Friday, Oct 21, ROBERT URBAN - guest speaker at Lehman College's HIP HOP CONFERENCE - day long conference starts 9am -

From the Streets to the Classroom: Conference Explores Hip-Hop's Global Impact Oct. 21 While hip-hop may have started in the Bronx over 30 years ago, its roots have since spread globally, influencing everything from art forms to social movements and politics. Over 40 scholars and practitioners will gather on the Lehman campus on Friday, October 21, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. for a conference that will examine the meaning and significance of hip-hop. Sponsored by the Department of Sociology and Social Work and the Sociology Club, the conference will provide an opportunity for dialogue between theorists and practitioners. Following the conference, a hip-hop based performance will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. in the APEX Dance Studio. This event is free and open to the Lehman community. Registration is required.

Lehman College – City University of New York
250 Bedford Park Blvd. - Bronx, NY 10468 - (718) 960-8015

Dr. Thomas Conroy
Department of Sociology and Social Work

 

 

 

Gay Male Rappers: Marketing and Identity

By Robert Urban

 

INTRODUCTION: Speaking from my experience as a musician, sound engineer, producer and music reviewer who has worked with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered hip-hop artists; I am presenting this paper to bear witness to the high artistic content and genuine "hip-hop" credentials of gay male rappers worldwide. They are part of a vibrant, growing GLBT hip hop scene, complete with it’s own loyal fan base, live performance venues, tours & festivals, GLBT owned record labels, CD distribution networks and record buying audience.

 

I will use excerpts from the lives and works of "out" gay male rap stars Dutchboy, Scott Free, soce, Saturn, Tori Fixx, Johnny Dangerous and Baron, to let gay male rap speak for itself. These popular queer artists from all over the U.S. are important social critics and observers of not just their own GLBT culture and establishment, but also of mainstream society as a whole.

 

Via the words of these brave & creative performers, hot-button social topics such as white/black relationships, inner city ghetto poverty, anti-gay discrimination, romance, homoeroticism, gay/straight conflicts and black on black violence are illuminated. Additional insights into gay hip hop are revealed in the new film about today’s artistically groundbreaking new Harlem Ball scene – Wolfgang Busch’s How Do I Look?

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Few current pop music styles elicit more diverse, emotional and conflicted reactions from gay male music fans than the phenomena of hip-hop. Many gay, bisexual and transgendered males love the groove, the attitude, the hyper-masculinity, the hot stars, the divas, the technology and the poetry of rap. Many gays can relate with rap’s social, economic, ethnic and political origins and commentaries. But many queers rightfully draw the line at the considerable amount of anti-gay sentiment present in the straight hip-hop community, including anti-gay, homophobic hip-hop lyrics by rappers such as Eminem and Beenie Man.

 

Although gay males have achieved some considerable levels of success, visibility and acceptance in other areas of mainstream popular music, they still remain somewhat of an anathema in harder edged, testosterone fueled branches of pop entertainment such as hip-hop and metal rap.

 

Regardless of unfair and unfortunate discrimination directed towards them, queer hip-hip artists persist. And in solving this dilemma, Art has done what Art has always done. It has divided itself - and moved forward. The once exclusively hetero art form of hip-hop has given birth to a movement of distinctly queer rappers, who in turn are grabbing rap by the horns and making it their own.

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Award-winning, Chicago-based gay white songwriter/poet/rapper Scott Free, fluent in many styles of music, has also triumphed in hip-hop. He has emerged as a kind of new Bob Dylan for not just queer culture, but for our whole modern age. Scott's astounding 2005 CD They Call Me Mr. Free includes numerous spitfire raps of terrifying intensity. Not only does he lash out at the straight world’s hatred of queers, but he also confronts self-hatred issues and hypocrisy within the gay establishment itself.

