Blog Watch Edition 8b: Gender and Sexuality

Politically correct epiphanies are not limited to SXSW attendees, it seems. Details after the jump.

This Is My Rifle: Homosexuality and Hip Hop – Jason James’s article on Rainbow Noise’s “Imma Homo” video contains the derivative  “wondering aloud whether or not we’d ever see an openly gay rapper” sermonizing that Dom Passantino anticipates and mocks in response to the same music video. James isn’t nearly as interested in analyzing the actual content of the video as Passantino, though. “This Is My Rifle” is a condescending, meandering rant that the assails the readers, and hip hop culture at large, for homophobic mind-crimes while demonstrating a surprisingly unenlightened view of sexuality.

The article is primarily concerned with James’s lingering hang-ups. He begins the article by, well, protesting too much: “I am in no way, shape or form gay. I am straight as an arrow and I have never even slightly considered entering into a homosexual relationship of any kind.” These are not the words of a man who is comfortable with his sexuality, let alone with acting as the catalyst of a discussion about homosexual hip hop artists. I don’t think that this excerpt should be interpreted  as a direct window into James’s psyche, but if he intends to engage in a mature, honest discussion of such topics, this preface along with his pre-emptive attack on anyone who might besmirch the comments section with immature name-calling, undermines that intention.

James’s faint (backhanded?) praise of the video’s content is also perplexing: “Even though the subject matter is vulgar … and misguided, the message is a positive one … you get the idea that any one of the Rappers could have taken verses from popular mainstream artists and just put a homosexual spin on it.” I can understand having a mixed reaction to a provocative song/video, so I’ll play along and accept that to some “Imma Homo” can seem vulgar and misguided and yet positive all at once. Fine. But if the song is decidedly derivative, why spin that into a strength? This smacks of tokenism, which has never been a reputable avenue towards equality. Hip hop has always been competitive and rowdy. If we are to accept that an openly gay rap group is allowed to participate, shouldn’t we feel equally comfortable calling them out for their shortcomings? There’s a sign at the door: “No biting allowed” and it doesn’t say “no homo” in parentheses.

Nothing undermines James’s attempts at fostering dialogue more successfully than his mawkish, incredulous confessions, however:

I’ve never understood male homosexuality. To not be attracted to the beauty of femininity is such a far-out concept that I can’t wrap my mind around it … I’ve tried to be more accepting of it, because I hate prejudice in all its forms, but it’s one issue that I’ve never been comfortable addressing. Even as I write this I’m trying to get through it as fast as possible so I don’t have to think about it.

This hand-wringing is self-serving and tragically counter-productive. Those inclined to applaud James’s candor for its own sake should consider that he could have explained his baggage in a less hysterical manner. At the very least he should have abstained from characterizing male homosexuals as abnormal and perverse, especially after haranguing the readers for their intolerance and immaturity before they could even put such thoughts into words, Minority Report style. But as I’ve noted, this article isn’t really about dialogue or inclusion.

The Real Women of Hip-Hop Tackle Its Negative Images – Jacque Reid recently moderated a panel discussion featuring “MC Lyte, Salt-N-Pepa, Monie Love, SWV and Lil’ Mo, along with Eshe and Tasha Larae of Arrested Development” … as a part of Tom Joyner’s Fantastic Voyage cruise. Ok, cool, I guess. I’m not one to disrespect my elders just to get a few laughs, so I’ll assume that “Real Women Of Hip-Hop” refers to the fact that all of these women have made memorable contributions to hip hop music and as such are qualified to speak about issues that relate to their experience in the biz. That’s not unreasonable, right?

Well, judging from Reid’s description, the discussion was centered around bemoaning the current state of hip hop and casting females as the unwitting, helpless victim’s of hip hop’s sexist stranglehold. The level of cognitive dissonance appears to have been off the proverbial charts. During the talk, Nelly’s “Tip Drill” video, Snoop Dogg’s 2003 MTV Awards antics, and the case of an aspiring video model who died while receiving illegal silicone injections meant to enlarge her posterior were mentioned as examples of hip hop’s victimization of women, sure signs of a culture that strayed from  its formerly righteous path.

Since the women on the panel claim to be the mature, relevant, real face of women in hip hop, one might expect that they were forthright enough to ponder their own complicity in the overarching patriarchal scheme of things, right? According to Reid, the panelists agreed that they collectively represent a perfectly innocent time in hip hop history:

Over the years and still today, several of the women on the panel have given their fans plenty of sexy, but they have always kept it classy. Not once have any of them disrespected themselves or the sisterhood. And on the panel, the ladies admitted that things have taken an unfortunate turn.

I never expected that I’d see hip hop bashing and indirect slut-shaming integrated into the same agenda, but now that I think about it, I should have seen this coming years ago. The narrative that posits hip hop as an art form in a state of degeneration has always contained a sub-plot depicting the widespread adoption of an increasingly misogynistic world view by male artists and fans. Monie Love falls in line and insists that “black men in the industry need to be more accountable for their expectations of black women”; the reader is expected to unflinchingly accept the idea that men are the only perpetrators of the dirty business of misogyny who have any agency.

