The Global Journal of
The Sex Issue: Deeper Than Misogyny
This image parodies a trope that appears frequently in videos such as The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa” video. In this case, the genders have been reversed for maximum silliness. The image also indicates that despite the apparent “misogyny” of some imagery or lyrics, the powerful, independent woman is as much a part of the world of hip-hop as the supposedly misogynist man. Illustration by Elizabeth Blackford
Content s Pg. 10 / Letter Pg. 12 / Let’s
From the Editor................................................................................. Graham Eng-Wilmot
Talk About Sex!
..................................................................... David Ikard and Joan Morgan
to make the revolution come quicker:
Pg. 20 /
For Sex, Hip-Hop & Black Radical Tradition (a riff in three movements).. Greg Thomas Pg. 28 / Book Review:
Hip-Hop Revolution in the Flesh:
Power, Knowledge and, Pleasure in Lil’ Kim’s Lyricism by Greg Thomas ..... Yaba Blay Pg. 32 / A
Bitch Ain’t One: Hip-Hop’s Gender Crossroads and Its Reluctance to Embrace the Feminine Creative Process ............... Hanifah Walidah
Pg. 36 / Poem:
Missy Elliott Love Song ...................................................................
Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai
Pg. 38 /
Interview with soce the elemental wizard ...............................................
Pg. 42 /
Sex in This Club: Gender and Sexuality in Baltimore Club Music .............
Pg. 48 / Poem:
Switch ........................................................................................................................... Tara Betts
Going Ganguro in Japan:
Pg. 50 /
Meanings of Blackness in Girls’ Culture Contexts in Japan ........................ Yayoi Koizumi Pg. 58 / Ladies
First: Fashion, Feminism and the Re-construction of
Black Womanhood by Female Hip-Hop Artists, 1978-1989 ................................ Allison Hamilton Pg. 66 / Featured
Visual Artist: John Jennings
Pg. 70 / Chipping
Away at the Artifice of Black Masculinity:
Without the Hurt that Reality Makes .............................................................. Tanea Richardson Pg. 78 / Art
Under Pressure: Enemy of the State ................................................... Cory L. Stowers
Pg. 86 / Bum
Rush the Boards: Queens Reign Supreme ....................................... frank talk
Pg. 88 / Poem:
a love song .............................................................................................................. Holly Bass
Pg. 90 / Daddy’s
Girl and Her Music ........................................................................................ April Silver
Pg. 94 /
Photo Essay: Hip-Hop Fathers ......................................
Pg. 98 /
Featured Poet: Derrick Weston Brown
Pg. 102 /
Annotated Bibliography: Sex and Hip-Hop ................................................... WBL Staff
Jati Lindsay and Rosina Teri Memolo
Staff Founder/Executive Director Mazi Mutafa Cipher Director Simone Jacobson Editor-in-Chief Graham Eng-Wilmot Art Director Cory L. Stowers Marketing Director Ashton Wingate Curriculum Development Karlena Walker Arts & Culture Editor Nick Schonberger Literary Editor Fred Joiner
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About the Art Cover artist Cita Sadeli a.k.a. Chelove is the multi-disciplined Founder and Director of Protein Media, an art, design and interactive company in Washington, DC. She got her start as a practicing fine/street artist in the early ’90s DC graffiti scene. Since then, her skill set has expanded to include entrepreneurship, design, animation and interactive media. In addition to running Protein Media, she continues to create digital and traditional illustration/fine art for commission, commercial projects and exhibition. A number of illustrations throughout the issue are by Elizabeth Blackford, a writer, artist and student currently based in Brooklyn, NY via Baltimore, MD. She is finishing her master’s thesis at New York University on queer abjection in the visual arts. Her work frequently addresses issues of gender, sexuality, and intimacy. The illustration accompanying Greg Thomas’s “to make the revolution come quicker” was done by Emek, whose unique visual style has graced music posters on a diverse musical spectrum, from B.B. King to the Beastie Boys. He was invited to exhibit at the opening of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame “History of Rock Posters” exhibition and has been featured in national and international magazines. Jati Lindsay is a Washington, DC-based photographer, but was born and bred in New Jersey. His work has appeared in a number of publications including XLR8R, The Source, URB, Complex Magazine and The Washington Post. He has been a part of exhibitions at the Leica Gallery in New York City, the African American Museum of Philadelphia, and the CODE Gallery in Amsterdam. Rosina Photography is owned and operated by Rosina Teri Memolo, a photographer in Washington, DC. Teri serves as a photographic archaeologist of street and music culture in books such as Streetworld and Enamelized, as well as Swindle and URB magazines.
About the Poets Holly Bass is a poet-in-residence at Busboys & Poets in Washington DC, as well as a Cave Canem fellow. She holds an M.A. in journalism from Columbia University. Tara Betts is the author of Arc and Hue (Willow Books/Aquarius Press). She teaches at Rutgers University and is a Cave Canem fellow. Her work has appeared in Essence, Gathering Ground, Bum Rush the Page, Home Girls Make Some Noise: Hip Hop Feminism and both Spoken Word Revolution anthologies. Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai is a spoken word artist based in Brooklyn, NY, who has performed at over 375 venues worldwide including 3 seasons of “Russell Simmons Presents HBO Def Poetry.” For more info on Kelly and her poetry, visit http://www.yellowgurl.com.
