Hip Hop has become an international phenomenon. Its music has crossed racial and economical borders. The messages of Hip-Hop are broadcasted in almost every household. Hip Hop’s message of Hyper-masculinity and homophobia is particularly potent. The image of the Black or Latino male participating in our society’s’ strict gender roles is highly represented in most of the mainstream Hip-Hop. The constant and malicious gay bashing present in current day mainstream Hip Hop is devastating to the gay community. These negative depictions of gays in Hip-Hop are hurtful to the whole gay community, but especially distressing to the vulnerable gay youth. The gay community has responded to this gay bashing by cultivating and nourishing its’ own Hip-Hop community. The members of the Homo Hop or Queer Hip Hop community seek to eradicate the negative messages that mainstream Hip Hop has to offer.
Homophobia, as feminist scholar Suzanne Pharr defines it, is “the irrational fear of those who love or desire those of the same sex” (Pharr pg. 1). Pharr argues in her book Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism, that you cannot separate sexism and homophobia. This fear of the homosexual is a result of what Adrianne Rich referred to as “compulsory heterosexuality” (Alexander). Compulsory heterosexual demands specific behaviors that enforce strict binary gender roles. This includes the idea that men are aggressive and women passive (Alexander). Pharr concluded that homophobia and sexism are interrelated. Sexism fuels the stereotypes that create homophobia. Because we live in a male dominant society that values masculinity and devalues femininity homosexuals find themselves outside society’s accepted paradigm. This negatively impacts gay men in particular. An effeminate gay man is perceived as having feminine qualities and therefore is devalued in our society.
Black masculinity in popular media, including Hip-Hop has been used to reiterate racial and sexual stereotypes. The media incorporates “motifs” that can be used over and over that has become part of our society’s conscious (Jackson 57). Motifs can include that black means something negative (ibid) or that feminine characteristics is weak and undesirable. These representations in the media have become our reality, and how we conceptualize what is black masculinity. Jacques Lacan’s study in psychoanalysis focused on this type of symbolization. These symbols that we constantly come in contact with become “signifiers” for us to take meanings. (Ibid) Black masculinity has become symbolized as hyper masculine and sexual. (Jackson 108). The thug character has been idealized and elevated as the image of true black manhood (Jackson 110). Bryon Hunt in his documentary Hip Hop: Beyond the Beats, observed the aggressive and violent content of many hopeful rappers. The young rappers rapped about beating down or killing their competition (Hunt). Masculinity in Hip-Hop has become how aggressive you can be and how many women you have conquered sexually (Hunt).
Hip-Hop artists have many times becoming willing executors of these stereotypes. Mainstream Hip-Hop artists have greatly benefited from their own exploitation (Jackson 105). Much of Hip-Hop’s criticism has been about sensationalizing black life in ghettos, and how this exploitation has served mainly to profit outsiders (Jackson 106). Black bodies have been hyper sexualized to satisfy the dominant cultures fantasies (Jackson 107). Artists such as DMX and 50 Cent have profited greatly by creating this image of the “thug”. Marlon Riggs termed this “black macho” and it serves to be the exact opposite of the faggot or a feminine male (Anthony 587). The aggressive male acts as a “signifier” that he is not weak or a “faggot”. Regardless if this aggression is an exaggeration of reality or not, these images dominate the Hip-Hop scene. The symbolization of the thug has become the assumed reality of Black or Latino manhood. The aggressive and overly sexualized straight male is what are truly Black or Latino and a male who is sensitive or having more feminine qualities is considered weak (Jackson 112).
