A few weeks ago I asked my wife why it had taken so long for a song like Macklemore's "Same Love" to be made. She wisely responded that it was not until recently that such a song could be made. While our society has made a lot of progress with regard to gay rights, we still have a long way to go, and much homophobia remains, especially in the world of hip-hop.
I grew up listening to a lot of hip-hop music. I still do. And I will always love it for its creative use of beats and rhythm, not to mention its word craft. I also love its storytelling tradition and its ability to make important political points to the masses. But there is no doubt that, like the society we live in, hip-hop contains a lot of misogyny and homophobia.
Being the son of a feminist leader, and having been raised by lesbians, I would often cringe or stop myself from rapping along when a song reached the words "bitch," "ho" or "fag." I definitely came to a full stop at the word "nigga."
Last week Hot 97's DJ Mister Cee, a legendary hip-hop DJ who worked on Big Daddy Kane's 1988 debut album Long Live the Kane and discovered Biggie Smalls and worked on his seminal 1994 album Ready to Die, momentarily resigned from the iconic radio station after over 20 years there, citing his latest arrest for soliciting transgender prostitutes. He initially explained that he did not want his actions to draw negative attention to his employer.
However, in an extremely candid on-air interview the day following his resignation, Mister Cee told listeners that he was "tired of trying to do something or be something that I'm not." While he denied being gay, he admitted that he was grappling with his sexual identity and may be bisexual. He also announced his intention to engage in therapy to deal with these issues and vowed to cease his criminal activity with prostitutes.
Sadly, Mister Cee explained that he was concerned that his sexuality and his engaging in sexual acts with transsexuals might prevent him from getting bookings. Implicitly, he also seemed to be questioning whether his sexual identity and his hip-hop identity could coexist.
This should not be surprising. The problem has not just been the "YouTube comments lately," as Macklemore raps in "Same Love." Rather, Mister Cee, who is more intimate with hip-hop culture than most, had a strong basis for believing that "hip-hop hates [him]." The use of the word "gay" as a slur or put-down has been prevalent in rap lyrics and hip-hop culture for a long time. A DJ spinning those words for years would know that best.
However, Ebro Darden, the Hot 97 program director, was unwavering in his support for Mister Cee, telling him, "There's nothing wrong with being who you are," and urging him to withdraw his resignation. Other hip-hop legends, including DJ Funkmaster Flex, also chimed in with their support. And in an interview with XXL, Mister Cee stated that the vast majority of fans were supportive of his being honest about his sexuality.
While this was surely a big moment in hip-hop, particularly in its acceptance of an emotional conversation about sexuality and manhood between men, I actually believe that it is in line with an important part of hip-hop's ethos, which instructs us to "keep it real," for being true to oneself surely includes being honest and open about one's sexuality, being more authentic and being vulnerable.
Of course, no one should be outed against their will, and an individual has the right to keep their sexuality private. But all people should be able to freely discuss their sexuality and love lives without having to think twice about it. This allows us to be our whole selves wherever we are.
Public figures, especially in traditionally hypermasculine or homophobic arenas like hip-hop or professional basketball, such as Mister Cee and Jason Collins, have a tremendous impact when they are honest about their sexuality. This is because, as Cee remarked, "the truth will set you free." And not only does it set the speaker free; it sets us all free as it opens our minds about the diverse experience that is humanity. In other words, keeping it real can't be wrong.