Monday, January 19, 2009

Gay Rap

Cazwell gets it "all over your face." And yes, he's talking about what you think he's talking about.

Jess and I saw Notorious the other night, and while the film itself was average, Biggie's presence and music fueled the drama and earned the viewer's respect. Even when he was sleeping around with women from photo shoots and abandoning his children (seriously, he does this at least twice in the movie), you felt for him as an individual and knew that he was a flawed yet gifted artist. Much of his appeal lied in his Biggie Smalls persona; "I love it when you call me Big Poppa," he would say, and women fell into his chubby arms. But what about gay rappers? Are they allowed?

Terrance Dean, a former MTV executive, recently wrote a book about the alleged secret gay subculture of the hip-hop community, but I'm not talking about shameful secrets. I am interested in the potential for a proud, gay rap culture that faces and seeks to answer the problems and paradoxes raised by the merger of genre and sexuality; hip-hop can be seen as an evolution of the urban alpha male, and as silly as it sounds, bitches and hos are seen as commodities greater in value than the largest chains or the most tricked-out automobiles. Can a gay rapper thrive--hell, survive--in a heteronormative world?

Ask Joseph Lee, aka Deadlee, that question. Hailing from Echo Park in Los Angeles, Deadlee is the leader of the burgeoning gay hip-hop scene. His lyrics acknowledge the seeming contradictions of gay rap; in one song, "Good Soldier II," he says a judgmental listener cannot claim to like him while hating his sexuality: "Hate the sinner, cuz I love the sin," he raps with a mix of steely nonchalance and angry defeatism. Moving to the East Coast, rappers like Bry'Nt are more explicit than contemplative, choosing to revel in their sexuality instead of challenging the assumptions it carries. And I must admit, it's rather thrilling to hear a rapper rhyme "gunshots" with "cum shots." (Later, he informs us that "even lesbians try to get a peek at the cock."

And it's sad, because these guys are talented but it's so naive to think that they have hope of achieving anything close to mainstream success; of all facets of American culture, hip-hop seems the least equipped right now to deal with the reality of homosexual artists. But I admire these artists for not hiding their true identities. I can't imagine that all of their peers are supportive; in fact, rappers like Deadlee had to come out twice, to their families first and the hip-hop world second. As someone who only had to come out once--to loving, supportive parents, at that--such a drawn-out process sounds like a tall order, and it's understandable that many gay people interested in hip-hop choose to stay in the closet, preferring to try for the easier route of rapping about girls and becoming the next big thing. Deadlee will (probably) never be the next big thing, but I do know that I want to see him perform. And I also know that I'm proud of the gay rappers who tell their stories and don't give a fuck about what anyone else thinks.

-Josh

1 comment:

LOLSAM said...

I saw Cazwell in Cooper Square a few months ago. He's hot.