hip hop music

March 18, 2004

Gay Hip-Hop: Can the Subaltern Spit?

Terry Sawyer with a must-read on hip-hop and homosexuality:

Queering the Mic

"The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House"
– Audre Lorde

"My words are like a dagger with a jagged edge
That'll stab you in the head
Whether you're a fag or lez"
– Eminem

The Lorde quote has always haunted me for both the way it sears open an entire realm of truth to power and the ways in which it's clearly too pat; particularly when the master's tools are the only things lying around. In hip-hop, this quote seems to run on a loop in my head as I watch video after video of consumer gluttony gone bling with women just one more thing to accumulate.

Don't get me wrong, I love hip-hop. For someone enamored with language the way I am, there's nothing like the pleasure of listening to a genre where words are minted by the minute and meaning gets telegraphed to your booty through lexical stunts of brilliant rhythm. But I got issues. Even the margins of hip-hop are plagued with Promise Keeper views of women and tedious dependence on the crutch of homophobia. (e.g., Not two minutes into the latest MC Jean Grae, we're treated to diss all of the "faggots" who don't tremble in her path.) It's worse listening to the mangling explanations which come forth, that usually end by illuminating the fact that they're not just really calling someone a homosexual, but doing so with a back handed gesture of sexism. I guess this means that the categories of gay and lesbian has become a toxic waste dump for leftover bigotries that can no longer be expressed in polite company.

The energies of prejudice can be impacted into gays because there are still several socially acceptable rationalizations for the hatred. Still debating our existential validity, just recently given legal permission (at least partially) to be who we are, queer folk still operate as frighteners in public debates where religious psychotics still reign over a major political party and forge their selves and sense of mission from the number of freedom pyres under their belts.

Talking to gay artists about their sexuality and art can be a tricky task. Every time I do it, I'm confronted with the low-grade hostility that emanates from a human who feels caged and constrained by a label. Nobody wants to drag around such an oppression nametag as a point of entry for recognition. It's the same burden African-American artists struggled with and, in many cases, have largely overcome through ubiquity. Saying "gay" rapper, comes with an undercurrent of stooping as if to say "Oh, look dear" or "My, my, what a surprise."

Having wound my way through the house of a thousand caveats, I still set out to find out whether or not Lorde's axiom holds true for queers, and whether or not GLBT people could make countercurrent inroads in a genre deeply invested in keeping them as a place holder on the bottom of the totem – just below "yo mamma" slams...

Posted by jsmooth995 at March 18, 2004 5:35 PM

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