Vp Issue 10: "'I Gotta Story to Tell': The Queer Hip Hop Scene Grows Up"
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[Originally published in Vp issue 10, 2005, by Paradigm and photos by Sophia Wallace]
It seems that everybody these days wants to write about queer hip hop or queer hip hoppers. Whether it is the new channels showcasing gay and lesbian content, hip hop magazines looking for the “gay” rapper, or mainstream gays looking for a way into understanding rap culture, the queer hip hopper is a fascinating subject. I’m a queer artist—I rap, sing, write poetry, act, and compose. I am part of a movement of musicians, scholars, emcees, poets, photographers, writers, thinkers who are in the process of world-making. There were no hip hop shows that featured drag kings, punk-rap fags, “gangsta” fags and dykes, bohemian homo poets, so Juba Kalamka created Peace Out, a festival of queer hip hop. There have been subsequent Peace Out festivals in New York, Atlanta, Portland and London.
Queer hip hoppers have followed in the tradition of lesbian singer-songwriters and started their own labels, community events and word-of-mouth collaborations. But don’t get it twisted, these artists are very serious about their work and their art, with many touring, appearing on television and in magazines, getting the attention of major label executives and producing an album a year. But why do they do it? What is their music contributing to the world? Why this subculture of two subcultures (hip hop and queer)? In mainstream scholarly work about the homo in hip hop, almost no attention is paid to the performances of these artists. In his article “Homies in the ‘Hood,” Tew Swedenburg points to the limits of mainstream rap’s tolerance of queer presence. Swedenburg states, “Hardcore, street-authentic rappers relentlessly push a form of masculinity that Marlon Riggs dubs black macho…who is counterpoised to the sissy/faggot.” And although Swedenburg is sympathetic to the gays being “dissed” he knows of no openly gay [mainstream] rappers. Queer hip hoppers step in to speak for themselves instead of simply being talked about. Brooklyn-based rapper, Shorty Roc sees no conflict between his sexuality and his environment. He is not far removed from the streets. He says, “Hip hop is the language of the streets and that’s what I represent and that’s where I came from.” These rappers break down this idea that the “queer” in hip hop is only in hip hop to be dissed.
The queer hip hop scene is international. There are budding communities in