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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Best Songs of 2012 (20-11)

Like last year, I didn’t think 2012 was a strong year for albums. But there were a good number of individual songs that I loved this year.

Here are the first 10 after the jump.

 



Posted on December 30th, 2012 - Filed under Best of 2012,Music
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Crossover Is Complete: New Billboard Charts Complete A 30+ Year Process

According to Billboard:

Billboard unveils new methodology today for the long-standing Hot Country Songs, Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Hot Latin Songs charts. Each receive a major consumer-influenced face-lift, as digital download sales (tracked by Nielsen SoundScan) and streaming data (tracked by Nielsen BDS from such services as Spotify, Muve, Slacker, Rhapsody, Rdio and Xbox Music, among others) will now be factored into the 50-position rankings, along with existing radio airplay data monitored by Nielsen BDS. The makeovers will enable these charts to match the methodology applied to Billboard’s signature all-genre songs ranking, the Billboard Hot 100. (emphasis mine)

I placed emphasis on that last sentence for a reason.

That is: the genre charts are now solely about reflecting how each genre is selling (or being listened to) everywhere, rather than reflecting (albeit imperfectly) the different music listening habits of different demographics. It will now be a mistake to look at the R&B chart or the Country chart and make assumptions about what black people or people in Nashville like the most. People should be aware of that.

That loss is significant, but it’s not as tragic as it sounds because this is a process that’s been occurring for more than 30 years. People have always listened across genres, at least to some degree. But in the 30 or so years since Michael Jackson basically destroyed the radio format and made crossover the only way to measure success and media consolidated so that there are no longer any independent (black and other) radio stations that cater to their communities rather than push a national playlist, the non-Hot 100 Billboard charts have increasingly measured something that exists less and less each year.

Even the fact that people are upset about the fact that Rihanna isn’t “R&B” is an example of just how little the chart reflects what it used to reflect – and how little people know what the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart has been for its entire existence: a measure of what is popular in black neighborhoods and hangouts. Without independent black radio (as well as black folks’ total allegiance to crossover), it hasn’t really been that for a while so it makes sense that Billboard would go ahead and make it (along with the other genre lists) a straight “ranking of how many people in America listen to songs of this type” chart.



Posted on October 16th, 2012 - Filed under Music
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Nas – ‘Daughters’

I am endlessly fascinated with the way the record-buying public views Nas with a mixture of amusement and indifference. Unlike Kweli or Mos or Common or Tip, something about Nas's overtly political and heartfelt messages doesn't connect even though he's a better emcee by half. 

I say this because as usual people don't really like Nas' new song.

 

 

These people are crazy.



Posted on May 29th, 2012 - Filed under Hot Videos,Music
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Bei Maejor – ‘Trouble’

This song has grown on me.

I don't like it – mostly because wishing the vocals weren't run through Pro Tools prevents me from thinking much of anything else – but I don't hate it like so much music made by millennial black artists. Which is truly an accomplishment.

 



Posted on December 8th, 2011 - Filed under Music
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