"Hey hey, he gay, he gay...ok."
The final words of Sacha Baron Cohen's 2009 satirical masterpiece Brüno are wonderfully rapped by Snoop Dogg; if only 'the gay thing' elicited a similarly simple shrugged-shoulder acceptance from the rest of the hip-hop world. Then I might not be in my current quandary.
In this brief self-imposed bump n' grind hiatus I'd like to reflect on something that's beginning to bug me: Does my hip-hop love make me a hypocrite?
Hyper-masculine hip-hop has been notoriously and heinously homophobic. Buju Banton wants us shot. Sizzla wants us burnt to death. And Beenie Man wants us, at the very least, seriously injured. Yet, a growing number of gay men, like me, are embracing the hip hop world. Why?
I really should know better. I spent almost four years working for Stonewall, Europe's largest gay equality campaigning organisation. I even worked there while we lobbied, successfully, to outlaw incitement to homophobic hatred. In plain English: to stop people like those named and shamed above from encouraging violence against gay people. And rightly so.
But not all hip-hop is the same. It was the very medium of hip-hop music that Stonewall used in their anti-bullying DVD for schools FIT to demonstrate, rather poignantly, that hip-hop is not owned by homophobes. The film was written and directed by the genius Rikki Beadle-Blair. In his new feature film adaptation of his play Bashment, Beadle-Blair explores how hip-hop homophobia can lead to violence through a white gay rapper as the protagonist.
I asked Rikki why there's a growing gay love for hip-hop and he identified three clear, concise reasons: "It's the voice of oppression. It's highly homoerotic. And it's increasingly less homophobic."
One of the reasons I adore hip-hop is its exploration of language. The clever puns, rapid rhyming couplets, blink-and-you-miss-it word-play and give-a-toss defiant attitude set to an insistent beat means that every time I listen to the same hip-hop track, I take something fresh away with me. Rikki's right: this is the soundtrack to defiance of oppression. Yet, with its all-too-frequent homophobic overtones, it contributes to oppression elsewhere.
Intriguingly, both the hip-hop world and the gay community have historically developed their own vernacular to defy common enemies: the law, the police and traditional, conservative society. Rap patois and Polari (British slang parlance popular with 1960s gay subculture before being gay had been de-criminalised) both have their own exclusive lexicons. It's ironic that this has led to chasm rather than solidarity - but this may now be changing. Rikki Beadle-Blair suggests that the similarities between the gay and hip-hop communities are finally bringing these two worlds closer together: "Many Gay men and the (mostly) black or working-class performers of hip-hop have cross-overs at stereotypical levels: The need to balance society's contempt by obsessing on masculinity; sexual potency; consumerism; looking strong and buff and displays of bling. They are cousins - and this is being gradually recognised from both sides."
Hip-hop's new and growing following of gay men come together once a month at the huge south London gay hip-hop night Bootylicious. I'm a regular - and I asked promoter Thomas Muket why the night is going from strength to strength: "Being gay has become more acceptable within the black, minority and ethnic communities and this in turn has contributed to a normalisation within the gay community towards MOBO music."
Anti-gay hip-hop may not be as blatant as it once was. But the bitter legacy still exists. Mainstream artists like Kanye West have bravely spoken out against homophobia, yet he still casually drops in the offensive, paranoid disclaimer 'no homo' into his rap on the recent Rihanna and Jay-Z track Run This Town.
You won't hear the violently homophobic tracks played at Bootylicious; their music policy avoids the biggest bigots. Muket says: "Nowadays you're less likely to have major artists rant and rave about 'battyman fi dead' etc because we took them on and fought back. The consequences of the negative PR for people like Buju Banton has had a lasting impact. It's simply more bad than beneficial for artists to tout their macho homophobic credentials. And the new generation of artists is just a little more relaxed about these issues."
Of course, it's not just my gay equality credentials hip-hop conflicts with. As a feminist, I equally despise hip-hop's rampant sexism. It's something leading feminist commentator and fellow hip-hop lover Julie Bindel has also struggled with; she says of Snoop Dogg: "He has a voice like honey dripping on rose petals, he raps like a demon - and he pours out his bile all over women." Hip-hop is no more owned by homophobes than it is by misogynists: listen carefully to the lyrics of the grand-matriarch of hip-hop, the insanely talented Missy Elliott. Her rapping puts into action feminist theorist Hélène Cixous's écriture féminine for a mainstream audience.
The pink pound and the hip-hop dollar are now goliaths in mainstream society. Both communities have strutted proudly out of their respective ghettoes - and they're inhabiting a space that's closer together than ever before. So I can go back to guilt-free bumpin' n' grindin' at Bootylicious. Now will someone please turn Missy up?
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