Feminist scholars such as Patricia Collins and Elizabeth Martinez argue that sexist attitudes are heightened in oppressed minority communities. Patricia Collins says that minorities suffer from “internalized oppression” and these further complicate the struggle for equality (Collins 28). Internalized oppression is instilled by the White dominant culture, and continually has a strong grip on the community (ibid). Through internalized oppression one begins to believe the negative images of one’s self and begins to act out those stereotypes. Elizabeth Martinez examines the Latino community and the idea of machismo. Martinez contributes the many years of imperialism for the sexism in the community (Martinez 41) Imperialism has erased many of the culture and has weakened the family (ibid). Latino men feel the need to express their masculinity in ways that can not only oppress the women in their lives, but also have negative impact in their own lives. The daily oppression of the Latino causes a backlash at home. Martinez comments that machismo has been used to further oppress the community because it drains the males in the community. They no longer have the energy to find against oppression (Martinez 43). The Latino male acts out his frustration in acts of exaggerated displays of masculinity.
This diminishes the work the male could do to fight against oppression. In both communities the divide and conquer strategy has been employed to keep minorities subjugated. While the men in the Black and Latino communities have their manhood chokehold by the dominant society, they in turn retaliated not against the dominant society, but against homosexuals, particularly gay men. Dyson observes that it is common to target groups that are more “vulnerable” (Dyson 115). In order to feel in control, Blacks and Latinos many times turn their frustrations on both women and gays.
The consequential backlash of racism against gays in the Black and Latino community can be very destructive. Homophobia in the Black and Latino communities is particularly harsh and the language in Hip-Hop lyrics is very clear that homosexuality has no place in its’ community. Take for example Public Enemy’s lyrics:
Man to Man
I don’t know if they can
From what I know
The parts don’t fit (Anthony pg. 587)
This is a fairly tame lyric, however it does question the validity of gay male sexuality. Now take for instance Eminem (a white rapper) lyrics from Criminal.
My words are like a dagger with a jagged edge
That’ll stab you in the head
whether you’re a fag or lez
Or the homosex, hermaph or a trans-a-vest
Pants or dress – hate fags? The answer’s “yes” (Metro Lyrics)
This is a blatant example of a violent reaction to homophobia in Hip Hop. In a video by Jap City, a gay man is chased down and harassed, beat up and thrown into the trunk of a car because he displays what the rappers in the song consider feminine qualities (Jap City). This violent reaction to what is perceived as feminine is distressing because it not only speaks volumes on the discomfort straight men have on gay male sexuality, but also their displeasure to women and their feminine qualities.
The term punk, gag, sissy or punk ass “Niggas” has become common verbiage in Hip Hop music (Dyson 114). Young rappers “battle” each other. A common practice during battles is to question your competition’s manhood or to call him a fag (Hurt). Mainstream artists publically engage in belittling their competition’s manhood. During a concert, 50 Cent questioned Ja Rule’s manhood by poking fun of a Ja Rule video that showed him crying, and claimed that this is what a “Bitch Ass Nigga” looked like (Hurt). A gay man is compared to a woman, therefore less then a man. Dyson contends that “the greatest insult from one man to another in hip hop (or beyond) is to imply that he is less than a man by calling him a derogatory term usually reserved for a woman or gay men: bitch, ho, punk, fag” (Dyson 114) Dyson comments that just like in society in Hip-Hop, it is customary to attack the most “vulnerable” and in this case it is women and homosexuals (Dyson 115).
Dyson also notes that Hip-Hop follows the nation’s conservative view of homosexuals. The right wing’s view of homosexuals agrees with the views of the black communities evangelical views of homosexuality (Dyson 115). In a study of those who disapprove of gay marriage it was found that 66% of White Protestant disapproves of gay marriage and 64% of Black Protestants disapprove of gay marriage and 81% of White Evangelicals disapprove of gay marriage and 79% of Black Evangelicals disapprove of gay marriage (Masci). In Bryon Hurt’s documentary on Hip-Hop the homophobic view of the black church is echoed.