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Letter From the Editor
ne of the things that I’ve always been drawn to in hip-hop culture, and rap music specifically, is its unapologetic, blunt--and often explicit-stance. Growing up with hip-hop, I have many memories of encountering its raw statements about sex. Like being 13 and coming home to watch reruns of Star Trek and stumbling on “The Box” playing an endless loop of the video for 2 Live Crew’s “Pop That Coochie.” Or debating the merits of Kool Keith’s Sex Styles in a dingy, basement college radio station at 4 a.m. with my duns Aerolex, DJ Rodno and Krawl. Or chanting along with the classic lyric, “And I love hip-hop like Madonna loves dick,” on early morning drives to haggle with record dealers at the flea market. Being the young head that I was, moments such as these became indelible, but simultaneously bewildering, perhaps even more so now as I begin to round out 20 years of listening and thinking about hip-hop music and culture. Events such as these have undoubtedly helped shape who I am, for better or worse, but it’s only now that I realize how weird and fucked up and beautiful and confusing and complicated they actually are. Below the surface of brash lyrics and video vixens that we’re still faced with in 2010 lies a host of questions about masculinity, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, relationships and body image, just to name a few. Until now though, so many of the conversations about sex and hiphop, both in the popular media and scholarly work, have tended to circulate around the issue of misogyny. But at this juncture, to let the conversation end there would oversimplify the matters at hand.
The opening discussion between scholars David Ikard and Joan Morgan hits the nail on the head of what we’re trying to accomplish in this issue. Early on, they question if there are spaces in hip-hop culture where healthy exchanges around sex and eroticism can take place. In a print media context, it certainly seems like such outlets are few and far between, hence Words. Beats. Life’s issue on sex and hiphop. Our intent is to start opening up the discourse--to spur a productive dialogue about the issues at play. We present a diverse mix of ideas and voices in the form of scholarly articles, personal essays, poetry, graphic artwork and interviews. We move from Greg Thomas’s radical salvo against the prevailing school of thought behind criticisms of sexuality in Black popular music to Hanifah Walidah’s proposition to move hip-hop forward through the inclusion of what she calls a “feminine creative process.” There are features that examine two of the major figures that challenged gender roles in Baltimore Club culture; an interview with Soce the Elemental Wizard, one of the most outspoken gay voices in hip-hop; an analysis of how painter Kehinde Wiley’s work complicates ideas of Black masculinity; an essay about entrepreneur April Silver’s relationship with her father and his musical tastes; and the case of Danielle “UTAH” Bremner, a female graffiti artist whose arrest and conviction signals an alarming escalation in how authorities deal with writers after 9/11. Yayoi Koizumi’s article, which is accompanied by iona rozeal brown’s paintings, takes on body image issues by exploring Japanese subcultures that intentionally darken their skin to appear Black; while Allison Hamilton’s work demonstrates how early female rappers used sartorial choices to express feminist ideas. Many of these articles work in concert with the graphic pieces by our featured artist, John Jennings, and the photographs of hip-hop fathers shot by Jati Lindsay and Teri Memolo, as well as poems from Holly Bass, Tara Betts, Kelly Zen-Yie
Tsai and our featured poet, Derrick Weston Brown. Part of our aim is for the format of this issue to serve as a model for larger discussions about hip-hop that go deeper than the surface of misogyny. Our hope is that the works interact with each other to allow for an internal dialogue occurring between say, a scholarly article and the poem that follows, or perhaps comments in an interview gel with something going on in a painting. We may not agree with all of the assertions and arguments that are presented, but we firmly believe the ideas need to be on the table with one another. Full disclosure: We love hip-hop like Madonna loves … oopski … sorry, old habit. Don’t get it twisted though; we’re certainly not trying to apologize for or gloss over the impact or prevalence of misogyny in hip-hop music and culture. Few of the pieces in this issue actually touch on it, but that’s not meant as misdirection. Instead, we’re trying to get beneath the surface and make a break through to all these other avenues that have either been overlooked or haven’t been explored yet. We’re certainly not the first hiphop publication to go “The Sex Issue” route, but given all of hiphop’s persistent complexities--and problems--we’re sure we won’t be the last. One,
The Global Journal of Hip-Hop Culture
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Illustration by Elizabeth Blackford
ip-hop has always been a space heavily populated by sex--as a topic, an undertone and a crucial part of its overall aesthetic. But if hip-hop has made itself a hospitable place for sex, it has yet to do so in a way that allows for a healthy discussion to take place around it. In an attempt to address that deficiency, David Ikard, author of Breaking the Silence: Toward a Black Male Feminist Criticism, and Joan Morgan, author of When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks It Down, have taken it upon themselves to start opening a dialogue about eroticism in hip-hop. In 2007, they were featured as panelists in a series of high-profile discussions at the University of Chicago entitled “Does Hip-Hop Hate Women?” which was broadcast on National Public Radio and televised on C-SPAN. Words. Beats. Life asked Ikard and Morgan to continue their discussion about hiphop, sex and misogyny. The resulting conversation covered a wide range of topics-D’Angelo’s tragic and confusing path to stardom, gender roles and salsa dancing, and the “Queen/Bitch” dichotomy in female hip-hop artists--all of which lucidly illustrate problems and nuances of sex in contemporary hip-hop culture. DI: I think the discussion is around eroticism in hip-hop. Let’s maybe start by talking about what that means to us when we hear that. JM: When I hear that, I just don’t really think that, as a woman--a fully grown woman--I just really don’t see where that exists. I think hip-hop is definitely full of the sexual, but “sexual” and “erotic” are not the same things to me. Certainly for the erotic I think that there has to be a fully evolved exchange between two consenting parties, and women are just not fully actualized in hip-hop. So where you can have men who look very sexy and women who may be looking very sexy and doing very sexual things, there’s rarely a case when you find women who are speaking or performing with any sense of agency, when they’re as fully realized as the male participants in the videos or even in songs. I think that you probably see a more fully actualized, erotic kind of female rapper when she’s speaking her own lyrics, but once you get into the visual media, that quickly evaporates. DI: The thing that rarely enters into the conversation is health. What does a healthy eroticism look like? Because
