Is LGBT hip-hop the last taboo? Gay and transgender rappers speak out
Outside of rare instances the worlds of rap and homosexuality rarely meet — or at least so it appears on the surface. Queen Latifah recently headlined a Gay Pride celebration in California, and when President Obama changed his stance to favor same-sex marriage, “hard” artists such as Jay-Z, 50 Cent and Beenie Man echoed his sentiments. These were kind, if superficial gestures. Yet, the gay and hip-hop worlds have blended much more intimately for quite some time in the sphere of underground rap. TheGrio spoke with three gay, African-American hip-hop artists based in New York City — two gay men and one transgender woman — to discuss this cultural mixing.
A young rapper named Baron stressed to theGrio that rap culture and black culture are intertwined with gay culture through his personal experience. “I think that people tend to forget that hip-hop is a culture,” Baron said. “It was born in urban areas where people of all sorts of backgrounds and orientations come from, so to say that gay people aren’t involved is a misnomer, because we are involved. It’s part of who I am.”
“This is a very interesting time in America today in pop culture and in history,” a gay black rapper known as DDm added, who is relatively new to the New York scene.
“I’m a very brash individual. I’m from Baltimore City — I say that in every interview — and we’re very in your face. Especially being a kid that dabbles in ball culture. It’s tougher in a ball room than it is in a cipher. In a cipher, it’s nothing. Being in a ball room is way more intense and vicious.” This strength is helping him capitalize on what he sees as changing times.
“It’s kind of like the final frontier. With the president’s endorsement of gay marriage, it seems like the higher ups — I even saw an interview with Bun B of UGK endorsing it — people, the media, are very much in love with the idea of there being an out, gay hip-hop artist.”
Yet, Obama’s “endorsement” of gay marriage has not engendered universal love. African-American A-listers have lauded the president, but blacks in general seem staunchly unsupportive. Like the black church, rap is seen as an element that fuels homophobic beliefs.
Despite this lack of support, these artists do not blame hip-hop for homophobia. “No, no,” Baron said in response to this idea. “ I think the homophobia is a bit fabricated — only because it’s easier to sell a homophobic artist, because of the history of hip-hop. It’s money… [O]nce they find that package [that can sell] a gay rapper, the entire hip-hop industry will change. I don’t think hip-hop itself is homophobic.”
Foxxjazell, a transgender female rapper, disagreed. “I’m going to go out on a limb and say I do think it does come from hip-hop to a certain extent.” When she got started in entertainment as a teen in an all-male group, she was very “stealth,” as she put it, about being a transgender woman. She soon came out.
“I think it does start in hip-hop,” Foxxjazell said of homophobia, “because a lot of hip-hop fans, if they hear one of their favorite rappers over and over again talking about ‘fag this’ or ‘fag that,’ it’s going to be instilled into their head. A lot of people are raised by hip-hop culture.”
Yet, Baron does not believe hip-hop should be scapegoated for homophobia’s existence. “It’s roots are in American culture, in global culture. It’s not just hip-hop artists who are homophobic. There are quite a few other cultures that are homophobic,” he said. “I can’t take hip-hop off the hook for being a generator, but it all goes back to… self-hatred. There are gay hip-hop artists who say things that are detrimental to themselves, or other [gay] people, so it all goes back to… self-hating.”
Thus, big name artists who say negative things about gays are not harshly criticized by some out gay rappers, because often gay rappers in their scene do the same thing — indulge in homophobic lyrics as part of hip-hop’s “dis” aesthetic. DDm sees this homophobia in black gay hip-hop as a reflection of the self-hatred that exists in every part of black culture.
“I think the self-hatred goes so deep. This is one of the reasons why we have in our culture a pastime called ‘reading’ — very popular in the ballroom scene,” DDm explained. “Two people will tear down each other. [Other black people] call it the dirty dozens,” he added, drawing a parallel. “We tear down our own people.
“You can’t talk about the black hip-hop community without mentioning the black gay community,” DDm elaborated. “I think that gay culture is very self-hating, specifically black gay culture. There is a lot of psychological damage. You have these different subsets. The church queens suffer from a certain type of psychological damage that is different than anybody else. You have the ball room kids who are going through a whole different type of situation,” he said. “You have the DL guys. You have the guys that are in the closet.”
These splits lead to a lack of recognition of gay hip-hop artists among African-American gay men. “Being an out rapper — it’s just different in gay culture. They see us, but I don’t feel like it’s a consistent thing. So when they see us, they’re like ‘whatever,’” DDm lamented. “A new drag queen will get a standing ovation and more love than an out hip-hop artist will.”
Foxxjazell finds that her best gigs are often not through an African-American gay pride or black gay club. “They don’t see enough of us out there. I definitely venture into dance music as well. If I do dabble in dance music, it is definitely for the purpose of selling,” she admitted. “I’ve had videos on LOGO, on MTV. I know that if I need to have that type of product to present to MTV, I have to have that.”
DDm “outed” predominantly gay events that fail to support their brothers and sisters in rap. “What I have a problem with is — case in point — at these Prides, why don’t we ever get an artist performing who is hot at the time? Why are we booking — no shade — no tea, no shade — why are booking [artists like] Deborah Cox NOW? When they don’t have any hits? Why are we paying them, when we don’t pay an out rapper?,” DDm demanded. “They don’t really [support us] at those types of events. It’s like pulling teeth to get booked for them. And if you do get booked for them, they don’t want to give you anything. But if you are a drag queen, if you’re some kind of washed-up, coked-up R&B diva, oh they’re going to pay you. They’re going to fly you in. They’re going to have a hotel, and they’re going to be falling out [and] doing dips all out in the crowd. I’m really very irritated by that. It’s caused me to not concentrate so much on booking prides and gay events, because I get treated better in the hood!”