Thursday, December 21, 2006

Alice Walker interview in the Guardian

From the interview by writer Sara Wajid:

I tell her people are still fascinated by her love affair with the singer Tracy Chapman in the mid-1990s. Moments earlier she had said firmly but politely that she didn't want to answer any questions about her family life. (Her daughter Rebecca, from her marriage to Levanthal, published a frank memoir in 2000 in which she criticised the self-absorption of both parents after their divorce.) So I was surprised to see her face light up at the mention of Chapman. "Yeah I loved it too. Absolutely."

For the rest of the interview, click here

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Dreamgirls: From the stage to the silverscreen

      One night, a chartered bus picked us up and drove to Century City, where a special surprise awaited us. As we pulled up in front of the Shubert Theatre, exclamations of “No way . . . No way!” rocketed through the bus. The marquee read: Dreamgirls. And it starred the original Broadway cast. As my eyes bugged and my mouth fell open, Jose asked me, “What’s Dreamgirls?” But even he got swept up in the excitement, quickly realizing that this was a very big deal. All the young Negroes on the bus, including some of the most old-moneyed, nose-in-the-air/stick-up-the-ass ninjas ever born, were jumping up and down in their seats.
      It was the summer of 1983. I was between my junior and senior years in high school (Cass Tech, in Detroit; alumnae include the O.G. dreamgirl herself, Diana Ross) and was chosen to be part of a program to expose supposedly gifted minority students (read: black and Latino) to the world of business through college courses. The hope was that at least some of us would consider a business major once we went on to college. I was assigned to UCLA, and given a dorm at Rieber Hall and a roommate from Texas named Jose; he was so gifted he was already taking premed courses. By day, droning professors did their best to prove how unsexy and uninteresting the business major would be. When we didn’t have classes, we did the tourist thing: sightseeing in Chinatown, cavorting on Venice Beach, going to museums, eating in amazing restaurants. Corporate sponsors footed the entire bill.

For the full article, click here

Outing the Gay Rapper...


      A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a link to a Myspace account (since deleted) that had been set up to expose "Caushun, the Gay Rapper" as a fraud. The person behind that Myspace account never gave their name but, in full CAP-LOCK fury, spilled very credible dirt on how the person known as Caushun is a fraud, a puppet with strings being pulled by someone else... and can't even really rap. I had to chuckle. It confirmed my suspicions.
      In the year 2000 I interviewed "Caushun" by phone (me in LA, him in NY) and found him funny, quick and smart, even if a lot of his shit didn't quite add up and was contradictory. As time went by, I started to suspect that the Caushun I had on tape (and who'd sent me a demo CD that I still have somewhere in my apartment) was not the dude I much later saw on TV spots and in magazine articles. Voice was different. Energy was different. He didn't seem as quick and assured. And I had to laugh out loud whenever he called himself a homo thug. There are true homo thugs walking the planet, dudes for whom Omar (from "the Wire") is a mirror image. The Caushun being sold to the public was not a homo thug. (Then again, to be truthful, neither was the guy I spoke with.)
      The italicized intro below, just ahead of the interview I conducted, explains a little more about how and why the interview never ran. That intro and interview were going to be in my book, Blood Beats Vol. 1, but the nightmare of sorting shit out, of figuring out who is who / who did what, proved to be too cumbersome, especially since I was in LA and the parties involved were all in New York. And since I already had another piece on gay rappers in the book, my publisher and I took a pass on this can of worms. I also didn't want this likley case of fraud to be the shit that splatters and is used to in any way discredit the many gay and lesbian rappers who are genuine with theirs. Their struggle is hard enough and their fight for credibility tough enough that having the most high-profile "gay rapper" turn out to be a fake seemed an unfair burden with which to saddle them.
      I've recently been contacted by someone very credible who filled me in on the real life behind-the-scenes cast of characters in this drama. But my not being able to see these folks myself, in the flesh, to put faces, names and voices together, makes me still hold out doubt as to what is really truth in this mess. Below is the article as it was going to appear in my book, including the italicized intro, if we'd had the time, resources and patience to confirm what has now been made public.