I think what we get inundated with are sort of hypersexual influences. I think, given your point, that we conflate sexual stimulation with eroticism, as opposed to kind of thinking about eroticism not just simply in terms of some kind of physical sexual stimulation, but as a mental and emotional, even spiritual stimulation. And I think in some ways the whole health issue, is one I think in general, particularly when it comes to emotional and mental health, that often gets divorced from this conversation. It falls into these kinds of identity politics about representing certain kinds of sexualities, as opposed to really talking about health in relation to these expressions of eroticism. JM: Where would you say that there is a kind of healthy exchange around sex and eroticism taking place, in talking about the Black community? DI: There aren’t that many spaces where that happens. And if it does happen, it happens “off-camera” in the spaces where one can actually be vulnerable. I don’t know if there’s any kind of public media, certainly not one that comes readily to mind, in which there is a space for a kind of healthy expression of the
The Sex Issue: Deeper Than Misogyny
“I’m here to laugh, love, fuck and drank liquor /And help the damn revolution come quicker!” - The Coup, Pick a Bigger Weapon (2006)
By Greg Thomas Illustration by Emek
t least since Mama’s Gun (2000), her sophomore studio album, Erykah Badu has been confusing a lot of people trapped in a certain frame of mind. Lyrically, she sings melodies in favor of non-monogamy, such as “Booty” (“You got a PhD / Magna cum laude / But ya nigga love me wit a GED / But I don’t want him. … See, I don’t want him if he ain’t made no arrangement with you / I hope you would’ve done the same thing for me, too”). She country-rapped and female-macked at the end of Live’s “On & On” (1996), boasting: “Cain’t no weak ass, trick emcee / keep up, rough, with me.” Later, after rhyming with Queen Latifah, Bahamadia and Angie Stone on “Love of My Life Worldwide” for Worldwide Underground (2003), or its “Freakquency” productions, she bum rushed “The Wendy Williams Experience” at WBLS in New York to mock commercial rumors about her sex life. In guerrilla theater mode, she came with M1 and stic-man of dead prez as the leader of a matriarchal “tribe” of Africans, the fictional “Bambula,” and championed her “41 Laws of Baduality,” which subtly reappear on the opening track of New AmErykah, Part One (4th World War) (2008). They freely promote “mind sex” as well as “polyandry,” or multiple sexual partners for women but not Bambula men, who are just fine with this philosophy according to Badu. While others are confused as to whether or not she is hip-hop, or still “a conscious
artist,” and even whether or not hip-hop remains worthwhile, she delivered “The Healer” (“It’s bigger than religion / hiphop / It’s bigger than my nigga / hiphop / It’s bigger than the government”) in the wake of her appearance as Afrika Bambaataa on stage for VH1’s Hip-Hop Honors 2006. A number of questions should be raised in light of this confusion: (a.) In what or whose conception of hip-hop are hiphop bodies presented overwhelmingly as a problem, a social problem, nationally or internationally, (b.) Why is the very idea of sexual politics so difficult for so many to imagine, generally and most especially when hip-hop is boldly expressive on the microphone, and (c.) How can our basic approach to these matters be shifted to embrace under the same banner of sex, hip-hop and the pan-African Black radical tradition?1 The confusion stems from a serious defect in the critical framework of most official commentary on hip-hop, whether it is circulated in academic or popular media. It is undoubtedly grounded in the mind/ body split of the West, which, in both Europe and North America, seeks to sever the human mind from the human body, as it ranks all matters of the mind over all matters of the body in its calculation of social, cultural and intellectual value. This is a distinctly bourgeois school of thought, and this is the context in which
The Sex Issue: Deeper Than Misogyny
Lil’ Kim (Re)Viewed By Yaba Blay
In the early ’90s, women emcees wore the performance personas of either “roundthe-way girls” or “gangsta bitches,” as recognizable by their plaid shirts, baggy jeans, combat boots and ponytails. Hard, yet not quite Hard Core. So when “Big Momma Thang” touched our ears, we were shook. We didn’t know whether to rhyme along or to pass judgment, but we definitely didn’t turn it off. Brothas weren’t the only ones intrigued if not mesmerized by the big voice in the little package. Who was she? Better yet, who did she think she was? She called herself Lil’ Kim, the “Queen Bee,” and as she changed the way we looked at Black women, she also changed the way we looked at ourselves. Everyone from oldschool and new-school feminists to the Black community at large had something to say, little of which was supportive. For most people, she was, and continues to 28
be, distasteful, disgusting, disrespectful, disempowering and just plain out of control. But inasmuch as the world makes it a point to check Lil’ Kim, Greg Thomas checks the world. At the outset, Thomas captures the reader and quickly commands a new lens through which to envision Lil’ Kim as a true reflection of African resistance culture. Through two figures, Afrika Bambaataa and Huey P. Newton, he centers Kim’s lyricism within a legacy of Black revolutionary thought and lays the groundwork for what will materialize as a dynamic, multidimensional analysis. Through Bambaataa, we come to appreciate her “revolution within a revolution at the musical level of lyricism” as reflective of power (accessible to those Bambaataa baptized “warriors for the community”), knowledge (which
Bambaataa declared the fifth element of hip-hop), and pleasure (a key element in Bambaataa’s definitional adage “peace, love, unity and having fun”) (Thomas, 2009, p. 2). Kim’s anti-establishment stance is realized via Newton’s 1974 treatise “The Mind is Flesh” through which Cartesian dualism, the philosophy by which mind and body are positioned discrete and oppositional, materializes at the core of state repression and as such is adamantly rejected. In fact, as Thomas instructs, for both Newton and Lil’ Kim, “freedom” materializes in its rejection whereby there is no separation-or as Newton proclaimed whereby “the mind is flesh!” As she snubs puritanical notions about sexuality that dictate its public silencing, Lil’ Kim denounces Western imperialist thinking, dismisses the state, and offers alternative, if not revolutionary, ways in which to view one’s relationship(s) with the state and the body. By the end of the introductory chapter, readers, however skeptical they may be, are persuaded to (re)consider Kim--what follows is no arbitrary analysis. There is nothing African about it. It is a way of thinking that classically supports the logic of racism, sexism and other forms of domination which maintains that white men are supposed to be “masters” of the intelligent world and the rest of us are supposed to be “slaves” to our senses--and their societies. What this artificial and unnecessary opposition between sexuality and “consciousness” ignores is the possibility, the desirability of a sexual consciousness that could mount serious political opposition to such white male domination, Western imperialism, slavery and colonization, white racism and sexism (Thomas, p. 34).