 

Scott can offer scathing condemnations of closeted homosexuality – as found in tracks like “When Queers Become Rock Stars”:

 

When queers become rock stars they turn straight /

they spit in our face and we take it /

their agents and managers say what they can and they can't do /

they tell them their candor will hinder their chances /

they'll lose all their fans so they stand back and rake in the cash 'til they get caught in a bathroom

 

In this excerpt from “Disco Divas”, Scott criticizes his own shallow gay culture that still prefers old school, superficial gay-stereotype female musical icons over new, rising, diverse and socially conscious real talent from with its own queer ranks. 

 

Disco divas sing at Pridefest to remind us we're second class citizens /

 disco divas sing at Pridefest to remind us that straight is better /

music should stay in the closet /

 it shouldn't be honest or it will lose all its friends.

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From Baltimore comes black gay funk-pop sensation Saturn. Saturn combines soulful, gospel-influenced singing and seriously original dance moves with his own brand of sexy, seductive rap come-ons. To experience this handsome rising star croon, rap, prance, vogue, charm and effervesce his way through a live concert is to witness perhaps the hardest-working gay man in show biz today.

 

Saturn's debut album, The Virgin Poet, received enthusiastic critical praise for its socially conscious and emotionally raw content. Check out this rap from the track “Angels in Flight”:

 

Walking the world with my rose colored glasses /

Making a note of everything that passes /

When all around me is destruction and sadness /

Pushing us all 2 the edge of madness /

I open my ears, I hear “nigger” and “faggot” /

 Shit, it's time 2 pull the trigger, I've had it /

 Open your eyes, punk, that's right I dropped u /

 What u gonna do now that a black mo' Got u? /

Why don't u try these? My rose colored glasses /

And maybe you'll see me in a different fashion

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No other artist has raised awareness of the LGBT presence in hip-hop culture more than white bi-coastal bisexual rap icon Dutchboy. Dutchboy is the also the founder and executive director of Phat Family Records, which he started in 1998 for all his musical, organizational and promotional activities around what he calls “Homo-Hop.”

 

Phat Family is made up of artists, writers and fans interested in exploring issues related to hip-hop music and culture; especially as they pertain to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender identity. It produces musical events like the upcoming PeaceOUT: 5th Annual World HomoHop Festival, in Oakland California this October 28-30th. The evolution of PeaceOUT and the lives of performers in the HomoHop scene are chronicled in the feature documentary PICK UP THE MIC which recently premiered to rave reviews at the 30th Annual Toronto International Film Festival.

 

What is Homo-Hop? In Dutchboy’s own words: “Homo Hop is one of many terms coined to refer to the growing presence and collective identity of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people involved in hip-hop culture. It is not so much a sound or a “scene”, as it is a particular approach to music, business and community. By identifying as Homo Hop artists, we testify that our insights and shared experiences as LGBT people are unique, valuable and relevant to our expression in this highly personal art form. Homo Hop shrugs aside the labels “out,” “closeted,” “queer,” and simply validates the experience of those who love hip-hop and are sexually different, regardless of how they might choose to identify in the larger society.”

 

Dutchboy offered me my first real introduction to gay rap while I worked as sound engineer on his Rainbow Flava album - Family Business in 2001. With its large and diverse all-GLBT cast of rappers, this 3rd album by the pioneering San Francisco-based group was the first hip-hop project to represent the entire queer community.

 

By being on-hand in the recording studio during Dutchboy’s many vocal takes and overdubs, I got a chance to observe this great rapper at work and to digest his intricate word-maps and complex ideas.  Through his phenomenal talent for vocal mimicry and impersonation, Dutchboy creates a different vocal personality to express each new tangent of thought he tackles, be it youth suicide, AIDS, repressive anti-gay laws, third world sexual politics, religion-based persecution of gays, bisexual-inclusiveness, co-gender inclusiveness, multiracial inclusiveness or society’s view of rap itself.

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Fresh outta New York City via Seattle, WA, with just about the freshest face on the gay hip-hop scene today, is young soce.

 

soce describes himself thus: “I am a rapper. My official title is Jewish, Gay White MC. I am the hip-hop Spellcaster…the Elemental Wizard. I am the male Lil Kim and the white Eminem. I make beats, I play violin, piano, I sing, I do it all, baby!!!”