The “Caushun” I interviewed for this piece and the “Caushun” who eventually garnered MTV coverage and profiles in magazines such as Vibe are two different guys. The one I interviewed, and who sent me a rough CD demo of his work, is the one who first made a name for Caushun on New York radio and started the buzz on “Caushun, the Gay Rapper.” But at some point early in the game a behind-the-scenes switcheroo was pulled, with seemingly only the marketing plan and moniker staying in place. I was originally put in touch with the Caushun I interviewed through an industry source. About a year or so after I’d done the interview and the LA Weekly had taken a pass on running a piece on "the gay rapper," my source casually informed me that the guy I had on tape and the person then-currently known as Caushun were not one and the same. When I tried to call the publicist with whom I’d coordinated the interview, his cell number was now someone else’s and the home phone number I had for him was now answered by a woman who, in thickly accented English yelled, “__________ don’t live here! I wish you muthafuckas would stop calling.”
      Similarly, both the office and home numbers of Caushun’s manager, with whom I’d spoken via phone a few times, were disconnected. Even though this Florence Ballard / Cindy Birdsong switching renders the “official” gay rapper fraudulent and irrelevant on a lot of levels, and although a lot of what he says within the interview doesn't quite track, the “Caushun” I spoke with had enough worthwhile insights that I decided to include him here.





      The quest to out the gay [male] rapper, by progressive and reactionary voices alike, has often resulted in a blind eye being turned to the presence of undeniably queer bodies already residing on the hip-hop landscape. Butch women, whose sexualities have been snickered about, whispered about and impugned but rarely honestly addressed, have long been accepted (albeit, often begrudgingly) on the hip-hop scene. Their hard, swaggering personas paradoxically reiterate the notion that hip-hop is a game of dick & balls, no girls allowed. They’ve validated the culture’s macho prerogative at the same time that hyper-femme video hos have been used to frame and feed that same “It’s a man’s world” politic. Which is why, for all their accomplishments, even artists as accomplished as Salt & Pepa, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah and Lauryn Hill are still shortchanged or dismissed by a lot of so-called “real heads.”
      But for a long time the gay b-boy existed largely in myth, rumor and vicious innuendo because no flesh & blood representative stepped forward to claim that reality. And when that figure did emerge, he did so initially (and somehow fittingly) from pop-culture margins: The novels and essays of E. Lynn Harris and James Earl Hardy, the hip-hop porn oeuvre of Brooklyn-based XXX director, Enrique (Off Da Hook, Aprende) Cruz.
      In recent years, though, the gay b-boy and his issues have been asserted in a variety of spots. Nightclubs have catered to that specific clientele (here in LA, there’s been Boy Trade and the crowded basement floor of Jewel’s Catch One dance club); rappers like P.M. Dawn’s Prince Be and Bay Area-based Michael Franti (both of whom are tellingly relegated to the fringe of hip-hop culture) have been vocally pro-gay in their work. And rap music videos – while typically exploiting lesbianism for hetero-boy titillation – have quietly started slipping non-bashing gay-boy imagery in the mix. The video for Eve’s “Who’s That Girl” single featured not the typical Chorus Line-gone-thug back-up dancers, but unabashed sissies shimmying on the sidelines, adding humor to the clip through their “whatevah” attitudes of indifference to the choreography and providing sly subtext to the song’s title. Not to mention that Outkast’s most recent video (“So Fresh, So Clean”) features a bling! bling! queen cheesing in the crowd.
      More important are the slivers of recognition being afforded actual gay rappers and posses such as Oakland’s D/DC and San Francisco’s Rainbow Flava. And Katey Red, a New Orleans-based transvestite who wants tits but not a full-on sex change, has been officially proclaimed “The Gay Rapper” by both the New York Times and XXL magazine.
      And then there’s Caushun. The 23-year-old rapper has been given the unqualified support of Star and Bucwild, the most popular deejays on New York’s Hot 97 (the country’s biggest hip-hop station) where he’s free-styled and won over even a few harsh non-believers. Caushun bills himself as The Gay Rapper and is working overtime to make the title pay off. Smart, funny and armed with his generation’s belief that market-savvy is destiny, he’s currently working on an EP that he hopes to shop to Madonna’s Maverick label, among others. On the surface, it’s all good. Dig deeper and the reality is somewhat trickier.
      Caushun is a bundle of contradictions. He wants to assert gay pride through his music but adheres fiercely to the adage, “Please don’t scare the straights.” At one point in the following interview, he dismisses the thug mentality that has infected hip-hop but he’s also trying to use it to build his own persona. His press kit refers to him as a homo-thug and in one of his lyrics, he describes himself as “[the] illest homo-thug out the N-Y-C.” It’s that last item that is most problematic. As fucked up an entity as it is in so many ways, the “thug” is a powerful, potent creature in modern rap culture. To scale back some of the myths that surround it and reveal a gay boy would be earth-shattering (at least for the more “special” riders of the cultural short bus) on many levels. It would be depressing and redundant on so many others. So it’s ironic that Caushun is so very not a thug, despite how he’s selling himself. His manner of speech, his references and his style of humor are much more in line with the traditional/stereotypical swishy gay boy than with that creature known as the homo-thug. On one hand, that’s a big disappointment. (Though it does point up the whole drag aspect of “thuggishness” to begin with.) It’d be bust-a-nut-worthy to have a gay Onyx, DMX or Method Man. (Quiet in the peanut gallery.) It’d be even better to have a faggot Mos Def.
      But Caushun actually wants to be the hip-hop equivalent of RuPaul or the Village People. (See his statements below.) There’s nothing wrong with that. But that’s not even close to being the homo-thug he proclaims himself to be. A rapping sissy would be earth-shattering in his own right and, if he’s actually any good, definitely worthy of support. But that particular manifestation of faggotry would also conform to expectation and stereotype, maintaining existing comfort zones – and ignorance – for the hetero crowd that may or may not embrace a gay rapper who has crossover dreams. It’s a little surprising that as sharp and insightful as Caushun is on so many levels, he’s oblivious to his own non-thug energy and to the mixed messages that he sends out.


