I got a hypochondriac flow that get real ill, get nauseous to the beat, I spit sick at will.

Defining Gay Hip-Hop: Reviewing LastO’s ‘Where’s Vivian’

where's vivian cover photo

 

“I don’t want to spend my time on earth performing, yelling “Look At Me” or ”Confirm My Humanity, Please” in various tongues. I have problems of my own.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates

One of the things that I’ve found most difficult to navigate as a black same-gender-loving man is the way it is assumed that “blackness” and “homosexuality” are supposed to be somehow mutually exclusive and in conflict with one another. And the temptation is to choose one that controls. And while it is certainly true that the “gay” construct is a largely White one, my race and my sexuality really do work in concert. They inform one another.

So you do have to move through life aware of these boxes – “black,” “gay,” “SGL,” “homosexual,” “man,” etc - but constantly finding ways to not have to tell everyone else that they aren’t necessarily your boxes. And that anxiety does, in some ways, become part of the experience. Not necessarily because you are confused or self-loathing, but because there is real work in operating in a world where you have to always be conscious of people trying to categorize you.

Add to that trying to be an emcee when “gay rapper” is seemingly more a contradiction in terms than “black gay” and you understand I think why so much of gay hip hop feels like it’s always trying to decide whether to be “gay” or “hip hop.”

LastO’s Where’s Vivian is the first hip-hop album by a black homosexual man that really gets that all of this shit is just a false choice. It feels like the first time that a gay/SGL rapper is aware of all the traps that being a “gay rapper” has – and falls into none of them, primarily by having clear-eyed view of who exactly he wants to be as an artist. There’s anxiety here. There’s confidence. There’s also tremendous vulnerability. And, perhaps most notably, there’s a sense of self that is more present than it ever was before. And that’s saying something, because Run A Lap is one of the single best opening salvos I’ve ever heard an emcee make. It’s nearly perfect (I’d have left off So Magical, to be honest) and, for me, made me think “Oh, so this is what gay hip-hop can be.”

Where’s Vivian ups the ante by being more personal, more open — and yet forthright about the anxiety about doing so. That anxiety is really a running theme throughout the album, from the intro Bitches Be Like… all the way through to the tongue-in-cheek boast of I’m Ur S​.​s. Pt. 2, that actually draws you in because it is so often the underside of the confidence that an emcee is supposed to feel. As he says on the opening track, 34th and 42nd: “Truth be told/I might not be/Who they was rootin for/Who they would like to see.” Or take Dream Wild, which features the talented Sony Cobain, where Lasto explores why his desire to be an emcee is so powerful, asking: “Like it’s a dream that a nigga can’t get?/But I’m here though/Weirdo/Been did the shit 4 years ago.”

Because the conversation around gay hip-hop to date has been about whether or not there will be an emcee that the broader hip-hop community can embrace – and if that individual would have to not be “too gay” in order to feel that embrace – it’s quite refreshing that LastO doesn’t shy away from sex at all. It is certainly true that there are less explicit discussions of sex on Where’s Vivian than there are on Not For Non-Profit, but it is also true that what is discussed on Where’s Vivian is far more mature and, to my mind, representative of black gay men. Nearly every reference to sex also includes a reference to HIV, which is important given the rates of HIV in black gay communities and the anxiety that causes in the community. Even his love song to his boyfriend, For Tonight, is tinged with the always-present concern about the repercussions of sex:

And this consensus that love is for a nigga who acts like a bitch
is to keep niggas doing shit that kills us
Cause you know where ya dick is
Can you tell by looking exactly where that HIV is?

Perhaps the most amusing expression of Lasto’s anxiety is his ambivalent relationship to his beauty. On the album’s standout track, its centerpiece, Barcelon, Lasto laments: “I was told to undress; had to haggle to keep the hat and shit/Management wanted me to be a woman wearing Mac on lips/Ya’ll know that’s a Manolo slingback that I just cannot fit.” And then builds a whole song joking about how he’ll begrudgingly accept being a sex symbol on I’m Ur S​.​s. Pt. 2. and admits “Flaunt it?/Fuck it that’s in me.”

In a year when a lot of really talented artists put out uneven, messy albums, it’s really remarkable that Where’s Vivian is such a stunningly complete album experience. It’s not fair to pick a favorite because you really should always listen to the album all the way through, but Barcelon (easily the best song on the album), 34th Or 42nd, and both I’m Ur S.S. are brilliantAnd while 17 tracks for $6 is quite a deal, I might not have added Hunnid-Yard Stare at the last minute and can kinda do without Candy Clouds.

