You Say You Want a Revolution? Music Critic Ernest Hardy Looks at the World of Gay Hip-Hop and Spies a Golden Moment for Mainstream Domination
Hardy, Ernest, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
"If y'all love hip-hop, make some muthafuckin' noise!" barks 27-year-old Shorty Roc (his mama named him Devalle Boone) as he takes the stage at El Cid Mexican restaurant. The L.A. crowd, sparse and tentative, rewards him with a few tepid nods. The slim and handsome Shorty has the unenviable task of getting the party started. But this is no ordinary party--it's fraught with meaning beyond "throw your hands in the air and wave 'em like you just don't care."
Tonight is day 2 of the 11-day, 10-city HomoRevolution tour, a first for LGBT rap artists. In a year when brand-name music festivals like Coachella and Rock the Bells are top heavy with A-list performers and fleshed out with indie darlings, the HomoRev tour similarly pulls together a who's who and who-might-be from the spectrum of homo-hop: Miss Money, Deadlee, Tori Fixx, Julie Fucking Potter, Salvimex, Shorty Roc, Foxx-Jazzell, Johnny Dangerous, QBoy, Bigg Nugg, Mz Fontaine, and more. The line-up fuses races, rap styles, and gender presentations. And ironically, given the homophobia that courses through the culture, the homo tribe returns hip-hop to its outsider roots.
"There is a place for intelligent, loving, conscious hip-hop from a group of highly talented people," says San Francisco's 29-year-old Julie Fucking Potter. "Minorities speaking their truth and putting it in your face is exactly how hip-hop started."
Hip-hop culture is now mainstream culture; status quo. Much of the language, cadence, and flow of words and bodies, of ideas and politics that permeate the worlds of fashion, music, advertising, TV, and film are rooted in hip-hop culture and its primary vessel, rap music. But as hip-hop went pop, strapping on the knee pads for big daddy capitalism, it often lost sight of its origins. Record-label money and "artists" with nothing to say have boosted the most conservative and reactionary aspects of hip-hop because that's what dovetails profitably with the misogyny and homophobia found in mainstream America.
But hip-hop's original core was about creating a place for the marginalized to voice their realities and fantasies, to kick serious shit and frivolity alike. Before MTV, BET, and Clear Channel perverted the form, hip-hop's outcast nature was its point of connection for disparate devotees and artists, including gay folk. Look at the relationship between hip-hop and queer artists Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, whom gay rapper and hip-hop historian Juba Kalamka calls "seminal [hip-hop] figures, our graffiti foundation."
From the blistering social commentary of Grandmaster Flash's "The Message" to the SugarHill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," rap music and the larger hip-hop culture for which it was the soundtrack, was equal parts resistance and celebration of self from those redlined to the margins.
"The first rap record I heard was, 'Rapper's Delight,'" says Shorty. "It was an immediate love affair with hip-hop. It expressed so much when I was coming up--fashion, style, struggle, fun, slang, dancing. It was our everyday life."
Back on El Cid's stage, Shorty wins over the growing crowd with his R&B-drizzled, club-oriented tracks, including the requisite gay rapper song that ponders whether big-name rappers "get down." (Objects of speculation and adoration in this case include 50 Cent, Snoop, Ja Rule, and Ludacris.) He ends his set with an almost dazzling rip on shady people: "Dat Shit Ain't Right." The rapid-fire delivery shows he needs to work a bit on breath control. With more performances under his belt, he could be a real contender.
Next up is Potter, whose material lays bare her Bay Area politics. "If I must claim a culture," says Potter after the show, "I claim San Francisco culture. I will boast about this city with my dying breath. There is something we have figured out here: Coexist, be who you are, follow your dreams, give generously, and love with every part of yourself. …