Much like the agent of his analysis, Thomas’s “beehive logic” is seemingly woven around a rejection of Western
thought inasmuch as it represses and thus oppresses Black minds and bodies. In his treatment of Lil’ Kim, Thomas positions mind/body dualism as the principal manifestation of the Western line of thinking he seeks to refute. Herein lies the ingenuity of his work. By deconstructing mind/body dualism, Thomas pushes hip-hop beyond its simplistic imaginings and demonstrates an innovative approach to employing it as an analytical lens through which to critique even the most complex and thickly argued of philosophical models. Unlike the recent literary flood of hiphop scholarship, much of which obsesses over questions of origin, definition and authenticity, Thomas examines the lyricism and lyrical persona of Lil’ Kim not just to argue whether she represents true hip-hop, but more to announce and further defend her place within the production of knowledge--academic, cultural, or otherwise. When one considers Lil’ Kim in all of her realities and abstractions, her in-your-face brand of sexuality renders her easily susceptible to attack on a variety of fronts. Thus we should expect academic critics to address her perceptible obscenity and dismiss her as a willing pawn in the Western tradition of Black female commodification. However, 13 years after her debut, such conventional analyses do little to challenge how we think about Kim, or hip-hop for that matter. Thomas, on the other hand, turns the predictable on its head, arguing that in her blatantly sexualized performance, Kim reflects a sexual consciousness that actively resists Western thought. Faced with the unorthodox, readers must surrender any preconceived notions about her, if even temporarily, in order to follow and grasp the breadth of Thomas’s arguments. With each facet of his analysis, Thomas returns to a rejection of mind/body dualism. Through this layered repetition he cleverly reveals Lil’ Kim as an “anti-
The Sex Issue: Deeper Than Misogyny
A Bitch Ain’t One: Hip-Hop’s Gender Crossroads and Its Reluctance to Embrace the Feminine Creative Process
By Hanifah Walidah Photo by Olive Demetrius
n 1994, I interviewed a male emcee whose album I consider to have been the best of that year. The interview was for a new online hip-hop magazine I started in 1993 called Guillotine (strictly for the headz). The magazine was a side project that became a creative outlet for me because, as a young woman emcee, I wanted to contribute something beyond just music to the culture. This same emcee and I first met in 1993 while riding home from Philadelphia together after performing at The Roots’ first album release party. At the time, he believed, as some still do, that the Black man is “god.” I was immediately outraged by the very idea, and we debated its merits the entire ride home. We left each other agreeing to disagree. In the interview that followed months later, I took up where we left off. I asked him why he 32
felt, after all these years, that there have been so few female hip-hop artists and even fewer who command respect in the culture. He answered (and sincerely believed) that women can’t match hip-hop’s aggressive nature and that hip-hop, as a by-product of New York gang culture, was tailor-made for men to physically and psychologically master. Though I could have wrung unsaid emcee’s neck back then, my anger over the years has been replaced by curiosity, if not empathy, not for him, but for hip-hop. As stated many times before, hip-hop as a creative force emerged out of the disenfranchised youth of the South Bronx. Less acknowledged though is the fact that this generation was being raised by America’s first generation of single
mothers, made so following the rapid loss of men in urban communities caused by the Vietnam War (KRS-One, online video). Hip-hop’s founding patriarchy was left at a meeting point on both the cultural and creative crossroads. One side held notions of masculinity, competition and assertiveness, while the other offered a feminine approach of communal and creative exchange. As hip-hop developed, the men within it increasingly found more solace, comfort and passage into their own definitions of manhood by actively excluding women and the feminine from the creative process and its rewards. At this very moment, creative innovation in the genre remains locked in a paradigm of competition, individualism and a defeating process of elimination, shadowing the results of the road taken by hip-hop thus far. It is a process that in most cases leaves only one man standing with few solutions or means to create something new. The near absence of the feminine creative voice and methodology within hip-hop culture offers an opportunity to explore, for those who listen to and live it, an equally authentic side to hip-hop culture that has not yet been cultivated into existence. The masculine assumption within hiphop is that respect can be taken or acquired by various forms of intimidation or “one-upedness.” Alternatively, the feminine creates respect for self by embracing the most respected styles or attributes of others. Hip-hop shares a similar story with its musical predecessors, that is, it is a reflection of the emotional and psychological state of its forbearers. It is distinctly American music, and like other American genres (blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, soul), hip-hop has only rarely supported women’s participation in the art form and the larger industry. Its narrative does not recognize how women have helped to shape its history and legacy, romanticized or not. So, the
question remains: At what cost? The costs and casualties within hip-hop are enacted via megalomaniacal acts of misogyny, the celebration of musical mediocrity, capitalist game-play leading to cultural disrepair, homophobia and violence. But hip-hop’s vehement reluctance to respect not just women, but also feminine sensibilities, emotional intelligence and voices continues to stifle its creative longevity. * * * Fast forward a decade: It’s 2005, and I’m teaching hip-hop in an after-school program in the Bronx. At the time, my entire class consisted of girls ages six to 11. I told myself that if I was going to teach these young women about hiphop, I would first need to teach them about respecting and asserting their own voices. Girls and boys are conditioned from birth to develop core beliefs about sex and gender. Boys are encouraged to master their voices while girls begin to question theirs in puberty (Eckert & McConnell-Ginet, 2003). As Talib Kweli states in Byron Hurt’s film, Hip-Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes: “[Hip-hop] encourages you to assert yourself. And as a man--especially a Black man--in this society, you have to learn how to do that.” The assertion of one’s voice is essentially what is most beautiful about hip-hop. A true voice will openly speak its mind, ride the beat and hold the audience in the palm of her hands. With the help of MC Lyte, Lauryn Hill, Jean Grae and some of my students’ favorite male rap artists, I attempted to show my girls what could happen if their voices were shaped by their own assertions in life. As women’s voices are silenced, there is a subsequent submergence of their methods. But if applied, these methods would not only transform hip-hop as an art form, but also as a global cultural leader.
