Tuesday, May 29, 2007
My editor sent me an email in March of 2007 asking if I’d heard the rumors about the Harlem based hip-hop collective Dipset (rappers Cam’ron, Jim Jones, Freekey Zekey, Juelz Santana, J.R. Writer, Hell Rell, 40 Cal, Jha Jha and Duke Da God) being on the down low, wondering if I’d like to write an article about it. My first response was laughter. But of course there are rumors about Dipset being on the DL. They’re high profile rappers o’ color, primarily Negro males. (Jha Jha is the only female.) Who dey fuckin’ speculation / accusation comes with the territory. Almost every black man who’s held a mic in his hand over the last several years (note the phallic symbolism & homoeroticism in that) has been subject to the rumor mill’s non-stop scarlet-letter quest for the beat-riding cocksucker. It’s par for the course. Just as it was, so many years ago, for folks to swear they saw Rod Stewart / Prince / Rick James collapse onstage in the middle of a concert, after which the star was rushed to the hospital where a pint of cum was pumped from his stomach. (Dude, I swear to God this totally happened. My cousin’s best friend’s weed dealer’s girlfriend was on duty as the night nurse. She saw the whole thing.) Emasculation by pinning the tag of faggot on the male pop star(s) of the moment is one way our infantile, still homophobic culture attempts to humble its manufactured gods. We don’t even have to bring gerbils into the conversation.
But hasn’t this “down low” shit run its course by now? Oprah, talk radio, sensationalistic and fear mongering magazine headlines, shady Negro hustlers, pulpits and political fundraisers have all weighed in on the matter, pimping it for dollars and ratings, stoking confusion and distorting very complicated realities. It’s hard to pinpoint when the phrase “down low” exploded into popular consciousness and vocabulary but as we hit the mid-way point of 2007, the term itself is well over fifteen years old. It can be heard on the Pharcyde’s classic 1992 debut CD, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde (Delicious Vinyl), on the song, “On the DL.” Interestingly, the track is about instances of non-homo male shame / humiliation / ego / pride, but also – and this is crucial – vulnerability, that have to be kept under the vest. And in 1994, TLC had one of their biggest hits with “Creep,” from the CrazySexyCool CD, a song about a woman whose man is cheating on her so she seeks what she’s being denied by fucking around on him: “I might mess around / It’s only ‘cause I need some affection, oh / so I creep, yeah / Just keep it on the down low / Said nobody is supposed 2 know / So I creep, yeah / ‘Cause he doesn't know what I do / And no attention goes to show, oh / So I creep…”
Downlow. The term’s meaning, always related to some undercover shit, was much more dynamic before becoming associated solely with nefarious Negro male (homo) sexuality. Black music, as it so often does, served as a conduit between ‘hood innovation and the mainstream, bringing fresh-out-the-oven slang to the masses. Or, put another way, cultural artifacts created by the American Negro underclass are forever being used as IVs carrying new ideas, language and energy into the mainstream American body. But shit gets flattened out, oversimplified. Musicality (in all its definitions) and meaning shrink.
It didn’t help matters that in 2004, best-selling charlatan J.L. King pursued a popular and profitable course for Negroes claiming to offer insider knowledge on the ways and whys of colored folk: confirm hoary, reactionary notions of Negro pathology. In his autobiographical book, “On the Downlow,” in which he charted his course from husband who fucks men behind wife’s back to self-accepting manfucker (with God’s help and boundless love, of course), King uses a lot of pulpy anecdote, a dearth of intelligent social analysis or psychological insight, and recycled homophobic notions to sell his tale of personal redemption. (Which he shares with the world only because he really, really, really wants to help others.) He also exploits and fans widespread fears that brothers on the DL are the culprits behind rising numbers of HIV infection in the African American community, particularly among heterosexual black women.
His approach was perfectly captured in an April 16, 2004 appearance on “Oprah” in which he employed vaudevillian melodrama (theatrically narrowed eyes, put-on foreboding voice and schoolmarm pursing of his soup-coolers) to tell the largely white female audience, “I want to make a point that this is not just a whi – a black thing. There are a lot of white men who are bisexual. They can’t use the down low label, but they’re bisexual and they’re creeping in from the suburbs or into our neighborhood, because they have a desire to have sex with black men and then going back to their suburbs, to their homes to their wives… I think if this continues, that we’re going to see white women also being infected at the same rate as black women.”
In one fell swoop, King positions the ‘hood and black male sexuality as a pool of contagion threatening to flood white America’s tower of assumed heterosexual safety. He presents queer / gay black men as having the mythological eroto-magnetic pull long associated with the primitive, corrupting the pristine white male by luring him into the jungle (the ‘hood) and tainting him with lust-borne disease. Where to begin with this nonsense?
If you want to read the rest... you gotta buy the May issue of Flaunt. Or buy my book when it drops this fall.
Blood Beats 1