Reid shows no interest in challenging or even complicating such notions. With no sense of irony whatsoever, she cites Lil Mo’s anecdote of bleaching her hair blond in imitation of Salt N’ Pepa with such frequency that all of her hair fell out as a sure sign that “these artists display a genuine, mutual respect and affinity for one another.” And just in case you thought that the panel might have had the sense to draw a necessary distinction between artistic performance and real life conduct, Cheryl “Salt” Wray urges readers to “make a difference by showing support for the women in music who are putting forth positive images on and off the stage.” ((This doesn’t bode well for Foxxy Brown, who was kicked off the cruise for unspecified behaviors unbecoming to a lady.)) Which negative images are being tackled, and for whose benefit, exactly?

Bonus: A Few Words For Nate Dogg I have related my misgivings with Jay Smooth’s commentary on the misogynistic content of Nate Dogg’s lyrics at length in the comments sections here and here, so I won’t regurgitate them now, but I figured I’d link the T.R.O.Y. readers to the discussions already taking place. To make a long story short: I’m not thrilled with the way Jay Smooth appended a lukewarm critique of Nate’s lyrics onto a video meant to honor the deceased crooner’s legacy. — Thun

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21 Responses to “Blog Watch Edition 8b: Gender and Sexuality”

  1. phil says:

    what is “tokenism”?

    • Thun says:

      “In the arts, employment, and politics, tokenism is a policy or practice of limited inclusion or artistic and/or political representation of members of a minority group, usually creating a false appearance of inclusive practices rather than discrimination, intentional or not.”

  2. done says:

    “There’s a sign at the door: “No biting allowed” and it doesn’t say “no homo” in parentheses.”

    and the pre-emptive Minority Report hipocrasy thing is some good writing. Its a shame these dont bring the authors you criticize out the woodwork like Noz’s A Labarynth, A Maze posts did cos your sonnin em somethin awful, Noz’s posts were great but some of these are superior imo.
    I kinda hope J Smooth doesnt turn up at my post though, I dont have the debate skills to combat that PC wishy-washy machine set to full spin. sorry that almost-puns terrible but i cant help myself sometimes.

    That jason James dudes had me laughin –
    “I’m a huge fan of both Freddie Mercury (Queen) and Elton John and not once has their sexual preference crossed my mind when listening to their music”

    That D-Nice interview from a while back exposed Monie Love as the most irritating clown in rap history, that faux-american accent screech is nails on a chalkboard.

  3. done says:

    Lookin at it now, that comment i just wrotes a bit weird. just a bunch of disconnected statements.

    Great work anyways.

  4. Thun says:

    Well, this isn’t a hugely popular blog. I mean, I think we have a decent following within a niche part of the rap bloggasfear and occasionally the really popular blogs link to us and sometimes we get linked on twitter and whatnot. But it’s not as if the whole bloggasfear sees everything we post.

    My primary reason for Blog Watch isn’t to draw people into battle, though. It would be cool, and I think potentially constructive, if the writers that I cite defended their work, but I’m more interested in instructing my readers about how to critically assess the undifferentiated mass of info that flies at them online. Granted, my pieces are snarky (though not overly snarky as some have implied) but I back up what I say logically, to the best of my knowledge. I’m proud of the series thus far, I think I’ve kept it civil without dulling my arguments for the sake of appeasing our American penchant for gutless diplomacy.

    Noz’s “A Labyrinth, A Maze” series was great and an inspiration for Blog Watch (though I have differentgoals and approaches) so thank you for making the comparison.

    Agreed that J Smooth is a master of killing people with middling kindness and perfectly pared sentences. His powers of deflection are incredible and he’d make a great Senator. I wouldn’t vote for him, though.

    Monie Love is detestable. Did you know that the writing credits to her female empowerment jam “Ladies First” are attributed solely to Apache, the genius (not kidding) behind “Gangsta Bitch”?

    • done says:

      Ha Apache! i never heard that before thats hilarious. I always thought an argument could be made that Gangsta Bitch is more empowering than it is derogatory but once again im talkin bout that which i know not to speak on

      Yeah youv done a good job of keepin it professional, i agree- even if your tone is snarky its a lot better it be that than J Smooth ambigious politickin. A certain level of diplomacy and tacts important but not at the expense of honesty or clarity. Some people have hair-trigger emotions iregardless anyways.

      TROY isnt gettin CB hits but im pretty sure its well respected and read by a lot of the best bloggers, similar to Werner’s humble little blog. I just wish people would link to the stuff they enjoyed reading more, if your gonna throw up three random mp3s/videos with a breif paragraph you could at least post a link to a good post they read that day. im sure they have a bunch of good reasons like trying to be selective and avoiding getting embroiled in internet politics but I think it would do a lot more positive than harm and would go a long way to lessening a lot of the more unhealthy aspects of this internet niche-culture. It took me years to broaden my internet reading habits and i make a good effort. And theyr still kinda limited. I mean loads of sites dont even really link or have blogrolls, its kinda ridiculous too that theres only a couple that do weekly roundups like this site and HHIR.