 

And so he does. Soce can boast of two CDs, I’m in My Own World (2004) and Dream Da La Dream (2003), plus three film documentaries that feature him, and his own animated music video. He offers up hot, melodic sounds mixed with street sensibility and humor, plus a dash of something completely unexpected in rap - passionate homosexuality and a winning smile. Once they get over the shock, listeners grasp that he’s also layin’ down some seriously tight joints.

 

My own first time at seeing and hearing nice-jewish-boy soce was a stunner. At a packed show in NYC he swaggered out onstage and burst into a disarming, irresistible rendition of his infectious gay rap anthem “I Am So Gay.”

 

Soce’s crowd-pleasing fun gimmick of alternating between lurid verses and a silly, no-brainer refrain had the audience of mostly white queers and straights (not exactly your typical call-and-response gangsta crowd) chanting his hooks aloud with complete abandon. Here are a few lines:

 

I am a homo. That's what I do. / I'm feeling kind of hot. What's up with you? / You wanna suck my dick? You wanna ass fuck? / But never sixty-nine. That number is bad luck. I REALLY AM SO GAY.. I REALLY AM… I REALLY AM… I REALLY AM SO GAY.

 

soce can also display a serious side to his easy rhymes, as in his song “Feels Good (Dirty)”

 

This goes out to those who player hate and /

Make into debate the fate of those who date /

The same sex, because the train wrecks the main set /

So, stay in check. Player, respect the game deck.

 

With his charming goofiness, onstage charisma and uncanny aura of comfortableness – soce is poised to become the good-will ambassador of gay white rappers to audiences everywhere.

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From Minnesota comes black gay hip-hop artist Tori Fixx’s with his latest, award-winning CD, Marry Me – rich with thoughtful social observations.

 

The CD’s title is also the name of its opening track “Marry Me”. With its angry, strong, “in yer face “out” lyrics, it is a rap anthem for the defense of queer love, gay marriage and personal freedom.

 

Considering how oppressive the prevailing political climate in this country is towards gays and their lifestyes, this is a very timely and important release. As Tori himself says, Marry Me is an album of the moment, capturing the mood of a country in turmoil over people's private lives

 

so muthafuck mister president / fuck our society / and the constitution / baby won’t U marry me? / fuck all the politics / religious folks and hypocrites / loving U is all eye need / baby won’t U marry me?”

 

Tori’s rage over political and moral attacks on private lifestyles continues in track 2 - “Y Does it Matter?”

 

 “tell me how is any 1 affected cuz eye say eye do /

while U punish people 4 believing differently than U /

living differently than U /

and apparently its true cuz now U wanna add laws to support your sick values /  as U pass this ignorance onto the children /

using scripture scare tactics / calling everything a sin”

 

In addition to being a prolific recording artist, Tori is also a busy music producer and popular D.J. Self-taught in songwriting producing, by high school he was making his way as a DJ. His hard work paid off: When only 19 years old, Tori was awarded an appointment as personal DJ for none other than the artist formerly known as Prince. 

 

 

Self proclaimed “homo hip-hop head of controversy”, Minneapolis-born, Chicago-based emcee Johnny Dangerous drops celebrities’ names, spins salacious yarns and hurls snotty invectives unlike no other queer hip-hopper around. As his website proclaims, he prides himself on being “openly honest, boldly truthful and downright crass!”

 

Johnny’s debut album, Dangerous Liaisons, was released  in 2003. He has headlined numerous gay pride festival performances across the U.S., and has been featured in the film documentary, Hip Hop Homos.

 

In creating just the right touch of decadence for his album, the simple, almost generic sounding hip-hop background grooves help instill a kind of low-budget porn feel to the carnal tales Johnny weaves. Half of the songs appear to be rapped during one kind of sex act or another, and virtually every sex act possible between two men gets some treatment here. If ever there was a soundtrack for a gay male version of “Girls Gone Wild” – this CD is it.