The Sex Issue: Deeper Than Misogyny
Missy Elliott Love Song Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai
first, she lays down the heartbeat the flat hand on the drum advancing the battlecry of love next comes the handclap to shake the evil spirits from the air, send them scrambling to their corners to wave, wiggle, and wriggle them from sticking onto our skins on top of that is the shakera like a ratchet, tweaking, tightening, fastening us to the song the strain of piano is the rare bird picking at concrete outside a brooklyn bodega or the green leaf, lush and veiny that falls on a chicago project bench, the real light when most hope is gone, not sugar saccharine fake sickly sweet stuff on top of that, is the scratch lest we forget that we are in mistress missyâ€™s house that she controls the time and stop. the love and stop. our hearts and stop.Â what did the record labels know what to do with her?Â put her in shiny plastic suits and bug-eyed glasses like a hundred-sided die tumbling against the rain on her window an alien cartoon sent to us from the future to push enough units without tits and ass under plastic shrinkwrap no thighs exposed, she had her divas for that: aaliyah, tweet, ciara, jazmine, some say her girls, these fine little young things, sexy and rare and strong, she mentored them,
cooed them, coaxed them into melody i can’t help but find two women tangled in the pretzel of love in the studio 3 AM laying their hearts down on the track, crooning and conjuring waveforms for some man who never was and never will be there. he just as much an illusion as the booties backed up in the video. as missy puts her hand on her girl’s fit waist, pulls her close in the booth by the top of her lowrise jeans, the golden boil of the song welling hot in her girl’s belly and throat. i can’t help but imagine two women’s bodies finding each other between these sheets of sound while tom cruise jumps from oprah’s couch proclaiming his love for his second mechanical wife, latifah bashfully answers the interviewer saying “set it off ” was her favorite role, progress held by the rings on ellen and portia’s fingers, lindsay lohan’s lesbianism just another naughty bleached blonde trend following alcoholism and rehab, katy perry’s exploratory girl-kissing -no match for two women traversing love, locked in the studio 3 AM, ripping apart and resurrecting the bones of each song.
Inter v iew With
soce the elemental wizard Interview by frank talk Photo by Jonathan Weiskopf
or this issue Words. Beats. Life sought to explore the growing phenomenon and sub-genre of gay hip-hop or “gay-hop.” Not to be confused with that seemingly inexhaustible quest to find “the gay rapper,” these emcees, producers and DJs are all “out” or openly homosexual and operate within a network of other gay artists, as well as collaborations with members of the hip-hop community at-large. One fall afternoon, Andrew Singer, better known as soce the elemental wizard, met with me at a café on Manhattan’s Lower East Side to discuss the emergence and nuances of gay-hop over basted eggs (his, not mine). His penchant for not sampling in his musical productions aside, I found soce to be sincere, open and hilarious in his approach to this hip-hop thing of ours.
ft: When you came to New York, you started working with hip-hop artists. To you, is there any difference between hiphop and “gay hip-hop”? S: Yeah, it’s like a totally different world. When I first moved to New York, there wasn’t really a gay hip-hop scene that I knew of. ft: So, how did you break in? S: I started in the hip-hop scene. Then about a year later, I met Dutchboy. I did a show with him at Peace Out East. Then I got involved with Pick Up Da
Mic; I’m in it for like three seconds. Then gayhiphop.com, learned about different rappers. I met a bunch of the scene. And then there still wasn’t much [gay hip-hop] in NYC, but all of a sudden, in the last year or two, it just blew up. There are all these gay rappers that come sounding like street rappers, so the line is blending back toward the streets. All these people--Sonny Lewis, Lester Greene. … I like it because there are more people to collab with. They all sound really good, so it’s great to do tracks together. We’re going to start putting together gay hip-hop events. It’s just fun because you don’t have to worry about them finding out you’re gay. It’s just more relaxing. I love working with straight artists too. I’ll work with anybody. It’s just, you know, the more you have in common with somebody, you don’t have to worry that they’ll feel like they need to tell you about their girlfriend all the time just to prove that nothing is gonna happen.
ft: Going back for a moment to “street” gay hip-hop. I listened to songs that had a lot of language one might consider homophobic. But the emcees are “out” gay emcees. S: That’s not my personal style. I know a lot of the new rappers like to say things like, “All y’all fags,” and it’s confusing. A lot of the new, young cats, they wanna push their street vibe. ft: Could it be reclaiming and redefining, or is it mimicry? S: It’s hard to tell. It could be either. But, if you play it for someone and they don’t know it’s a gay rapper, it certainly would sound more like mimicry than reclamation. When I first moved to New York, I was super gay. I had all these really intense sexual songs because it was my way of mimicking. I couldn’t rap about street stuff, gunfights and drugs, but I could rap about sexual escapades, regardless of how true they were. ft: Do you escapades?