The gay man is a sinner in the eyes of the church and cannot be a leader in the community (Hurt). Scholars such as Walter Wink observe that that homosexuality is a huge issue within the black church (Constance-Simms 76). Many religious leaders reference biblical text to condemn the homosexual such as Leviticus 20:13 which states “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” (Constance-Simms 77). AIDS has been seen as an appropriate punishment to the gay community for being sinful and against God (Constance-Simms 79). A homosexual is seen as turning away from God’s procreation plan by not engaging in sexual relations that may produce children (Constance-Simms 78). Wink argues that much of the anti-gay sentiments are drawn from misinterpretations from the bible (Constance-Simms 78-79). Wink also argues that many laws listed in the bible are no longer followed, such a not having sex during a woman’s menstrual (Constance-Simms 83). It is questionable as to why some of the laws listed in the Bible are completely ignored, but brief passages on homosexuality are highlighted (ibid). Homosexuality, specifically male homosexuality, is considered extremely sinful and damaging to the community. Since religion plays a big part in the Black community, anti-gay messages of the church fuel the intensity of homophobia in the Black community. These messages are then transferred to Hip Hop lyrics and are even more pungent then in other forms of popular music.
Dyson observes that there is a contradiction between the homophobia in Hip-Hop and homoeroticism. The same men who are overtly homophobic go to church ever Sunday and profess intense love for another man, Jesus (Dyson 118). Dyson says that their love of Jesus “supersedes their love or anything or anybody else. In some readings, that’s awfully homoerotic maybe even a supernaturally supported homoeroticism (Dyson 120).
Dyson notes the contradiction as supposedly straight men set out for sexual conquest of women, with their boys, such as “I hit it then my boys hit it” (Dyson 120). The participation of sexual encounters with women that involve other men, invite the notion that there is some homoeroticism in this act. The practice appears to be adapted by pornographic films that are popular among many Hip-Hop circles (Ibid). Tim’m West, a gay rapper also notices homoeroticism in Hip-Hop. He says that the sexual images of LL Cool J are not only noticed by straight women, but also by gay men (Hurt). In Hip-Hip male artists are willing to go shirtless and show off their bodies (Dean 22). Bryon Hurt then interviewed Emil Wilbekin a former editor of Vibe magazine and he explained that there is homoeroticism in Hip Hop that includes greased up muscular men. The half naked male with the sagging jeans fulfills the gay male fantasy just as much as the straight woman’s (ibid). This marketing strategy is not accidental (Hurt). It is questionable that the artists are completely clueless to who their images are marketed to. Many of the images in Hip-Hop magazines can also been seen in gay male literature and magazines. While Hip Hop lyrically abuses gay males, it has no problem with marketing to them to sell more records.
Men who are athletic and muscular are celebrated in both straight and gay circles. Men celebrate their camaraderie with other men by slapping each other on the butts (in sports) hugging and other forms of affectionate expression (Dyson 118). Hip-Hop offers a space for men to openly discuss their love for their male friends. Men in Hip-Hop speak quite openly about their for their boys (Dyson 120). They will live and die for their boys (ibid). The devotion that men in Hip-Hop show each other can be interpreted as a form of homoeroticism (Ibid). Homosexual men disrupt this arrangement and makes straight males uncomfortable (Dyson 119). The presentence of the gay male forces the straight male to question his own sexuality in these contexts and the straight male resents having to self-examine himself (Ibid). This reluctance to confront the reasons that the gay male makes him uncomfortable makes the straight male project his discomfort to the gay male. The straight male is then able to keep his close and personal interactions with his male peers without having to address the homoerotism aspects of those interactions. Kevin Powell, a Hip Hop historian, says that to create change it would require straight males to look at themselves and initiate that change and “redefine what manhood is” (Hurt).
In self-categorization theory people, people can act as individuals at the same act within a group (Sears 682). However people more pone to act political if they indentify with a group as opposed to on their own. (Ibid). Collective identity then supersedes the personality identity, particularly for a minority group. (Ibid) The collective identity is important to start political action to fight against oppression (ibid). Anything that appears to jeopardize this collective identity is considered threatening to the cause. B. Simon describes identity as ” a place in society (Sears 682). Personal identity may change but collective identity is more static (ibid). Situation may force individuals into collective identities (ibid). Oppression and racism is an obvious example. Racism forces minorities into a “collective identity”. The mere existence of the homosexual in the black community is perceived as threatening to the well being of the community. The black gay or lesbian is seen as a hindrance of the community and cannot contribute to the community. The gay or lesbian and not be a leader for the community (Hurt). In an examination of Hip-Hop, sociologist S. Craig Watkins notes that much of the “tensions” in Hip-Hop are drawn from “identity politics” (Wilson 118). Watkins notes that the Hip Hop Summits started by Russell Simmons only address race and does not address other issues such as sexism and homophobia (ibid). This ignores the diversity of the Black community and shuts out the voices of many in the community, including gays and lesbians (ibid).
