Former Chairman of the Conservative party Norman Tebbit has sent shockwaves through the world of hip-hop this week with his outspoken comments about the dangers of having "a queen who is a lesbian".
Ostensibly a warning about the possible consequences of legalizing same-sex marriage, Tebbit's remarks have been widely interpreted as a barely veiled attack on the Grammy award-winning rapper and actress Queen Latifah, whose sexuality has long been a subject of rumour and speculation. According to an unnamed source with close ties to both the Conservative party and Def Jam, "Tebbit has never forgiven Latifah for moving away from her hip-hop roots in favour of mainstream Hollywood success. He's a purist, I suppose. Like most Conservatives."
But the former MP for Chingford did not always feel this way. When Latifah signed with Tommy Boy Records in 1989, he was initially impressed. During a late lunch at Chequers, he was overheard to remark of Latifah's debut album All Hail the Queen: "That bitch is legit. Her flows are off the hook. Word is bond."
But Tebbit reportedly became disillusioned with Latifah after she was cast as Matron "Mama" Morton in the 2002 film adaptation of the hit musical Chicago, and was particularly scornful of her portrayal of Ellie the friendly mammoth in the 2006 animation Ice Age: The Meltdown. "What the fuck does she think she's playing at?" Tebbit was heard to remark at the time. "What's so ghetto about a fucking mammoth?"
Political commentators believe he is now using the issue of same-sex marriage as a platform from which to denigrate Latifah. Many claim that his apparent homophobia is simply a cunning ruse to mask his true intentions. After all, he has numerous gay friends, his budgerigar Fernando is gay, and a man matching Tebbit's description was photographed at the 2011 San Francisco Gay Pride Festival.
But this is not the first time that Tebbit has employed his mastery of subtext to pour vitriol on the hip-hop community. His speech at the 1992 Conservative party conference attacking the Maastricht Treaty contained subliminal criticisms of Ice Cube's sudden departure from N.W.A., a move which Tebbit maintained was unforgivable. The speech was littered with anagrams and acrostics through which Tebbit maligned Mr Cube's solo efforts, and even went so far as to suggest that his performance in John Singleton's film Boys N the Hood was "laboured and wooden". It is rumoured that Mr Cube wrote a response in the form of a diss track entitled Punk-Ass Tory Be Frontin', but the track was never released due to possible repercussions.
"Tebbit is feared in the industry", says one source who refuses to be named. "He can make or break an artist." Indeed, as a long-standing aficionado of American hip-hop, Tebbit's influence on the genre is well documented. It was Tebbit who persuaded Busta Rhymes to adopt a stage name, feeling that his real name (Trevor Smith) was too reminiscent of an ageing librarian with a penchant for tweed duffel coats. It was Tebbit who allegedly orchestrated the East Coast / West Coast "rap war" that dominated the scene in the late twentieth century, with the help of a few strategically dispatched carrier pigeons. Furthermore, in 1992 Tebbit was accused of ghostwriting Dr Dre's track "Deeez Nuuuts" from the album The Chronic. It is difficult to deny that lyrics such as "floss you like a motherfucker, clownin' their shit / Gots the Dana's on your hootie and your fly ass bitch" have Tebbit's signature all over them.
"Tebbit's like the puppet master," says one anonymous colleague of rap superstar Jay-Z. "He's been playing us like fools for years." With any luck, Queen Latifah will now take up the gauntlet and put an end to his provocations once and for all.