EH: The media has really become obsessed with gay rappers and queer hip-hop fans in the last few years. Has anybody gotten it right?

Caushun: I’ve seen a few of the articles that have been written on gay rappers and gay hip-hop fans, and the media’s take on all this, so far, has definitely been one-sided. It hasn’t been a fair representation. They haven’t talked to a wide enough range of us.

One problem is that the media has gone out of its way to make the case that white boys are entitled to hip-hop culture but are completely baffled that black and Latino kids who are also gay or lesbian would be into the music…

We grew up with it first-hand because our brothers rhyme, our uncles and cousins rhyme. Our sisters’ boyfriends rhyme…

Your sisters rhyme.

Exactly. So we grew up in the environment, we get it first hand. The way that the white community sees it is totally second-hand. We get it first-hand, raw. We have the same influences, we’re in the same hood, walk through the same projects, see the same things. We’re influenced by the same exact things as the straight boys.

What’s been the response to your music?

I’m overwhelmed by the response I’ve gotten so far. The heterosexual hip-hop community, the guys on the street that listen to hip-hop, are quick to say, ‘I don’t necessarily care for the content but you have flow and your beats are hot; I have to give you props like that.’ It’s definitely time. Everybody understands that when you go to a hip-hop video shoot, you’re gonna see a homosexual – whether it be the director, the grip, whoever’s doing the make-up or hair, you know what I mean? It could be the extras, the artists themselves.
      I do hair now, and I work on a lot of hip-hop videos. And every shoot I’ve been on, there’s always been at least two or three other homosexuals there that were into hip-hop. We worked on the Ghostface Killah shoot, you know what I mean? My friend Eric Archibald – who is very openly gay – I mean, he put Nas in a pink Paul Smith suit and Oliver Peoples shades for the “Street Dreams” video, you know what I’m saying? A homosexual presence is felt at every hip-hop video shoot and throughout the whole culture. When you go to concerts, you can’t help but look out in the crowd and see, yeah, there’s five females – fag-hags – and there’s a homosexual right in the middle jumping up for the same rapper. You can’t deny it.

I saw the Making-of for the Ghostface Killah video and it was very obvious that a gay hand was pulling all those images together. I’m curious though – what was the response of the rappers on the set to the presence of very obviously gay folk?

That’s the thing – they are so supportive because they trust us. It’s a two-sided thing, actually. When it comes to something like hair, make-up, styling – they totally give us respect. It’s like, this gay guy knows what he’s talking about and I’m gonna listen. It’s already embedded in the minds of the hip-hop culture that homosexuals are trend-setters so they totally give us carte blanche when it comes to that. The proof is in the pudding – four or five years ago, you could have never gotten a guy in a full-length mink to call themselves a playa or a thug…

So, ghetto fabulousness is just gay at the root and queens had a hand in shaping that aesthetic?

Oh absolutely. [Laughter] I have a friend who did a video with Outkast and he had a big fight with them because he wanted to wear a three-quarter, fur Gucci coat…

He wanted them to wear it?

No, he wanted to wear it because he was in the video with them – he was singing [lip-synching] the hook or something – and they were like, “Naw, are you crazy?” That was back in the day when [Big Boi and Andre] were still doing very conservative hip-hop styles, kangol-to-the-side and such. He wound up wearing it anyway but they didn’t talk after that. Flash forward five years later, and Outkast has gone waaay out there. Hip-hop has evolved and homosexuals totally have carte blanche now.

But does that carry over beyond gay boys doing hair and make-up?