Since a gay man or lesbian does not typically have children he or she is not considered as contributing to the community. The act of having children is important to many minorities groups as a way for survival. This is not a new concept; this has been the case since ancient times. Jewish tribes in the efforts to not die own, put in their laws regarding sexual behavior that would allow the greatest amount of opportunities to procreate. These laws included prohibiting men to masturbate since that would waste his seeds and homosexuality, since sex between those of the same sex cannot produce children. ( ) This idea of procreation is also expressed in some Hip-Hop lyrics. Take for example the following line from Nas’s song One Mic.
This is my hood I’ma rep, to the death of it
’til everybody come home, little niggaz is grown
Hoodrats, don’t abortion your womb, we need more warriors soon
Sip from the star sun and the moon
In ancient times many Jewish community condemned homosexuality as a pagan act and in trying to assert its’ own identity it rejected homosexuality (Constance-Simms 78). The Jewish community was concerned with being gobbled by the more dominant societies at the time. By creating it’s own laws that many times differ from the dominant culture, it was able to establish a stronger collective identity. The black community in trying to create a stronger front also rejects homosexuality as something foreign.
Hip Hop artists such as Busta Rhymes are convinced that there is no place for gays in Hip-Hop. Busta Rhymes maintains that Black culture does not condone homosexuality (Hurt). Not all Hip Hop artists feel this way. In an interview Chuck D responds to Busta Rhymes claim that there is no place for gays in Hip-Hop by saying simply tat just because you hear it in a documentary by does not make it so. (Chuck D) Music and the club scene and “performance” allowed a space for homosexual expression (Pinn 167). The homoerotism of the performance has widely been accepted a part of the show, since the beginning. (ibid). Early forms of Hip-Hop owe many of their stylistic choices to the gay community. Sugar Hill Gang costumes were a nod to the Village People and DJs used gay Disco as early beats for Hip Hop records (Anthony).
The black homosexual is forced to choose between two communities, the straight black community or the white gay community (Constantine-Simms 7). A person may have membership in different communities, such as the Black homosexual. However these two communities are often at odds with each other. Marlon Riggs his documentary Tongues Untied examine this problem. Riggs left his community to live in the Castro, a gay neighborhood in San Francisco. There he still felt left out. Even though he was in a queer environment, his race was made hi an outsider. However his sexuality left him an outsider in the black community (Riggs). This dichotomy of the black gay or lesbian lacked discourse until people such as Marlon Riggs voiced this problem. Greatly inspired by Marlon Riggs, groups such as PostAfroHomos and other black literary groups emerged (Wilson 117). These groups were greatly inspired by black feminists such as Alice Walker and Audre Lorde (Wilson 123). Riggs was particularly influenced by the writings of lesbian Black feminist Barbara Smith (ibid). These groups in the 80s opened up dialogue in the Black gay community that was greatly ignored by the gay white community (ibid). The writing groups would work closely with non-for profit groups and health organizations to try to approve the community (ibid).
A group of young artists met at a Stanford University music room. They were Tim’m West, Juba Kalamka and Phil LSP formed a “new cultural and political identity” which they called PostPomoHomo . (Wilson 117). The friends were deeply inspired by the black gay literary group PostAfroHomos who did spoken word on college campuses (Wilson 119). The PostAfroHomos challenged the idea that Black gay love didn’t exist (ibid). PostAfroHomos meant Postmodern African American Gay Men (ibid). PostPomoHomo means Post-postmodern gay men (Wilson 120). Tim’m West explained that PostPomoHomo signified a “shift in identity from the activism of black gay artists in the generations of the 1980s and the 1990s that preceded him” (Wilson 119). The name PostHomoPomo was recalling the earlier groups (ibid).