S: No. Gay sexual escapades. ft: Was it clear? S: When I say things like, “I come through with your dick in my mouth / Lickin’ your pouch / Never ever spittin it out,” I think it’s pretty clear. ... I went over the top. I wanted the same, “Oh! No he didn’t!” When you talk about violence and drugs, people might wanna test you and be like, “How ‘bout you get violence and drugs with me?” But when you talk about crazy gay sex, no one is really gonna test you, so it was very safe. The ultimate keeping it real without suffering the when-it-goes-wrong consequence. ft: Do you feel like mainstream hiphop is becoming more accepting of homosexuality? I was forwarded an
article that suggests the term “no homo” is a progressive step forward in hip-hop culture. Like acknowledging but not identifying. S: I kinda disagree with that. I feel in the old days people used to be gay all the time. But it wasn’t until Christianity that people started freaking out about it. So I feel, in a sense, it’s more divisive. But I am always trying to push conventions. I like to say, “No straight-o,” Like, that girl’s really hot, but I’m not straight: “No hetero!” Once, a friend and I were having fun on Twitter saying: “No slomo, no pogo.” Like with “pause.” I started to say, “play,” “fast forward” and “rewind.” That’s part of hip-hop to me. ft: Do you battle other emcees? S: I tried to battle this dude once, and he just did all these raps about me being gay. I didn’t even respond because if I had, I would have gone into “I am gay and this is all the stuff I’m gonna do to you.” I think he would have really freaked out then. So, I just figured it wasn’t worth it. But if I’m battling with friends, I’ll do that to throw them off. ft: Would you say then that battling is only something you can do in spaces you feel safe or accepted, or with people you trust? S: No. I’ve done shows all over the place. ft: But, speaking specifically about battling. … S: I mean, I could battle someone. It’s not really a skill I’ve developed that much. I prefer battling my friends. I feel like I know them better, so I can talk more shit about them. Whereas I always feel weird being like, “Yo, I just met you / you wearin’ a shirt / a hat with an ‘S’ on it / Imma stomp you.”
The Sex Issue: Deeper Than Misogyny
Sex in This Club: Gender and Sexu ality in
Baltimore Club M usic
By Al Shipley Photos by Josh Sisk
n the age of hip-hop’s crossover, it’s easy to be desensitized as to what kind of lyrics you might hear from a passing car. Still, a visitor to Baltimore, Maryland might be surprised to hear something more blatant than the sly innuendos of a rapper like Jay-Z in the air on a Friday night. Downtown, you could walk down Saratoga Street past Club One and hear a raspy male voice chanting: “Hit that ass from the back / girl, how you make your pussy jump like that?” Or you might wait at a red light and hear a breathless female voice from the next car over gasping a looped command to “change positions.” It’s not that Baltimore is some debauched, depraved modern Gomorrah where the basest sexual urges are articulated more loudly than anywhere else (although, hey, maybe it is). That’s just the kind of music people party to out here. Baltimore club music has slowly grown from being the city’s dirty little secret to one of its foremost cultural exports. The ungainly bastard of a subgenre, which started to congeal in the Mid-Atlantic port city in the late 1980s, is essentially a collision of hip-hop and house music. Other combinations of those two elements, under names like “hip house” or “ghettotech,” had short-lived novelty on a national scale. Baltimore club music, on the other hand, has become a full-fledged genre unto itself over the past two decades, combining the tempos and structures of house music with the aggressive production style and explicit lyrical content of hip-hop music. Characterizing an entire genre of music in terms of gender or sexual orientation is admittedly a pretty abstract concept.
But if you had to, it is clear that hip-hop and house music would be on opposite ends of the spectrum. Hip-hop is very straight and male, not just decisively, but almost absurdly so. It’s macho, misogynistic and homophobic. While house and its ancestor, disco, haven’t been the sole province of gay culture for a long time, there’s still an undeniable connection between gay culture and house music. In terms of gender politics, Baltimore club music has never strayed far from its two main points of origin. Like other regional, dance-oriented variants of hip-hop such as Miami bass or Atlanta crunk, the sound may be faster or more aggressive, but the overall emotional tenor is more or less unchanged from hip-hop. An emphasis on hooks and the relative lack of verses simply means that there’s not much room for nuanced emotion or storytelling. Often sampled from popular rap songs, ass-obsessed exhortations such as “back that ass up” and “put your hands on your knees and bend ya rump,” are looped dozens of times over, but always in an implied heterosexual context. A club song about strong women, such as Rod Lee’s “Independent Ladies,” would be more in line with a female-friendly Southern rap anthem such as Webbie’s “Independent” than, say, a more nuanced take on gender such as 2Pac’s “Keep Ya Head Up.” As in hip-hop or just about any other genre, sex may be a dominant theme in Baltimore club music, but not the only one. Neighborhood anthems, songs about inner city struggles, and even gangsta club songs make up a significant amount of the music’s subject matter.