I think now is that time. I mean, I compare it to the Eminem thing. We’ve had white rappers before, but not a credible one. Now that we’ve gotten over the hump of the credible white rapper, I think people are more willing to accept the fact that a credible homosexual rapper may actually exist – especially considering the underground buzz. Everybody knows that there’s three, four, or five homo-thug rappers brewing. And at least two or three are already famous but we don’t know their sexuality status. It’s an underground thing, but I think now people are willing and ready to push that envelope.
      You know, we had the Village People at one time and then RuPaul. Now it’s time for a new representation of the gay community in modern music. And that’s through the gay rapper – whoever that may be. And it will be a novelty to some extent unless the rapper has lyrical credibility, as with Eminem. I also think that they’re only gonna allow one through the system – much like Eminem where we have the one credible white rapper. [His success] doesn’t mean they’re gonna let the flood-gates open for white rappers. I think the same thing will be true with gay rappers. They’ll let one through that they deem credible and the rest of them will just be wannabe/knock-off versions of that, at least in the public’s eye.

Let’s back up and get some basic biographical info on you. What’s your real name?

Jason.

Just Jason?

Yeah. [laughs]

How old are you?

23.

Where were you born?

In New York. Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn.

Where’d you go to school?


I went to Fashion High School and I actually went to a Muslim elementary and junior-high.

How long have you been rapping?

I’ve been listening to hip-hop since I was a child, but as far as myself rhyming, it’s been about four years.

Why are you labeling yourself the gay rapper as opposed to just being a rapper?

The idea behind the rap game is supposed to be this “keeping it real” mentality. I intend to test the community to see if they’re true to what they’re saying, because if they are, then there has to be room for a person like myself to rhyme. I should be able to – according to what they’re saying – be myself, keep it real. My ability to rhyme should be the basis of how I am judged. I fully intend to remind the hip-hop community of what they claim. And I intend to remind them how much discrimination sucks when you’re on the other side of it.
      The hip-hop community has been discriminated against in many ways and sometimes it’s easy to forget. The way they criticize and scrutinize the whole gay community, it’s another form of the discrimination. It’s like how black rappers claim that white rappers get preferential treatment – that they get better press, better promotion, better marketing. And to a large extent that’s true. Well, it’s the same principle with me – why should I be pigeonholed and forced to perform at small gay clubs or underground gay events if I’m truly credible? I think the problem that’s gonna happen is that 99% of the gay rappers that are coming out now are not actually lyrically credible or gifted. That kind of dilutes the entire thing. After it’s all said and done, after you’re the gay rapper and everything, you can do one of two things: You can either be taken seriously or you can be shoved off and pushed to the side as a novelty that happened at one point in time.


I think that what’s going to happen with the gay rapper, especially a black one, is rooted in the thing that has been true for black folk historically. White folk can be mediocre and still fall up in life but if you’re black you have to break your back just to register on the radar. I think that’s going to be especially true for gay rappers.

Exactly. I’m actually really surprised because I thought I was gonna get a lot more opposition than I’ve gotten. The worse response I’ve gotten from any heterosexual male has been, “I’m not really with what you’re rhyming about – that gay shit – but you got flow; you stick with yours.” And ultimately that is what’s going to keep me in this game. You know, I’ve heard two of the other supposed gay rappers and the content is just not there. That’s why I’m glad I have Hot 97 and Star and Buckwild backing it, because I wanna make sure that the wrong one doesn’t come out and make it bad for everyone. Because the wrong style, it’s anything – it’s so subtle – if the gay rapper has the wrong look, an unappealing look to the heterosexual community, it could just totally ruin the marketing of the whole thing. There has to be a fine line between everything – the look, the music. It has to be radio-friendly yet hip-hop credible. The lyrics have to be credible from the door. You have to be saying something at the end of the day. The records that I heard that the other gay rappers are putting out are just based on shock value. You have to have more than shock value.

In your opinion and life experience, are the hip-hop and black communities more homophobic than mainstream or white America?

Well, I think hip-hop, being a predominantly black and Latino culture – ethnic groups are a lot harder on sexuality than white people. That’s just my opinion. A white man has a real big parameter of where he can go and have it be okay. I think black culture is harder on that. I think ultimately blacks and Latinos don’t really have a problem with sexuality, but what it represents is another dagger that can be thrown at the culture by outsiders.

Well, it just goes back to that fear of what will white folk think and will we look weak or emasculated in their eyes according to their definitions of manhood – which which we’ve co-opted and fed steroids.

Exactly. Every neighborhood has the local homosexual, the one that is openly gay. Then you have the ones that are quiet and the others that are just rumored to be gay. It happens in every neighborhood. It’s everywhere. I think the hip-hop community at this point is like, if we’re gonna let a white boy through then we might as well hear what the homos have to say.