PostPomoHomo was created to dismantle the gay identity forged by the white LGBTQ movement that ignored people of color as well at tackling a larger anti-gay and sexist society (Wilson 120) gave a space for the gay Hip Hop group Deep Dick Collective to emerge (Ibid). Deep Dick Collective, or also known as D/D advocated activism and through their performances desired discourse on bridging the gaps between two supposing opposite identities, gayness and Hip Hop (ibid). In I am Tim’m West explores his many identities that includes his blackness and not merely his sexuality. While the chorus to I am says Love a Black Man to Infinity, the song really is not about the artist’s sexuality solely, rather it is a celebration of themselves in its various forms.
I am a Blackman
I am a Blackman you scared to clap for
I am a Blackman who likes metaphor
I am a Blackman who’s antiwar
I am I
and the Blackman that I am is quite sure
I am not pure
African fruits mixed with Cherokee juice
I am a black man with red clay roots
Arkansaw I am
Blackman speaking my I am
The diversity of identity is important to remember, because it was Deep Dick Collective’s ground work that laid down the foundation for gay and lesbian Hip Hop groups to form after them. In the documentary Pick Up the Mic, the various artists and their styles is explored. Dutch Boy, a white bi-sexual, is a popular Hip Hop artist and producer. Dreadlee on the other hand uses a thug persona and dresses in “Chula” clothing. (Hinton). Lesbian Hip Hop artist and producer Miss Money is less concerned with being known as a lesbian artists. She desires to allow her artists to have their own voice, and does not restrict the artist she produces, even when one of the straight artists uses the term faggot. (Hinton).
Male to male sexuality is a topic not avoided by many male gay Hip Hop artists. Rappers such as Johnny Dangerous go to the extreme to discuss his sexuality openly. His act is blunt and to the point (Hinton). The lyrics of Doug E from Deep Dick Collective on the song Ah Ah are
Waiting for a session
He say say say he straight I say I pimp pimp I wait
Till he reach for my zi-zip (Wilson 135)
In No Faggots allowed Dread Lee announces:
I know your kind I know your kind,
got a wife and a faggot on the side. (Hinton)
This is a common theme in gay Hip Hop narrative. Men who are closeted or are on the down low or the DL is frequent thing. While also known in the lesbian community, it appears to be more rampant for men.
Hip Hop artists like Dutch Boy and Juba Kalamka are not concerned with becoming mainstream. Kalamka advises that it would be difficult for a gay artists to become mainstream since marketing teams in record labels would find it difficult to market a gay artists. It has less to do with homophobia he reasons as much as a certain amount of laziness on the part of record executives. (Kalamka) Those in the industries currently do not disclose their sexuality publically since it may mean the end of their career. In his book Hiding in Hip Hop: On The Down Low in the Entertainment Industry, Terrance Dean talks about the many artists who live double lives. On stage they are the raging macho heterosexual, but in real life they are gay men (Timm 65). Many of these men engage in gay sexual relationships but refrain from exposing themselves to the public (Dean 22).
In the documentary Pick Up the Mic Kalamka warns fellow lesbian God Des to pursue an Ani DeFranco approach if she wants mainstream success. She on the other hand is convinced that she can make it as a lesbian Hip Hop artist. This proves to be a very difficult task. In the late 90’s an unsigned artist Caushun was promoted as a gay artist. However he later admitted that it was simply a persona he created. It started off as a prank, but he soon discovered that he could establish this persona and everyone would be talking about it. (Alston) His novelty did not last very long. The only mainstream artist to attempt to engage in a homosexual dialogue was Queen Pen in 1998 (Constance-Simms 337). The song Girlfriend, while never released a single, at least brought homosexuality into the Hip Hop spotlight. Dyson comments, “It was not surprising that the first to address homosexuality in rap was a woman” and that “the real thing is going to be when you get some brother coming out (ibid). There is a space for lesbianism because it is seen through the straight male gaze. Lesbianism is encouraged, since it pleases straight male sexual fantasies (Dyson 117). A female rapper then is not a threatening as a gay male rapper. A gay male rapper threatens sanctuary of straight manhood. It is an uncomfortable place for the straight male world. It would probably take a female rapper to come forward first, to be able to pave the way for others to be able to come out.