The Sex Issue: Deeper Than Misogyny
Going Ganguro in Japan: Meanings of Blackness in Girlsâ€™ Culture Contexts in Japan
By Yayoi Koizumi Art by iona rozeal brown 50
he late African-American journalist Joe Wood wrote in his essay “Yellow Negro” about his sense of disorientation upon encountering “them” in Tokyo in the late 1990s. “They” are the “Blackfacers,” groups of Japanese youth who wear Black street fashions and have their skin artificially darkened, either through application of makeup foundation or frequent visits to tanning salons. They are imitators of African-American cultural styles as reflected through the media in Japan and are highly conspicuous in Japanese social and historical contexts in their boldness to go beyond simple imitations of clothing and hair styles to a more controversial marker like skin color.1 For some African-American observers, these youth evoke an unpleasant reminder of bygone days of minstrel shows in the United States. Wood writes about his bafflement encountering Blackfaced girls: While they bear an obvious resemblance to old-fashioned minstrels, their “performances” do not seem to be aimed at other Japanese. Blackfacers (especially the females) tend to party where natural blacks party, especially black American soldiers. Blackfacers are even proud of their assumed skin color. That, of course, is the strangest thing about them: they wear blackface in order to embrace black people. This is more baffling than anything white America has ever attempted; try to imagine Al Jolson or Sophie Tucker or even Bert Williams wearing their blackface with pride, going out on the town, trying to seduce black people (1997).
Imitations of African-American fashion and musical styles have a counterpart with a longer history outside of Japan. It’s no secret that Elvis Presley, the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” took inspiration from African-American music. From Norman Mailer’s 1957 classic, The White Negro (which the title of Wood’s “The Yellow Negro” is a pun), to more recent works such as Greg Tate’s Everything But the Burden: What White People Are Taking from
Black Culture or Bakari Kitwana’s Why White Kids Love Hip Hop, the question of how dominant, majority and powerholding cultures appropriate elements of disenfranchised minority cultures has been a taxing question in the American context. But what happens when the practice of cultural appropriation is transplanted to a foreign context such as Japan, where the question of race has been historically avoided in the postWorld War II period? The contention that this island nation is ethnically homogeneous has been increasingly challenged by the vocal activism of minority groups in Japan. A rise in immigration to support the country’s aging population and an enduring recession since the early 1990s has also caused the country to face a growing low-income class, betraying the country’s past assertion that most Japanese are middle class.2 In this environment, what forms do appropriations of Blackness take and what do they ultimately mean? John G. Russell, a longtime resident of Japan, chronicles the problematic nature of Black representation there in his recent contribution to the anthology Japan’s Minorities: The Illusion of Homogeneity. His chapter “The Other Other: The Black Presence in the Japanese Experience,” points to how recent stereotypes of Blackness paint hip-hop culture as a synonym for “Black culture” in general. This similitude obscures the breadth and depth of diversity of Blackness in the global Africana community. In particular, Russell problematizes the fact that images of violent, hypermasculine, misogynistic, gangsta rap culture are often construed as “Black culture” by the Japanese media (2009). This tendency is also problematic in the sense that, within the “hip-hop equals Black culture” discourse in Japan, the diversity of global hip-hop cultures is often sidestepped, making maledominant, prepackaged, U.S. gangsta rap the ultimate incarnation of hip-hop.
The Sex Issue: Deeper Than Misogyny
Fashion, Feminism and the Re-construction of Black Womanhood by Female Hip-Hop Artists, 1978-1989 By Allison Hamilton Illustration by Cita Sadeli 58
“Sloppy slouching is something I won’t do / Some think that we can’t flow/ Stereotypes, they got to go.” -- Queen Latifah, Ladies First (1989)
uring the early years of hip-hop, an era wrought with significant political and social turbulence, many female artists used their craft to promote feminist ideas. Between 1978 and 1986, more than 60 albums were released featuring over 30 female emcees or DJs (Phillips, Reddick-Morgan, & Stephens 2005, p. 255).1 This period brought a wave of female artists that electrified the hip-hop landscape with events such as the debut of the Mercedes Ladies, the first all-female DJ and emcee crew; the founding of Sugar Hill Records by Sylvia Robinson, which produced the acclaimed “Rappers Delight” hit; and the notorious Roxanne episode of 1984, in which rapper Roxanne Shanté is credited with being among the earliest hip-hop artists to engage in the “diss” tradition. However, most discussions limit the trajectory of feminist ideologies translated through hip-hop culture, attributing the beginnings of its feminist themes to the 1990s and the rise of thirdwave feminism. Rather than occupying this position, I assert that ideas of feminism have been expressed through the artistry of female participants since the early stages of hip-hop’s development. This foundation took place during a unique period in feminist theory, operating in the span between the second- and third-waves of feminist traditions. Here, women of color found themselves articulating a host of ideas, ranging from the secondwave sentiments of independence from patriarchic forces and the drive to compete within male-dominated spaces to foreshadowing convictions on the eve of 1990s Black feminism and womanism movements, such as sex-positivity and legislative justice. However, it is my belief that the idea of a holistic approach to
Black womanhood dominated the verbal and visual discourse of female hiphop artists. This idea of an expanding definition of Black womanhood has been discussed with regard to hip-hop lyrics, but little attention has been paid to bodily aesthetics as an indicator of the dialogue surrounding the meaning of Black womanhood in early hip-hop culture. As I began to contemplate the idea of bodily aesthetics in hip-hop, I realized that conversations concerning hip-hop dress often focus on very particular styles of adornment. Discussions surrounding “bling,” “ice,” and the transition from gold to platinum jewelry (or teeth) are prevalent. There are still debates about whether or not sagging pants is a trend developed from prison culture or whether or not Tommy Hilfiger told Oprah he didn’t want Blacks wearing his clothes. We were there for the beginnings of Phat Farm, Karl Kani, and Ecko Unlimited and we argued over who the “Us” was in FUBU. Nostalgic for the days when we wore Cross Colours or Members Only, we discuss hip-hop dress in the language of shell-top Adidas, Jordans, or Air Force Ones (in regional dialects, of course). While I am not suggesting that only men wore these styles and brands, or denying the utility of these iconic symbols in the examination of hip-hop aesthetics, it is my belief that limiting the discourse of hip-hop fashion solely to conversations surrounding so-called “urbanwear”2 reinforces the hyper-masculine lens through which we often view hip-hop. In turn, such a frame limits our discussion on women’s bodies in hip-hop to little more than unadorned flesh or to clothing for flesh’s sake, meaning dress that serves only to maximize the sexual appeal of the actual, corporeal body.