Earlier you said that the wrong “gay rapper” blowing up would do more damage than good. Have you battled any other gay rappers?

I wouldn’t battle another homosexual rapper. I would, but that’s not gonna do anything for me. My credibility lies in my being able to hang with the heterosexual hip-hop community. My battling another gay rapper is entertainment to the public, but it doesn’t really do anything for either of our careers – we’re just two gay rappers having a cat-fight. Ultimately, my goal is to bring credibility to the gay community through hip-hop. I’ve always been around music and I’m very much a perfectionist; I don’t like to half-step on anything. Like I said, I do hair and I’ve done everybody from Jennifer Lopez to Lil’ Kim. I’m around people that are perfectionists and demand perfection, and I very much approach my music in that way.

Do you think that the fact that you are a hairdresser is simply confirming a gay stereotype?

Oh, it’s a total cliché. A total cliché. And initially, yes I thought that. But now I think that’s what makes it better. If I gain respect – if any gay rapper gains respect in the hip-hop community – it will be a moment in hip-hop history that will never be forgotten. In twenty years, that artist will have VH-1 calling them to recount this era. My being a hairdresser is ultimately beside the point. You just really have to be tight and know the game, know your craft. At the end of the day, it’s only gonna be one, and I already know this. Being a hairstylist is all the better because if I gain credibility as a gay rapper, then that breaks down that particular stereotype even more. It is a stereotype, yes, but at the end of the day if I can break down that stereotype, all the better.

How did you hook up with Hot 97?


Well, I have a friend who’s a songwriter and he knows Star and Buckwild. I was rhyming some stuff to him and he told me that they should hear it. So, I called up one day and I rhymed for them and they were like, ‘This is bananas; we wanna get you on the record’ – they have an album coming out and they wanted me to do a track on the album. My track is called, ‘Oooh, Who That Be?’ It’s very cliché, but the other side of that is, while having clever lyrical content and a hot beat, you can’t be too serious or you turn people off. I have to definitively let them know that I’m a homosexual, but I can’t challenge the heterosexual hip-hop community’s sexuality. If I came out and totally looked like a thug, that would totally turn them off; it would scare them. In my first single I tried to combine a credible lyric with a hot beat and an element of comedy. When you hear it, you don’t get mad, you’re just more like, ‘I can’t believe he just said that.’ As opposed to a reaction of, ‘Oh no this homo is not trying to be more real than me.’ We’re not trying to test the listener’s manhood.

How do you feel about the whole down-low phenomenon? I ask that because I feel like you might actually connect more with a certain segment of the straight hip-hop world than you might with gay heads who don’t want any association with anything actually deemed gay.

I feel what you’re saying and I felt that way initially, but the homosexual community is very grateful, and they know what a difficult feat it is to gain respect from that thug on the corner who’s reciting Nas lines. If any homosexual, whether they are feminine or masculine, defies that system and makes it easier for them to walk down that street everyday, the gay community will be grateful. I don’t see them as being ungrateful.

I didn’t mean that they’d be ungrateful. I think that for a large section of the gay hip-hop audience there’s still a deep element of fear or self-hate or something else at work. I think the down-low homo-thug thing is, for a lot of people, another kind of closet. Not for all, because there genuinely are gay folk who are thugs and ruffnecks or what have you. But the down-low thing seems to be a kind of drag as protective armor.

Yeah, there are different levels of it. You have the homosexual who is trying to perpetrate the heterosexual lifestyle. Then you have the bisexual guy that genuinely does like females but is attracted to males as well. And then you have – and this is my favorite – the guy who totally has a girl or a baby’s mama in his life and considers himself totally heterosexual when he’s also involving himself in sexual activities with a man. He’s thinking, this is just an experience or I’m not gay, he’s gay. Men that consider themselves heterosexual sometimes have weird ways of coming to that conclusion, you know what I mean? It’s really, really weird.
      The misconception is that men in hip-hop are not in touch with the feminine side of themselves, and that’s what makes them so abrasive and harsh or what have you. That is absolutely not true. The problem is that we as minorities have a competitiveness and judgmental nature with our own people, with ourselves. So, the [hardcore] front is not for the next man, it’s for the next men. We have a theory in New York – in Brooklyn, especially. If you wanna talk to a heterosexual guy and you’re gay, if you wanna get at him, you never do it when he’s in a group; you do it when he’s by himself. No self-respecting quote-unquote heterosexual man is going to respond to a courting action if he’s with another guy.

That theory is far from new – or limited to Brooklyn.