 

Johnny claims Salt-N-Pepa and Lil’ Kim as two of his main influences. "I found Salt-N-Pepa’s music to be so raw, aggressive and insanely powerful. Lil' Kim's No Time really triggered something in me," he remembers.

 

Like one of his idols, Will Smith, Johnny Dangerous likes to rap via the telling of stories. And also like Will Smith, Johnny talks with an unassuming, self-deprecating humor and a breezy bouncy style. Johnny can recall a lurid sexual encounter in the same easygoing manner as The Fresh Prince’s uses in his own 1987 pop-hop hit “Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble”.

 

An album full of such bawdiness might come across as mere banal vulgarity were it not for the considerable amount of laughable wit Johnny manages to inject into nearly every line of his lyrics.  Like a kind of gay Benny Hill for the homo hip-hop generation, Johnny offers up a relentless stream of lewd trash talk that eventually piles up on the listener’s ear in a silly, fun and harmless way. 

 

Check out Johnny’s Dangerous Liaisons track “Celebrity Fucker” for a hilarious romp through one gay man’s sexual fantasies with a whole A-list of straight male MTV Hollywood type hunks.  “Topsy-Turvy” - a bona-fide pop gem, states flat out in graphic terms what the Diana Ross disco classic “Upside Down” only hinted at.  Although far too racy to ever make it to commercial airplay, this track has become an underground hit in college dorms and on radio everywhere, with both straights and gays.  In his CD’s opening track “Not Black Enough”, Johnny pays his rap dues straight out; boldly tackling and even deconstructing the race issue in a way that is truly unique unto himself. This guy can use sexual logic to pull the rug out from under anything.

 

One can find a mini autobiography of sorts for Johnny Dangerous in his rap “ME NO WAN DAT” -

 

A lot of you think that I'm a sick twisted fag

You think I give a fuck or two, Ha-Ha

You sittin' with your legs crossed, clutching your throats

But in reality-your panties are soaked

Cuz you hear me say the shit that you wish

You had the balls to say, but can't-YOU LAME BITCH

I'm shittin' on you faggots, the ones who stay hating

The ones who dragged my name through the dirt and kept waiting

For me to fall off, but yo-Johnny's a fighter

And blowing out my candle won't make yours shine brighter

I'll pull an all-nighter, to wipe out the frauds

The ones who think they're cute, but more bitchy than broads

I should be appraised for the shit I voice

And if you disagree, well-your choice

But just like you, I've got a choice too

And my calling has been sent to send these fuck you's! to you!”

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Tall, slim and handsome black rapper/poet Baron, (blessed with an equally handsome speaking voice) mesmerizes audiences with his articulate delivery, quit wit and dramatic flair for words. 

 

On his spoken word CD Troubled Man  -Baron first creates the characters in his poems, then acts them out to listeners. He spins his eloquent raps in the first person, often in a confessional manner. In each track he self-describes a different character – be they gay lovers, hustlers, victims, braggarts or philosophers, etc. - and speaks directly to us from their experience. Baron is a rapper poet who can place himself (and thus place us listeners, too) directly into the immediacy of his many created characters’ emotions via his considerable acting ability and fluent oratory skills.

 

Listening to the cuts on the appropriately named Troubled Man is like wandering through a gallery of dramatic, darkly lit, pathos-laden dreamscapes. In track after track, Baron’s hopes for life, love and a better world rise – then are dashed – rise again – dashed again - on and on.  With a painful resilience and resolution, he struggles, through his spoken words, to overcome the harsh realities of being both black and gay; of living in inner-city environments; and of anti-gay discrimination within the black community.

 

Track 2 on Troubled Man – “Cuz ur Beautiful” is arguably the CD’s breakaway metal/rap crossover hit single.  In the pop-music sense, it is for Baron what “Walk this Way” was for Run DMC or “Cult of Personality” was for Living Colour.  It’s a hybrid style in which catchy vocal hooks alternate with fuzzed-out heavy guitar riffs. In Baron’s case, the words are especially relevant to straight African-American men, coming as they do from his own perspective as a gay black man. 