      These posts do succeed in your goal of filtering and helping people interpret the questionable shit, I mean iv learnt a lot from them myself but I really think the real progress is to be made in the back and forth with the authors, something which would probably bring more new commenters/readers into the fray anyway.

      I dont wanna get all new age We Are The World but I really think if a lot of these self-importany blog types deflated their egos a bit and joined in the conversation more this whole niche within a niche conservatism could be eroded down a good bit, it has its benifits definitly but some of its negative side effects could be lessened relatively easily in my opinion.

      • done says:

        I always liked when some small blog gets linked to by a much bigger one with a different audience and gets miliions of comments out of nowhere, all “this is bullshit” etc, it may not always be constructive but its healthy imo.

        No one wants to be that one cunt who has never left his home town. especially if its only got one nightclub and your barred.

        • Thun says:

          Don’t get me wrong, mayne, I think that I’ve posted enough pieces of quality to be mentioned among the more popular long form rap bloggers, and I do hope that I continue to gain readers.

          I never thought too hard about the possibility of the Blog Watch series catalyzing serious discourse that could allow all the participants, the non-blogging readers and myself included, to benefit from it, to walk away with a widened perspective on music and its surrounding discourse. That sounds great, and I intend to think about how to get that process moving. I suppose I could at least let writers known that they are being cited when I post these pieces. Not sure if that will be taken as an overly excited invitation to war, but I am prepared to duke it out civilly, so why not?

          I am in the process of writing a piece that assails the rap bloggasfear for showering Saigon and Joell Ortiz’s latest efforts with hyperbolic, superlative praise steeped in east coast elitist rhetoric but wholly ignorant of the music of the “classic” New York rap that these artists feebly imitate but never duplicate and never build upon. I have a feeling it will start a productive discussion that the non-writer readers can feel comfortable chiming in on, too.

          • done says:

            Oh I definitly think non-writers can contribute just as much but yeah thered be a lot more to take from it if the authors joined in.

            Its probably a matter of how sensitive they are if they see you telling em about these posts as an invitation to war, if anything its a lot more civil to involve them in a discussion on something they wrote but I can understand you not wanting to blatantly self-promote or be seen as trolling/attention seeking, especially considering the effort you put into being objective.

            Have you considered twitter? I know some people (me included up til a few wees ago) hate the whole idea of it but its a relatively relaxed, informal way to get in touch with bloggers etc thats a lot more preferrable than a email (which could be inferred as an invite to war due to its formal nature) or an off-topic self blog comment. If you used it solely for this purpose itd be easier to stomach it, i mean you have an account anyways.

          • done says:

            Ha and youv been talin bout this Joell/Saigon post for a while now, is it 40,000 words or something?

            lookin forward to it, them dudes dont get enough slaggin

  5. My thoughts exactly on that ‘This Is My Rifle’ post. The author also made it seem like he believed he’d stumbled upon the first openly gay rappers, which was just odd.

  6. Thun says:

    @ Done, Twitter might be the best option. I could also just link to my response nonchalantly in the comments section, if people take it as shameless self-promo so be it. My words stand on their own, I think.

    Nah, the Saigon/Ortz piece will be lengthy but not a novella. But it has expanded in scope since I first conceived it, from a contrarian review to a full on critique of the reception culture of both records. I am trying my best to avoid sweeping generalizations so I have gone through the records and the reviews with a fine toothed comb to find examples of every claim I intend to make. Plus, to counter the rhetoric that Saigon and Ortiz are exceptional in the current scene and competent upholders of tradition, I’ll be citing the works of different artists as well. Should be lots of fun.

    • done says:

      Nice one il be sure to wear my “i hate boom bap” hat if i comment on it. I always feel funny dissin joell and sai-giddy cos i used to be a fan but I suppose if you go back far enough I was a spice girls fan too so who gives a shit, you learn as you get older.

      ha i used to think Kweli was better than Ghostface, i think cos he was “concious” or somthing.

  7. Dom says:

    It just seems a weird stick to beat rap in particular with, I mean… how many gay R&B stars are there? Isn’t there only one openly gay country musician? And like the same number for metal?

    I think the old argument was that “it’s good for troubled gay teens to have a model they can look up to”, but does anyone honestly think gay teen suicide rates would be cut if it was revealed that Vado took it up the shitpipe? My guess: no.

    • Spen1 says:

      first thing is that the only suicide stories we are exposed to are the girls that suffer from bulimia and the gay teens suffering from social pressure. the reason why we hear this in the media is because it is different (so it sells). because it is not popular to be gay, not many people that are in the limelight are actually open homosexuals or lesbians… but I would bet that many of them are in the closet. A study that came out about the NFL said that 92% of the athletes were straight (which i thought would be a higher number)… in further research with anonymous polls, it was shown that the NFL was 39% gay (2006)..

      so It seems that it isn’t because people just chose to come out and be comfortable with it, it seems that there is some sort of social pressure imposing on them forcing them to do otherwise. the thing is, it would cut the “rates” you are speaking of… only if a complete social change happens. Maybe it sucks to say, but it may take the best athlete/hip-hop head/politician/social worker to be gay in order to see that change. And because what is “cool” has run this economy/social-word, than people must change the definition of what is cool, legal, and/or moral…

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