Even though completely ignored by the mainstream, the emerging Gay and Lesbian Hip Hop scene has helped return Hip Hop back to its underground roots (Hardy 124). Ernest Hardy points out that despite Hip Hop’s homophobia, it is Gay Hip Hop or Homo Hop that has returned Hip Hop to it “outsider roots”. This is what prompted Juba Kalamka in 2001 launched a festival called Peace Out. This festival allowed gay and lesbian artists from across the country to perform. The original festival was down in Oakland, California, though Dutch Boy did a Peace Out East in New York in 2004. (Sugartruck) The festival phased out in 2007 because it was difficult to finance (Kalamka). In addition Kalamka said that after the documentary Pick Up the Mic, many artists rushed to try to be the first gay or artist to be discovered and go mainstream. This hurt the underground Hip Hop movement and it became increasing difficult to get artists together for the festival (ibid).
However there are still gay artists creating records. Rappers such as Tim’m West started rapping, not because he wanted to become a mainstream artist, because he wanted to hear music that was friendlier to the gay community, and to be able to hear songs he could relate to. Tim’m West says, “I was tired of going to a club and being called faggot though the speakers” (Hurt). It is important to recreate your own image. Alice Walker said. “In my own work I write not only what I want to read but what I should have been able to read” (Collins 13). Using the examples of Black feminism for inspiration, a gay Hip Hop artist creates their own voice and their own image. They create music so that the next generation would have the opportunity to hear music from a queer perspective.
Terrance Dean, a man who has worked in the Hip Hop industry sees it as the music is slowly changing to allow for a gay artist to come out. (Dean 22). He says the men in Hip Hop are not unlike him, only seeking “acceptance and self identity in a male dominated environment full of ego and machismo” (ibid). However he still loves Hip Hop and has hope for it (ibid). If a woman could break through it could open the doors for other artists, however that would require the music industry to change. It would have to be open to different ideas and that is not the climate at this time. However if the underground Homo Hop scene remains vibrant it can still reach young gay and lesbians. With the arrival of the gay and lesbian channel Logo, it is increasing becoming easier to be exposed to gay and lesbian music (Kalamka). With Sugertruck.com the Peace Out festival history is closely documented. This was Kalamka’s vision. To be able to put everything down on record so future generations would know this is gay people making this music (Hinton). Kalamka saw what happened to groups in the 80s. After they passed on, many claimed they were in fact not gay. Kalamka vowed not to allow that to occur for this movement (ibid). Documentaries such as Pick Up the Mic are also essential in recording this movement.
With the Homo Hop or Queer Hip Hop the gay community can fight against the mainstream Hip Hops negative images of homosexuals. To challenge the mainstreams images of gay people is incredibly important for the fight for equal right. Music is an important part of that fight. Be reclaiming the music of Hip Hop, the gay community can stand up against oppression. By reclaiming the music, gays and lesbians can allow their voice to be heard, and create a space where the sexism and homophobia of Hip Hop and the larger society can be combated. It is a long struggle, but worth fighting for.
Alexander, Bennett Dr. Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence. http://www.terry.uga.edu/~dawndba/4500compulsoryhet.htm May 6, 2010
Alston, Tanisha. Ivan Matias: Hip Hop’s Secret Trapped in the Closet. AllHipHop.com http://allhiphop.com/stories/features/archive/2007/05/06/18137000.aspx May 8, 2010
Chuck D Chuck D reacts to Busta Rhymes http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126535148&f=1014&sc=tw
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