.”

And, at a time when the prolific use of the N-word in Quentin Tarantino-directed Django Unchained has spurred its own conversation about how we deal with such epithets, Banks added, “I’ve never gotten this much attention for saying nigger.”

To be sure, Banks hardly has a monopoly on use of this particular homophobic slur. Hilton himself called a “faggot” in a 2009 dispute, as the blogger confirmed at the time in an AP interview. 

Still, the self-proclaimed Young Rapunxel has come under heavy criticism from more than GLAAD alone. Scissor Sisters’ Jake Shears, who collaborated with Banks on the track “Shady Love,” has lambasted her use of the slur, citing “context.” He wrote: “Donna Summer was ostracized for a decade from words she used about her gay fans. Too bad she didn’t have twitter to recant them immediately.”

Billboard editorial director Bill Werde also criticized Banks for drawing more attention recently over her beefs than her music. Though clarying he’d been “a big fan” of her songs, he astutely pointed out, “If you think @PerezHilton is mean, than call him that, not ‘faggot.'” And as he noted elsewhere, “not cool when you’re throwing shade at someone you know is gay.” Banks then blocked Werde on Twitter.

Of course, complicating matters further, as Banks alluded to above, is the matter of her own sexuality. GLAAD has previously honored Banks, who identifies as bisexual, as one of the “notable coming out stories of 2012.” Banks once told Rolling Stone she “definitely” feels a special affection for her gay fans. At the same time, she has always been wary about her identity being overly tied up to her sexuality, telling the New York Times: “I’m not trying to be, like, the bisexual, lesbian rapper. I don’t live on other people’s terms.”

Meanwhile, Gawker‘s Rich Juzwiak argues that Banks’ use of the term doesn’t mean she’s necessarily a homophobe. He notes that Madonna herself used the word “fags” in Truth or Dare and that in an earlier generation of female rappers, Roxanne Shanté directed homophobic language at MC Lyte. Still, one would hope times have changed since the early ’90s, and that earlier dispute between Shanté and Lyte just underscores what was uncomfortable about the Haze-Banks beef all along, the way we demand our female rappers to battle against each other.