[laughs] Well, you take that same theory on a bigger scale, and you realize why the hip-hop community is like it is. It’s because all these other men are perpetrating the same man’s man image as you are, they’re surrounding you, and it’s not acceptable to be the one to say, “Oh, that homo’s cool.” But as time passes that will change, you know what I mean? I mean, Will & Grace is a hit show – and don’t think that black and latino audiences are not watching these things. You got Angie Martinez on Hot 97 shouting out Sex & the City – me and all my friends watch Sex & the City.

Well, that show and Oz are the gayest things going right now. Sex & the City is so much gayer than Will & Grace will ever be.

Yes! Oh my God! Every shot in that show is like a trip to Barney’s. You throw on $18,000 worth of clothes just to go to the corner store for a pack of cigarettes! And then with Queer as Folk on Showtime – if you stop and pay attention, almost every show on television now has a gay character or some joke with a gay overtone; it is written in the script of every show, even down to the new cartoons that we’re watching. There is gay humor everywhere. Society is ready now. That’s the bottom line.

But that’s also why you have such backlash and rising hate crimes. Not that people should cower or not be themselves, but we also have to be smart enough to gauge real progress from superficial, and to be braced when those who feel threatened rise up and attack...

Yes, but anything that’s different is always gonna be met with opposition. You’re not gonna please everybody with anything. But I think at the end of the day, when it’s all said and done, the right campaign with the right rapper can set him up as the next RuPaul or Village People. And if the person is smart, they can politic it into something greater than just a handful of gay lyrics limited to one period in time.

What are you working on right now?


All this stuff that I’m working on right now is completely independent of any label. I’m just working on getting some radio spots across the country. We’re doing a photo shoot now, putting together a 6-track EP that we’re gonna send out to different record pools and gay clubs across the country. To have a song out and not have a deal, I have to work really fast. Ultimately what I want to do is build up enough buzz – and by the way, I bought the rights to thegayrapper.com and we’re working on getting that site up – but ultimately my goal is to get it to Madonna, to her label, Maverick. That’s who I’m gonna be courting to do my deal with and I wanna make sure I have enough stuff to really win her over. She understands the gay community, she knows the whole gay scene. She knows the pop market – she’s a marketing genius. And ultimately, I think she’ll be able to walk that fine line between the gay community and the straight community. I just wanna get to her, but build up enough buzz first so that I don’t even have to explain the concept to her, she’ll already know what it is.

What’s the status on the EP?

We just sent some stuff over to Brinsley Evans to do some remixes.

Really? Brinsley is brilliant, so underrated.

Yeah, he’s doing the House remixes. Then we have the original version, an a cappella, and an alternate hip-hop mix. The title is “Ooh, Who Dat Be?” Also, I wanted to let you know that our website is going to have all sorts of information on the gay hip-hop community and list all the different gay rappers in the community. It’s not gonna be so much Caushun-based as it is on the larger community. I want to give it more of a broad perspective rather than just limiting it to being about Caushun.

I wanted to ask you, very quickly about a quote that ran a couple of years ago in the Village Voice when they did a piece on Homo-Thugs and someone was quoted as saying, “It’s okay to be gay in the hood but you just can’t be a faggot.” What do you think of that comment.

That comment applies everywhere. It’s not okay to be a faggot anywhere, really. I mean, there are places where it’s tolerated, but it’s not necessarily embraced. Like I was saying before, if you’re a hair-stylist, a make-up artist or a clothing stylist, then you have carte blanche to be just as feminine as you wanna be but society at large isn’t feeling that. I have a theory. I always say that nobody loves a faggot. People will accept a homosexual but nobody loves a faggot. A heterosexual man wants a heterosexual woman and vice versa. A gay man wants a homosexual man or a straight man. That’s what they desire. Nobody desires a faggot. That’s just how it is. A faggot, by society’s definition, is someone who is defined simply by their sexuality.

And they’re effeminate or feminine, which is a degraded state of existence in a misogynistic and homophobic culture. I think that’s more the issue. No one has a problem with a straight guy being defined by his sexuality. It’s not even thought of in that way. It’s not given thought at all, which is part of the problem.

That’s true. It’s a Catch-22 because back in the day it was like, if you’re gay I don’t even wanna know about it. Today it’s like, if you’re gay, don’t be too gay… but I wanna know. I wanna know what I’m working with. It’s like a double-edged sword. You have to walk a fine line as a homosexual because you can easily be tossed into that faggot community. I equate the word faggot with the word nigger in that they’re both used within their communities but if someone outside the family uses it, then it’s like, Clutch your pearls, I can’t believe you just said that. If someone calls your sister a bitch, it’s different than if you call her a bitch. I think that’s the perception that a lot of homosexuals have.
Heterosexuals have a weird assessment system set up for themselves. Everything has a Catch-22 to it. Certain things are acceptable to them, certain ways of being or what have you, but other things are completely unacceptable. I think it’s more complex than any one person could put a finger on. It’s one of those social taboos that has not been addressed, but it’s…

Everywhere.