The Sex Issue: Deeper Than Misogyny
Featured Visual Artist
Sex has always been a part of hip-hop culture. In fact, sex is just part of American popular culture in general. However, the hyperbole of sexuality, violence and aggression of the Black male and female body has totally permeated the visual fabric of how race is framed through the mediated image--as found in many forms of popular media, but especially hip-hop. The Black body has historically been consumed by the masses in one way or another. The slave body was reduced to an extension of the slave master’s whim. In the same vein, the slave’s body is cut into whatever piece is needed for the function required and body parts become machines for labor. The objectification of the Black body left it dehumanized, reduced to hands, back, ass, dick, lips, vagina, skin, etc. This practice has not really changed. When you can control how people are viewed--and then objectify them--to a certain extent, you can control them. By using hip-hop techniques to remix, cut and sample meaning, you can reframe how the Black body is seen. You can bend reality. These images are so blatant and ubiquitous that they are soon seen to be the truth. Seeing is believing, even in an age where images can be readily altered ad nauseam. My work is about deconstructing stereotypes. I try to open up the closed nature of these images in order to promote dialogue about their origins, power and how to undermine their hold on the socialized psyche of American popular culture. These images that I created for Words. Beats. Life are meant to engage, provoke and disturb. The practice of dehumanizing the individual in order to sell products has a long history--one that naturally extends to hip-hop culture. However, when you couple that practice with the history of slavery in America’s development, it recontextualizes this practice even more and depictions of our bodies become internalized. We stop being people of African descent and become “bitches,” “dawgs,” “chicken-heads,” “stallions,” and “hood rats.” We identify with the animals that we have been called for generations. The bodies I depict are hung on meat hooks as if waiting to be consumed in a butcher shop. Their eyes are soulless and empty like the culture that spawned them. The bodies are cut into their necessary portions for the viewing pleasure. However, pleas for help and a longing to be seen echo throughout the background of the work in Old English font, the “gangsta” typeface. In the end, no matter how “ghetto fab” you are, I think everyone wants to just be seen as a person. That’s what I want my work to help accomplish. John Jennings is an associate professor of Graphic Design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is also the co-author of the graphic novel The Hole: Consumer Culture and a co-founder of Eye Trauma, a Webbased collective of sequential artists, activists and curators who seek to expand the public’s perception of the comics medium.
The Sex Issue: Deeper Than Misogyny
Chipping Away at the Artifice of Black Masculinity: Without the Hurt that Reality Makes “Capitalism will exploit anything and everything that it possibly can.” - Angela Davis, Identifying Racism in the Era of Neocolonialism
By Tanea Richardson Art by Kehinde Wiley
hroughout history, representations of Black masculinity have been relentlessly pimped, auctioned and sold to the highest bidder. Contemporary image selling exists as a modern day slave auction: Distribution is more global and less restricted, demand has diversified, attire is more fashionable and transaction prices have climbed. As a result, depictions of Black masculinity abound. Perspectives on Black masculinity as presented in Thelma Golden’s 1994 exhibition Black Male at the Whitney Museum offered varying viewpoints from Lorna Simpson’s quiet, contemplative Gestures/Reenactments (1985) to harsher images such as Still from Spike Lee’s “School Daze” (1988) and Adrian Piper’s animalistic Vanilla Nightmares #8 (1986). In the 16 years since the exhibit, along with the proliferation of imagery and ensuing generation of capital, have images and perceptions of Black masculinity evolved? It’s against this historical backdrop that it’s necessary to undertake an examination of the work of Kehinde Wiley, a New York-based artist who has garnered acclaim for his large-scale, classically executed, hue-intense oil paintings of young Black men in heroic poses. For Wiley, Black youth and masculinity are at the very core of his artistic practice. As Emil Wilbekin states in “Master
Class”: “The history of painting by and large has pictured very few Black people, and in particular very few Black men. There is an interest in countering that absence” (2006, p. 28). So begins Wiley’s quest to fill the absence with his trendy brand of Black masculinity: portraits of young, beautiful Black men adorned in hip-hop clothing. Wiley, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, formally studied painting in San Francisco before completing his MFA studies at Yale in 2001. He subsequently honed his artistic approach as an artistin-residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem. In art historical terms, he is positioned as a “figure painter in the tradition of Barkley Hendricks” and a “hot conceptualist” (Johnson, 2008; Smith, 2008). Wiley’s art shows are nothing short of a spectacle in which fanfare, performance and visual art intertwine to enliven the viewing experience. His reputation, initially formed through his early Old Master portraits of the hip-hop elite: L.L. Cool J, Ice T, Big Daddy Kane, Salt-N-Pepa and DJ Spinderella, continues to reach outside of visual art contexts (Banks, 2005). Puma recently commissioned him to create a collection of clothing and accessories for the 2010 World Cup to be held in South Africa (Straub, 2009).
The Sex Issue: Deeper Than Misogyny
Cupid and Psyche Inspired by Kehinde Wiley, this image is based on a statue of Cupid and Psyche by Antonio Canova. Venus, jealous of Psycheâ€™s beauty, ordered her son Cupid to prick her with one of his arrows to cause her to fall in love with someone repulsive, but Cupid accidentally pricks himself instead. Illustration by Elizabeth Blackford