 

brothaz I love you, openly

which is the only way I know how,

 but I fear you sometimes

we get so caught up in the what’s supposed to be wrong

and not the what’s right

and what’s right is loving you

so I take your punches against my cheek

because loving you is all I can do

 

we in fact do share the same skin and

cutting you will only make me bleed

and we’ve already been lynched once

and just because I shake your hand

it doesn’t mean I’m scheming to be your man

 

and just because I smile at you

it doesn’t mean I'm trying to get into bed with you

brothaz I love you, openly

because you’re beautiful

 

In the poetic track called “Gray”, Baron masterfully creates an almost unbearably tragic scenario. It is a tale recognizable to any gay person who has experienced discrimination. His voice mourns the death of a beloved friend - apparently murdered - a victim of anti-gay violence.

 

Highly original, and with its own modern American, inner-city queer sensibilities and slang, “Gray” is nonetheless on par with the finest poetic lamentations in western literature. Baron’s rich use of stark metaphor’s; his ability to “be in the moment” and to hit primal nerves; his eulogizing as if he’s the keeper of some great oral tradition - is downright Homeric.  In listening to this piece, I was reminded of several great elegiac monologues from ancient Greek tragedy, including Achilles’ inconsolable grief for his fallen lover Patroclus in the famous funeral oration from Homer’s Illiad.

 

I recently asked Baron about his hip-hop poetry as I attended the 2nd annual Homo Hip-Hop Poetry Jam here in NYC. Hosted by Baron, and featuring a stellar cast of spoken word and hip-hop artists from all over the U.S. this show has already garnered 4 performance arts awards.

 

Baron told me: “Hip-hop, in its purest form, is a leading source of inspiration. Hip-hop allows for a mastery of word play, language, and culture. To be able to get your message across, an artist has to communicate creatively while maintaining a rhythm and a certain style. Contrary to popular belief, hip-hop isn’t about the “bling”, it’s really about the craft. It’s how words create an image or an emotion when put together.

 

He continues, “My major thought for younger rap artists is to use their art either to heal themselves or others. Growing up in an urban environment, dealing with discrimination within the black community, created my purpose in performance. I perform distinctly with the intent to combat stereotypes and prejudices within our community. Through spoken word/hip-hop, I’m able to relate the frustrations of our society while connecting to a greater audience. Since my beginnings, I’ve made wonderful friendships and had great experiences that have changed minds. My straight friends say they would have never thought we’d have something in common”.   

 

In Baron, this listener senses not only poet-laureate potential, but also “hip-hop laureate” eligibility. And I wouldn’t be surprised if somewhere down the road Baron produces the first great epic poem of our new century.

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The worldwide popularity of the Harlem ballroom scene first hit its peek in the early 1990s with Madonna's hit single and ubiquitous video "Vogue," in 1990; and continued on through Jennie Livingston's 1991 documentary Paris is Burning. This first-of-its-kind film featured “stars” from the legendary drag queen “houses”, whose urban center “balls” occurred regularly in the 1980's. The houses were comprised of “families” of gay men organized and run by "mothers" or "fathers" who oversaw "children".  They offered a socially protective and artistically nurturing environment for creative inner-city gay and transgender youth who often had nowhere else to go. 

 

It was around this time that German-born filmmaker Wolfgang Busch began to film the then underground, inner-city events known to insiders as the “ballroom scene” and/or “vouging”.  The sheer volume of performance and interview footage he has filmed over the last 9 years for How Do I Look is staggering.

 

Veritable foster-home fantasy-factories for queer inner-city youth who could only dream of fame, social status and stardom, many houses were named after high-fashion designers who in reality existed a universe away.  Legendary “houses” like Givenchy, Versace, Cavalli, Balenciaga and Prestige offered a safe refuge where “families” could design the clothes, create the moves and ultimately enable the absolutely fabulous/vicarious world of their dreams to come into being.