Right. It’s understood and it’s everywhere but it’s not head-on addressed. Homosexual prejudice, homophobia, is so often a social subtly. It’s already so embedded in the subconscious of society. It comes down to whether or not someone chooses to be socially conscious or aware and not feed into that. It’s understood that if a homosexual walks past, two heterosexuals can look at each other like, ‘Ugh.’ And that’s a kinship or bond that they will have. That’s just a bizarre fact of society. The irony is that homosexuals are all in the mix.
      You know how black folk and white folk have different ideas about – let’s say you’re in the work-place and there are people who are of a different culture or race than you. They smile in your face everyday because they have to but you just know that when you’re not there or if you were not in an environment that demanded that reaction, things would be very different. I think that’s the feeling with homosexuals as well. People are aware that homosexuals have rights, we’re loud and we’re not going down without a fight. So people are not so quick to be confrontational or to address the issue – but that’s ‘cause it’s illegal, not because they are evolved. I think that slowly but surely it’s going to change but the prejudice won’t cease to exist while I’m alive to tell it. I just heard someone say recently that homosexuals were created to confuse and divide society; that’s how deep their hatred was. That’s just so amazing to me that they would think two guys would get together just to defy the social system. That’s unbelievable.

How do you prepare yourself psychologically when you do radio shows and know you’re stepping into this den of people who might hate you and call in with pure evil comments?

You know, as a black gay man in Brooklyn, New York I have endured almost everything. It is what it is. There’s nothing they can say to me that I haven’t heard before. When you get beyond the words, what I’m trying to do is get to the root of the problem and confront that and let people know that regardless of what they think or feel, it doesn’t change the fact that homosexuals are everywhere and we excel in everything.

And they’ve already excelled in hip-hop, quiet as it’s kept. The idea of a gay rapper might be new, but the reality isn’t.

Exactly. That’s what I say to people. I’m not the first gay rapper. I’m one of the first that admits he’s gay. People don’t want to think about it like that. And depending on how you phrase it, you can either educate people or rile them up. Common sense is not necessarily very popular in hip-hop but it is present. It’s our responsibility to explain to them what we’re all about and to unfold it, to not just be outrageous for the sake of being outrageous. I mean, this is a business and you have to come with something that gives you credibility with the people. It doesn’t make any sense to introduce yourself into hip-hop with something that’s not relevant. The music has to be hot, the lyrics have to be relevant, and someone who is outside the gay community has to be able to identify with it. Otherwise, you might as well put your rhymes to a House groove and make a record for the kids in the clubs.
      There are very fine elements you have to work. It’s not something you can fake. You have to understand the ghetto mentality, you have to have lived it. You cannot have lived a sheltered life and be a gay person and say, “I’m gonna be the gay rapper,” because that’s gonna be a bourgie perspective. It’s much like when you get – I better be careful, here – when you get an artist that has the entire package, the look, sound, everything, and no matter how much you try to force a hit single out of them, the public sees through it and sees they’re not genuine. And that’s the problem with hip-hop now. That’s why Prodigy from Mobb Deep was robbed twice last year and his lyric is “This is a gangsta rap group.” Look at the name, Mobb Deep. Throughout their rhymes they’re always talking about, “Don’t make me have to bust my gat,” “Don’t make me have to go to jail over this,” and the term that’s developed for all of this is studio-thug. And really, if you’re a successful rapper, you are a studio-thug because thugs don’t make four million dollars a year before taxes. Thugs don’t pay fuckin’ taxes! I mean, really. Let’s be realistic about it.
      Hip-hop is always talking about keeping it real, about reflecting what’s going on in the hood, and that’s their little clause out of that thug shit they talk about on the record – I’m just giving you a reflection of what’s going on in the hood, or I’m giving you a reflection of what I used to do before I got in music. That’s bullshit.
I am a Jay-Z fan, a Roc-a-Fella fan till the end, but if I hear about his Roly [Rolodex] one more time… [Laughter] Part of the reason rap is ready for a gay rapper is that rap is stagnant; it’s just been still for the last few years because everybody wants to rap about what they have. It’s like, you’re broke on the first record and on the second record you’re throwing your success in everybody’s face. Now that it’s a formula, it’s become boring and it’s created a void in hip-hop. And this is a chance for the gay community to be heard – at a point when hip-hop needs something new. We need to put some life back into it. People may not even really be open to the idea of a gay rapper but they’re desperate for a new topic of conversation, a new set of rhymes. These rappers now all aim for the same end but just use different sentences to get there. It’s pitiful.