Ultimately though, Where’s Vivian fulfills the promise of Run A Lap spectacularly, reminding us again that if there is anyone defining what it means to be a gay rapper in all its messy, complex humanity, it is LastO.



Posted on December 29th, 2013 - Filed under Music,Sexuality
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Fatigue, Fluidity and Compassion: Some Thoughts On the Mister Cee Hot 97 Interview

I just finished listening to the Mister Cee Hot 97 interview and here’s the thing that I think is getting lost in this conversation about this interview: there is genuine love and respect and compassion between two, and then three, black men who are discussing non-heterosexual sexuality.



Posted on September 12th, 2013 - Filed under Sexuality
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Race and Sexuality. Who Gets to Decide?

Frank Ocean Ezra_Miller

Ezra Miller is quite eloquent in an interview with AfterElton on why he self-identifies as “queer”:

AfterElton: You routinely refer to yourself as “queer,” which I love. It’s an old word, but it’s kind of a new form of self-identification.
EM: 
It’s true! And it’s a different form of LGBT culture for sure. It’s even almost defiant of each of those letters. It’s kind of wonderfully all-encompassing. I’m all about it. I’m all about that word. I think it’s incredibly useful just as we head into an era of a more indiscriminate and open spectrum of human gender and sexuality. I think it’s good for us to have a word that isn’t so ultimately definitive, that leaves room for people to always be discovering and exploring who they are as a loving being.

AE: It’s defiant of that expectation to narrowly self-assign, I think, but it still aligns you in camaraderie with everything “LGBT.”
EM: 
Well, right. It’s funny how quickly so many heteronormative standards have crept their way into conventional gay culture. I think already even though we’ve done an incredibly productive cycle of opening up gaps in human rights in this particular area, I think there’s a whole new recycle that has to take place.

I find it incredibly interesting how white LGBT activists and other gay-identified folks are thoroughly comfortable and deferential to Ezra Miller’s desire to claim “queer” rather than “gay” or “bisexual”, even as they seem intent (here, herehere, and here, just to name a few) on forcing Frank Ocean into the LGBT framework (is he bi or gay? did he “come out”, etc).

I mean, even the most cursory search of Ezra Miller on AfterElton or any other gay-identified website reveals a consistent use of the term “queer”, but do the same search on Frank Ocean and you find that the more standard LGBT identifiers (most notably that he “came out”) predominate. In fact, I find that there is often hostility to the fact that he refuses to claim any label at all, particularly after his GQ interview.

Apparently, black self-determination is always something to be questioned or, worse, ignored.



Posted on February 12th, 2013 - Filed under Film,Music,Sexuality
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Grappling with the Challenges of Race and Sexuality: ‘Skin Deep the Series’

I certainly hope this show gets produced…

…because there could be real power in a show that forthrightly addresses issues of race, sexuality, and masculinity in a way that forces us to rethink our assumptions and become aware of the contexts in which we live in the United States.

But this promotional video does give me pause because so much of the interaction between the characters is provocative in a way that doesn’t seem to reveal anything beyond the superficial. Obviously, it’s hard to tell anything from a 10-minute promotional video, but with dialogue like “take it” and “wrong color” and (apparently) cliche situations like bashings and thug fetishes this could be terribly exploitative, rather than progressive. There’s an illusion of depth here that suggests that the producers haven’t seriously considered who each of these men are.

Similarly, the additional promotional materials suggest that this show will be set in Atlanta, GA, but this presentation lacks a sense of place. This could be Any Diverse Coastal Town USA. The key then would be for the makers of this show to open up the world of these characters so we can understand where they come from and who they are. Right now – these are just archetypes.

For Skin Deep The Series to truly do what it seems to be setting out to do, it will have to really take seriously the realities and unique circumstances that produced each of these individuals. And that means being really honest rather than just provocative.



Posted on December 11th, 2012 - Filed under Sexuality,Television
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The Wonderful Deepening of Kaldrick King

La-complex-season-2-premiere-kaldrick-king

It was while watching Episode 3 of Season 2 that I began to realize that Kaldrick King, played with remarkable focus and depth by the phenomenally talented Andra Fuller, was quite simply the most complex and truly human black homosexual male character ever on television.

Kal throws a party, hiding his pain and anguish in plain sight, when Infinite Jest, a young upstart rapper played by Steven James, challenges his throne. The rap battle between the two men provided the show with the opportunity to underline the fact that Kaldrick King is a performance, a ferocious character that is suffocating the real man even as it is quite literally the only thing he has left. It’s no surprise it takes him a second to drop the pose long enough to stop the beat down of Infinite Jest. Moving in and out of Kaldrick King is just getting harder and harder to do.



Posted on September 7th, 2012 - Filed under Sexuality,Television
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