To be honest, hip-hop/rap has never been "my thang." However, I'd been hearing noise about Hip-Hop in Houston. This new tome chronicles the hip-hop culture of that city, which is a major hub of the genre.
Since curiosity is one of my middle names, I contacted author Maco L. Faniel, who graciously sent me a copy. A native Houstonian, Mr. Faniel is an emerging scholar, speaker and advocate, and he's one gifted writer. Substantive, poignant and engrossing, Hip-Hop in Houston truly is buzzworthy -- and certainly lives up to its hype.
Faniel paints a detailed, nuanced and colorful account of the movers and shakers, as well as the seminal moments in the development and evolution of Houston's hip-hop scene and culture. Along with highlighting the city's rich musical history, Hip-Hop in Houston provides a deeper, fuller understanding and a better appreciation of the genre as a whole.
I spoke with Mr. Faniel about the intersection of hip-hop and homophobia. It was a rather enlightening conversation.
Wyatt O'Brian Evans: I'll start with a simple question that cuts right to the heart of the matter: Why is hip-hop/rap traditionally homophobic?
Maco L. Faniel: Hip-hop is traditionally an unaffirming and unsafe space for non-heteronormative sexualities in large part because of the racial and gendered politics that it responds to. Hip-hop is LGBTQI-phobic because the urban spaces that it represents are spaces for black masculine performance and protection in the face of everything, past and present, that threatens the existence of the black male body and or regards it as deviant, wayward, irresponsible, savage, and un-American. Therefore, virility, power over women, and other heteronormative ideas/practices become important to hip-hop culture to affirm fractured identities, and all other sexualities become subject to opprobrium and subject of teasing. Even hip-hop's embrace of lesbian love -- my girl had a girlfriend -- functions for male pleasure/scopophilia.
Evans: In 2008 Terrance Dean, a former MTV staffer who's gay, created somewhat of a stir with his book Hiding in Hip-Hop: On the Down Low in the Entertainment Industry. Dean has stated, "I wrote it so that people realize the industry has a gay subculture and we are part of this music." Jessica Bennett reviewed Dean's exposé for Newsweek and wrote, "Though it doesn't name names, the memoir is a detailed (and graphic) account of down-low life, gay sex parties and secret societies, where some of hip-hop's major artists openly sleep with men, only to go home to their wives and girlfriends at night's end." If true, isn't this blatantly hypocritical? Without outing anyone, do you have firsthand knowledge of Dean's claims?
Faniel: No, I am not familiar with the persons who do this, but yes, it is hypocritical. Yet doing so makes sense because of the profit motive associated with mainstream artists. The hip-hop industry sales "authenticity"; hence it is important for the bottom line to perform a black masculinity that is ghetto, hood, gangsta, ballerific, and heteronormative.
Evans: In 2006 African-American lesbian journalist and civil rights activist Jasmyne A. Cannick wrote a Pride Source column entitled "Hip hop's homophobia and black gay America's silence." In it she stated, "We cannot protest white shock jocks on their use of racially insensitive language and then say nothing about the sexually offensive language used by black rappers. One type of oppression isn't worse than another. Black America has an ethical and social responsibility to call out its own." What's your view?
Faniel: Right, because, as Dr. King aptly argued, "injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Evans: This past September Jon Caramanica wrote a piece entitled "Hip-Hop, Tolerance and a D.J.'s Bared Soul: He's Tired of Denial." In it he stated that there's a "gradual easing of hip-hop's internalized homophobia." Do you agree with his assessment? And if so, what factors are responsible? Also, do you believe that there will be an openly gay, bestselling hip-hop/rap artist in the foreseeable future? (Technically, Frank Ocean is R&B.)
Faniel: Although I agree that "it is no longer tenable for hip-hop to be an island" where only heteronormative sexualities are welcomed, I do not see much evidence that mainstream hip-hop performance is moving away from its main tropes: gangsta, pimp, hoe, and hustler. Yes, rappers like Kanye West, Jay Z, A$AP Rocky, Snoop Lion, 50 Cent, and Macklemore have made statements in support of gay rights, but their politics are not largely reflected through the lyrics of most of mainstream hip-hop. Their ability to speak in support of gay rights also represents a form of privilege and an eye on the bottom line because they are established artists with broad consumer bases. I don't know if mainstream hip-hop will support an openly LGBTQI artist to the point where that artist will reach the top of the charts, but because of the democratization of media (YouTube, ReverbNation, Spotify, etc.), rappers of various identities and expressions can live off of their art from the support of independent fan bases.
A must-read, Hip-Hop in Houston is an important work. As Ned Hibberd, a reporter for television station KRIV-Fox26, stated, "Hip-hop music - as we know it today - wouldn't exist without Houston's influence."
For further information on Maco L. Faniel, visit macofaniel.com.