Tongues Untied: Is Fly Young Red's Newest Track Revolutionary?

"None of this removes the misogyny in this song/video where -- instead of black women -- gay femme black men are being used as tropes. But I do think much is to be praised."
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Along with the three co-authors listed, Bryson Rose, writer and LGBTQIA youth advocate, also participated in this conversation.

Wade: I'm sure you've heard the new song, "Throw Dat Boy P****" by black gay male rapper Fly Young Red. I thought his new song and the buzz around it would be a great place to start. And because Darnell and I are old heads, we wanted to include some younger voices. So, what are your initial reactions to the song and video?

Bryson: Honestly, my initial reaction was one of irritation before I even heard the song or saw the video. I read the caption and already knew I'd be looking for answers after I heard the song and watched the video. But that song title? Boy, BYE!

Preston: Initially, I didn't know how to feel about the song and video. On one hand, I was enthused to see an openly gay black male rapper featuring and discussing black gay (femme) men. On the other hand, I began thinking about mainstream objectification solely, until I remembered that conversations about objectification without agency, from my view, would be a failed one.

Darnell: Wade, you tweeted that the song is "revolutionary." Say more.

Wade: Honestly, I gasped when I first saw the video. But then I started questioning why it was that I was so uncomfortable with the video and the song. I was uncomfortable with the lyrics and uncomfortable seeing femme boys dancing the way they were while having a man rap about having sex with them. I had never experienced that feeling and I imagined not many others had either. And I'm trying to be intentional about allowing myself to sit in uncomfortable spaces and this was exactly that. So, instead of running away and worrying about the way the video looked. I said, whoa. What courage. What a brilliant idea. And what a wonderful conversation did he just start on so many different levels. Darnell, what was your initial reaction and has it changed?

Darnell: Well, I love discovering new queer/trans rappers. And I especially dig when they are rapping to dope beats. And I dig the idea of making space for femme-performing brothers. And, yet, I think the video, which doesn't at all zero in on the dancers faces (just their asses, by the way) and the song, itself, which reinforces the idea that femme-performing male bodies have a p*****, that they are bodies to be banged out only, that they are a sum of body parts only, reinforces so many harmful and sexist ideas.

Bryson: I think the video says a lot about the intra-community politics of gender, sexuality and sexual behavior.

Preston: There is a lot to praise about the video, Wade. And I'm glad Darnell highlights the sexism in this video and song. I, for one, am pleased with this song, and though some may disagree, I see it as a radical act of resistance to not only some aspects of masculinity, but to hip-hop culture generally. I was disappointed when I heard initial thoughts to the song because they simply seemed to reinforce respectability politics because I'm almost sure if this song was about a black and gay male rapper discussing marriage equality, some of our community would have been overjoyed by its appeasing elements. None of this removes the misogyny in this song/video where -- instead of black women -- gay femme black men are being used as tropes. But I do think much is to be praised, and I agree with Wade that it is revolutionary.

Wade: This video is problematic in some ways, but what about the many young kids who we see in the clubs doing these exact same types of dances having an opportunity to hear someone rap about them. Yes, the language is crass and the imagery too, but can we celebrate someone going against the grain and offering young gay kids who aren't going to notice the sexism and the like a chance to hear a song by someone who looks like, acts and talks like them. Darnell, if the video was less sexist would the lyrics be ok and the framing of "boy p****"? And Bryson, you're a mentor to a gay aspiring rapper. Is this song and type of rap a gateway for other gay rappers to get exposure and is that your real fear? And is there any you would celebrate?

Darnell: First, I think we differ in terms of the ways we define "revolutionary." If by revolutionary, we mean transformative, then I would have to disagree with you. If by revolutionary, you mean the first of its kind, then I would still have to disagree. It's not even the first rap by talented black queer/trans artists. Black queer rappers ain't a new phenomenon. Let's not forget black queer rappers like the Deepdickcollective, Big Freedia, Zebra Katz, Brooke Candy and soooo many others who have been in the game for some time. And I should be clear, what is being rapped about ain't shocking to most of us. Not to me, anyway. I like a good turn up in the club. The argument could be made that as long as the "agency" of the performers is not stifled, that is, if the dancers, for example, make a choice to refer to their asses as "boy p*****" then there can be no objectification. But that does not dismiss the sexism inherent in that choice. Why the need to reference a vagina? That is a very specific reference that is gendered and often the site to be dominated/controlled by men (some women, too) -- even by force. I guess what I am trying to get at it is this: misogyny and sexism in queer drag is still misogyny and sexism. And I don't think that is revolutionary. It is honest, but not transformative.

Wade: Darnell, no lie. I'm surprised by your reaction to a point. I'm still waiting for you to find the redeeming qualities in this young black gay rapper. We all dance to songs by heterosexual rappers -- why is this song any different? Yes, we may say "Tip Drill" is problematic, but we still dip low to it. And Bryson, you can dip it better than all of us.

Bryson: Wade, many young, aspiring rappers can use those tropes to 'make it'. But make it where? Conflating the idea of being an artist and capitalistic success is, well, another discussion.

Wade: Are we expecting this young KID, maybe 23 or 24, who exists in a world where this is their world to rap about anything else? Where's the space for him to start in one place and finish in another? And are we just really uncomfortable seeing shit we see in the club appear in the light of day? We all dance to shit just like this... We don't leave the dance floor when Luda comes on... I call bullshit.