Interview conducted December 22, 2000

Mary, Mary, Mary...





      It has long and seriously bummed me out that brown-skinned ladies like Shakira, Beyonce and Jennifer Lopez use the vitality of their being to uphold Eurocentric standards of beauty. To even bring that convo up outside select circles nowadays elicits eye-rolling and bitingly witty comebacks like, “You just hatin’…”
      Seeing these women and their assorted clones go ever blonder (and ever more fair-skinned – thank you, photo-shop!) as they pursue and achieve mainstream success depresses the hell out of me. Yeah, okay: freedom of expression, blah, blah, blah… But what are they really being rewarded and paid for? I guess it wouldn’t bother me so much if we weren’t all living daily with the effects of white supremacy, with the crippled self-esteem and the reflexive longing so many o' color folk have for white approval and validation. And so much of them granting that approval depends upon us uplifting them and their definitions of viability, beauty and success. That racist shit’s been ground into a feathery fine powder that pollinates the air we breathe. We don’t realize the poisonous effects even as we’re all sneezing and wheezing our sick asses off.
      To have international artists of color just perpetuate a standard of beauty and desirability – visibility – that is rooted in the erasure and dismissal of blackness or browness, or to have these artists participate in the creation of faux mulattoness (and the continued fetishization of that identity slot) is about so much more than mere fashion. For anyone who thinks otherwise, I offer this tragic example of self-hate and racialized dysfunction. I’m not even gonna drag this tirade out because, fuck it, I really don’t have much to say that hasn’t been said a million times before by people much more eloquent and much better educated than I. But the fucked up commercial here just really set me off.
      Has it really only been just over twenty years since Whoopie Goldberg’s breakthrough one-woman show featured the character of the little black girl who wore an adult’s long-sleeve white shirt on her head and fantasized that it was “long, luxurious [read: white girl] hair," and told of the painful attempt she made to bleach her own hair? ("It wouldn't bounce or behave.") I remember a few people grousing back then that the topic of hair and Negro self-hatred was played, that Whoopie was beating a dead horse. In truth, that little pony ain’t never gonna die. Not in America. Not in the world. We race backwards and call it progress.
      I’ve written before how Mary J. Blige has built an entire career talking about how sad she is, how fucked up she is, how fucked over she’s been. She’s droned on and on about feeling ugly and worthless both as a child and as a young woman, and how her lack of self-esteem led her into self-destructive behavior and abusive relationships. But then she turns around and pumps the same image poison that is (at least in part) at the root of her own issues, to a whole new generation of young black girls. For all her endless navel-gazing, she doesn't connect the dots between her once-crushed spirit and that which she now exalts and sells. But hey, she’s getting’ paid, right?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Well Played...

WASHINGTON (Reuters)- When radio host Jerry Klein suggested that all Muslims in the United States should be identified with a crescent-shape tattoo or a distinctive arm band, the phone lines jammed instantly.

The first caller to the station in Washington said that Klein must be "off his rocker." The second congratulated him and added: "Not only do you tattoo them in the middle of their forehead but you ship them out of this country ... they are here to kill us."

Another said that tattoos, armbands and other identifying markers such as crescent marks on driver's licenses, passports and birth certificates did not go far enough. "What good is identifying them?" he asked. "You have to set up encampments like during World War Two with the Japanese and Germans."

At the end of the one-hour show, rich with arguments on why visual identification of "the threat in our midst" would alleviate the public's fears, Klein revealed that he had staged a hoax. It drew out reactions that are not uncommon in post-9/11 America.

"I can't believe any of you are sick enough to have agreed for one second with anything I said," he told his audience on the AM station 630 WMAL (http://www.wmal.com/), which covers Washington, Northern Virginia and Maryland.

"For me to suggest to tattoo marks on people's bodies, have them wear armbands, put a crescent moon on their driver's license on their passport or birth certificate is disgusting. It's beyond disgusting.

"Because basically what you just did was show me how the German people allowed what happened to the Jews to happen ... We need to separate them, we need to tattoo their arms, we need to make them wear the yellow Star of David, we need to put them in concentration camps, we basically just need to kill them all because they are dangerous."

The show aired on November 26, the Sunday after the Thanksgiving holiday, and Klein said in an interview afterwards he had been surprised by the response.

"The switchboard went from empty to totally jammed within minutes," said Klein. "There were plenty of callers angry with me, but there were plenty who agreed."

For rest of article, click here