"Homophobic lyrics in black music are more powerful than the religious Right is in middle America" (Roulette 42), according to director Isaac Julien, whose films Looking for Langston and Young Soul Rebels have provocatively explored aspects of black homosexuality. This British artist of color tackles homophobia in the black music industry and its contribution to the growth of anti-gay violence in The Darker Side of Black, a documentary feature scheduled for limited U.S. release in 1995. I can't wait to see it. Given my own daily doses of Court TV, Oprah, and The Bold and the Beautiful, I have contemplated murder myself. Could I enter a plea of not guilty if I blew Buju Banton's brains out with a pearl-handled revolver? Could I, like the Menendez Brothers last year, try to convince a judge and jury that I was acting in self-defense? After all, hasn't Banton threatened me and ordered my death? I mean, I'm an African-American faggot of modest visibility, your honor. It was either me or him.
The controversy surrounding Banton and the homicidal content of his lyrics left the gay community outraged and disgusted: Why were we again being singled out as targets of hate and violence by a member of another oppressed minority? Gay rights activists and music critics have often dissected the homophobia rampant in the lyrics and attitudes of some successful hip-hop artists, while feminists remind us that misogyny has remained an element of the music. From the crass objectification of women in the video imagery of performers like Shabba Ranks to . . .
Uh, pardon me if I'm mistaken, but I vaguely remember a dispute in the not-too-distant past concerning one W. Axl Rose and his "disturbing" lyrics. Come to think of it, I don't recall white rock 'n' roll as ever having been exactly homophile. The androgyny of its youthful high priests has always warned: "Look, but don't touch . . . or I'll smash your face, you fuckin' fag!" Rock 'n' roll, here to stay, was once the domain of straight white boys - strutting, stroking their long lean guitars, and Gary-U.S.Bonding. No girls allowed, except to scream and swoon, and certainly no sissies. Rock's flirtation with queers glittered and faded in the seventies, when glam stars like Bowie and Lou Reed teased us with their alleged bisexuality, only to renounce eyeshadow and cocksucking in the eighties. And as for "rock 'n' roll niggers," anyone who takes r 'n' r seriously must be aware that it is the bastard, middle-aged child of rhythm 'n' blues and rockabilly. Of course, that's a polite way of describing it. Some would maintain that it's simply a bastardization of rhythm 'n' blues, a lowdown, hit-and-run hijacking of "black" music by the "white" entertainment industry in search of a teenage craze.
If the African-American antecedent of the music is the pure, essential form of the commercialized product, it stands to reason that the cock in rock is going to be that much cockier in hip-hop, New Jack Swing, or ragamuffin. Male "black" music has always shot straight from the dick: It's always been decidedly sexual and, at its best, completely sensual, which is also why it's constantly created the hottest dance music. Furthermore, "jazz," "funk," and even good ol' "rock 'n' roll" are all idiomatic expressions for the sexual act or physical manifestations connected to it. This sexual energy, as expressed by the heterosexual African-American man (and his sisters), underscores every wave of "non-threatening" (i.e., commercial and mainstream) rhythm 'n' blues, from doo-wop to soul (Philly, Motown, what have you) to disco to one of the ancestors of hip-hop, the "romantic" rap, as performed by Isaac Hayes and Barry White in the seventies.
Sexual ambiguity has long been the province of the heterosexual vocalist, most notably R&B stylists. A falsetto loverman (like Motown's Eddie Kendricks and Smokey Robinson) is allowed to cry and wail about his feelings, and a throaty belter (like Mavis Staples, Gladys Knight, or Tina Turner) can be bossy or aggressive; in both cases, the singer teases his or her audience by adopting the "voice" of the opposite sex. …