Bryson: You're right, Wade. But you know what the difference is between this and say, 'Loliipop' by Lil Wayne? Lil Wayne is actually talented. Politics aside, this is also an awful, awful song. From production to word play (or lack thereof), to sentiment and delivery, this is... bad. The beat could be hot... the song can even be heralded for receiving attention because he is a breakout gay rapper... but that does not it revolutionary. Also, Azaelia Banks is all of 19 and made mixtapes that still bang.

Darnell: And Wade, it is sloppy to make the claim: well you dance to other songs with sexist lyrics so there. Nah, bruh, that just illuminates the point that the ish is so mundane and common that most of us men, queer, trans, and straight, accept it without critical thought. That does not mean that we are in the right and that this song is a beast.

Bryson: Wade, this song isn't good. And if he weren't gay, we wouldn't be having this conversation.

Darnell: DEAD!

Wade: It's revolutionary for kids to be able to dance to one of their own. I will look beyond the lyrics and hope that the rapper grows and doesn't remain static, but let's not always look to critique knowing the barriers that I'm sure exist for a Black gay rapper.

Preston: I do want to say that I do think honesty, especially for most marginalized communities, is transformative. At least I don't think the two are necessarily mutually-exclusive. But I would like to bring this idea that Wade is discussing -- participating in something privately, yet not wanting it to be publicly mentioned. Beyonce's latest single "Partition" is quite literally about someone not being seen performing oral sex. Rihanna's single "Cockiness (Love It)" discusses pleasure of receiving oral sex. Neither of these songs, with the exception of Bill O'Reilly and other conservatives, are demonized. In fact, I'm willing to say they are celebrated with twerks, line dances, and other performances. And while I also think these songs are radical, I think it is a tad hypocritical to "get our lives" off these songs while being frustrated with a black gay male rapper who can be seen as uplifting a community of gay black men who are often demonized. Again, none of this is to say that there are not elements of sexism and misogyny with the reference of boy "p***y", but if that is all we are examining with this song, we have missed many opportunities for discourse.

Darnell: Ah, there is a difference, though. In the songs you referenced the persons singing are not the peered upon objects. Beyonce and Rihanna sing about pleasure, sex, dominance and much else -- and I dig it -- but they are in control of their representation. They are not the objectified. I mean it might possibly be a different conversation if the song was about the rapper himself talking about throwing his "boy p****."

Preston: But are men who love their a** and refer to it being called a "p***y" also not in control? Not saying they are the same, but there are strong similarities.

Darnell: Not so in the case of the dancers in the video who we are now discussing as objects, the objectified. Your point is a good one, however: can the willing be objectified? I say "yes." Always hard to talk about agency and willingness and so much in circumstances like this.

Wade: I'll say this, I've had numerous discussion about this song and I only heard it two days ago and what I'm noticing and maybe not with you all is that there's a certain level of shame and internalized homophobia threaded within the conversation about this song.

Darnell: Not sure about the traces of internalized homophobia, at least in this convo, but I am just thinking about the ways that even we gay men can perpetuate and approve sexist culture. I am included in the "we" and make all manner of excuses for it. Nothing homo antagonistic about that. Just an observation.

Preston: I certainly understand that position and valid critique, Darnell. It's a similar one I had when I watched the video for the first time. Above all, I was simply wondering where the nuance was, not in this conversation which has been amazing, but in many others I've had recently. People seem to be 0 or 100 with this song or video, which I think is problematic because, from my view, that means people are seeing neither misogyny and sexism nor celebration.

Wade: Also I think Fly Young Red is no dummy. Entry into hip hop for anyone is full of barriers but for a gay rapper to gain any type of celebrity it is damn near impossible. Do you any of your think it was strategic? And let's not forget that in one of the opening lyrics, the rapper mentions using a condom. For all the kids who will not focus on the sexism and misogyny, they will hear and sing that part of the song. So there is some consciousness there.

Darnell: I don't feel comfortable making any claims about Fly Young Red's consciousness. For all I know he might be a great dude who is going to do amazing things in the world. I am merely thinking about the song's messages and the representations offered. I salute any queer person who is trying to make it in the rap game, which is not to say that some of the folk in the mainstream game ain't queer, but I digress. I just think that we, for the sake of being able to say "look, one of us is in the game..." or "we can openly talk about our sex and having sex lives too" we often fall short of critically thinking about important shit like sexism and misogyny and femme-antagonsim et cetera among black gay men. Listen, I dig a good sexy talk, but that is different than sexist talk. I've been guilty of both.

Preston: "Listen, I dig a good sexy talk, but that is different than sexist talk." **throws laptop** It was strategic as is capitalism. It was designed to uplift some while immediately pushing back others. I can't judge Fly Young Red, but something tells me it wasn't necessarily created to empower. And hold myself as accountable to being just as self-reflexive as Fly Young Red should be.

Wade: I'm not going to lie, I'm just not interested in critiquing him without knowing any background on him. And this kid is from New Orleans facing who knows what type of odds and he wants to be a rapper and he did it. He did it. I want to celebrate that for just a second and then later my OLD butt can think about the "ist" and "ism" that exist within the song and video.

Bryson: This song isn't complicated. It isn't memorable. It isn't revolutionary. It isn't even good. And as a consumer, I won't reward mediocrity. Le1f, another Black gay rapper who has made me think, shake my ass and be visually stimulated, has my attention and my dollars. Period.

Darnell: *Throws offering* Well, church...

Preston: I agree that it isn't complicated or memorable, but I 100% agree that a man rapping about seeing another man dance is bold and revolutionary, regardless of his intent.

Wade: Fly Young Red is hopefully starting something new. A world where same gender loving people can listen to music that talks about being sexual with each other and we don't have to guess or wonder about their sexuality. He moved through fear -- Have we?

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