 

I can remember seeing the startling Paris is Burning and being struck by the fact that an inner-city subculture so impoverished, so disenfranchised from mainstream America, so bedeviled by homophobia, drugs, prostitution and AIDS; could rise up and bring their dream world of fabulousness to life – even if only as some kind of wishful play-acted hallucination.  If ever there was a testimony to the indomitableness of the human creative spirit; to persevere and even thrive beyond all odds, it was evident in the lives of these mostly gay and transgender men, whose vision and sheer will transformed an otherwise typical bohemian drag queen existence into a brand new hyper-creative art form.

 

Once I saw the first working scenes from Wolfgang’s documentary, I was even more amazed at how much the relatively simple, posed moves of original 1980s era “voguing” had evolved into the frighteningly complex and daring dance/runway/movement art form of today.  Terms like “exotic”, “futuristic” or even “fierce” don’t even begin to describe the bodies that parade, gyrate, contort, and “dip” down the runway during a ballroom event.  The costumes are even more fantastic. What break-dancing did to all forms of dance before it; what hip-hop did to all forms of music before it – so too the new generation of ballroom “children” are re-inventing, re-assessing and mutating all the attitudes, looks and postures of everyday modern humans.

 

In competition categories like "Executive Realness", "Femme Attitude", "Sex-Siren Effect" and even “Butch Queen Realness”, ballroom contestants perform a kind of outrageous, twice-removed-from-reality take on self-presentation (as in “strike a pose”), impersonating different social classes, sexual orientations, genders, (and as primal as it sounds), even different modes of basic human existence. 

 

As noted by Guy Trebay in NY Times fashion article of 5/22/05, “Mordant social commentary has always been at the core of the voguing balls, and long before academia institutionalized the notion that gender and social status is performance, the ball children were tartly making the same point at elaborate fetes where competing groups vied to outdo each other at caricaturing the masks of sex, wealth and power”.

 

And the craze is growing. No longer relegated to inner-cities, the new ballroom generation is flourishing all across the U.S. – even in the heartland. The House of Ultra-Omni alone has branches in 10 states and the culture has spawned numerous websites, webzines and newsletters.

 

Pre-release screenings of HDIL, including its effective HIV/AIDS prevention and outreach segment, have already been shown at the prestigious schools like Yale and Oberlin, the HIV Forum at NY University for Black History Month, the Minority Task Force on AIDS, the Hetrick Martin Institute (home of the Harvey Milk High School), the Latino Commissions on AIDS and numerous segments of the African American business community.

 

Students at universities and high schools who’ve seen HDIL screening are writing about the film in school projects and thus helping to keep the legacy of “Ballroom” culture alive.

 

The How Do I Look film soundtrack is an exciting gay music compilation unto itself. Wolfgang purposely included song and music input by hot, openly gay musical artists (including many gay hip-hop stars) such as Dutchboy, Scandelle, Tori Fixx, DJ Relentless, DJ Naughty Boyy’s, Deadlee, Harmonica Sunbeam, Shane, Johnny Dangerous, Truly and Kevin Aviance.

 

Among the film’s many stars are dancer Jose Xtravaganza ("Vogue" choreographer for Madonna), who recounts his experience making the famous video); Octavia from Paris Is Burning, who addresses the transgender experience and Luna Luis Ortiz, who effectively talks about AIDS prevention and of his own experience of contracting HIV at the age of 14.

 

As filmmaker/activist Wolfgang Busch sums it up, “How Do I Look was also created to empower the Ballroom community. This community is one of the most creative and hardest hit HIV/AIDS communities in the GLBT spectrum, yet it receives no financial support from governmental institutions and politicians. How Do I Look is being used as a tool to create HIV/AIDS awareness, bring the Ballroom community together, gain artistic and human respect, and to improve the quality of life of community members”.

 

I have known and worked with Wolfgang Busch for the last five of his nine year movie-making odyssey.  In my capacity as his film’s music talent scout and soundtrack audio engineer, I’ve been able to observe how the visually and musically stunning How Do I Look film celebrates the 35 year old predominantly gay Harlem "Ball" culture. By capturing our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender artistic and social history, it provides queers everywhere with the opportunity to promote and celebrate our heritage, culture and arts.

 

Thank you.

 

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