As Frank Ocean steps up and talks about being a bi-sexual, all sorts of folks are reacting and proving that no matter what folks say or think, there is still a fascination with the sexual preference of those who entertain us… On one level we can unpack that and ask whats really going here? It’s not like gay folks haven’t been around.. There’s something about gays in Hip Hop that touches a cord with folks..This more than most other topics seems deeply personal and each person will eventually have to grapple with why this garners strong reaction..
In Hip Hop and the music industry in general, we’ve long had folks with ‘colorful’ backgrounds. Some sold drugs. Others have been members of gangs. Some have been wife beaters, while others have murdered. And while I would never equate being gay w/ being ‘criminal’ or one expressing their sexuality with the activities mentioned above, it’s interesting to note how so many of us don’t seem to have the same fascination or supposed concern about what I mentioned vs Frank Ocean’s revelations. Him coming out should never have been a big deal. Sadly it is because there’s been a climate of intolerance, which makes someone speaking or expressing their personal truth in this arena noteworthy and in some instances even dangerous.
While its good that there are many who have publicly stated they don’t have a problem, they aren’t tripping and have given Frank Ocean kudos, there are still those who express anger, outrage while going all Biblical on folks… They are quick to tell you all about God’s commandments, ‘universal laws’ and what’s ‘natural’ and ‘unnatural’. The contradiction is their deafening silence and in many cases acceptance of other acts and actions that seem to go against such laws and Biblical tenets. We can rap along and dance to misogyny, incarceration and other pathologies that compromise our collective humanity, but then wanna say the sky is falling because we have a LGBT community. The selective intolerance makes no sense.
With respect to those praising Frank Ocean for coming out there’s a few things to keep in mind. First, lets recognize that there have been LGBT folks in Hip Hop for a very long time.. many are framing this as the first time someone in Hip Hop has ‘come out’.. Frank may arguably be one of the most well known, but that shouldn’t erase history. There are many LGBT artists and practioners who proceeded Ocean who are very outspoken and doing quite well for themselves in this culture called Hip Hop. Some are authors. Some are professors. Some are bloggers.. Some are program directors at major radio stations that play your records..Some are incredible organizers who speak out daily to injustices around them.. Most can rock a mic, rock the tables, hit up a wall or execute dope dance moves with the best of them..I think its important that we don’t rewrite history or ignore their tremendous contributions as they’ve been breaking serious ground for minute..
Here in the Bay Area you had to be sleeping under a rock to not know about DJ Page Hodel who is openly Gay and pioneering figure. She was one of the first women nationally to do a mix show on commercial radio (KSOL)..We’re talking about mid 80s. She was no joke on the tables.. She threw a weekly club called The Box was to this day the longest running Hip Hop spot the Bay Area has ever had…It survived at a time when local police were aggressive about shutting down Hip Hop clubs and concerts. The Box was legendary, was always packed and was a place where many records were broken.. The mostly LGBT crowd was racially mixed and defied the stereotypes of who was into Hip Hop and who wasn’t. Hearing Page rock the tables was a treat, she used to rock a lot of joints that at the time had a harder edge. From 2 Live Crew to Big Daddy Kane, to Marley Marl to NWA and all the dope underground stuff..
Also on the radio in the 80s, was an openly gay cat named Dave Moss who was the Hip Hop buyer for the largest Tower Records in San Francisco. He had a lot of sway as to what records would be exposed to the buying public and he did not disappoint..He was true to the culture. On air Moss was a beast. Whereas Page was prime time coming on at 5 in the afternoon, Moss was featured late nights on then emerging KMEL which would eventually become KSOL’s rival. Moss was allowed to dig deep in the crates and had everyone checking for him as he would rock vintage break beats and unreleased test pressings of everyone from Public Enemy to KRS-One.. Moss would later go onto to be an A&R rep for Profile Records which was home to Run DMC.. Also around that same time you had well respected deejays who were part of the LGBT community but did huge Hip Hop parties at straight clubs like DJ Blackstone and Neon Leon. As KMEL itself emerged to be one of the most influential Hip Hop stations in the country, during its hey days in the early to mid 90s, you had quite a few programmers and deejays within the LGBT community who played key roles helping break and exposing Hip Hop. Quite a few very popular Hip Hop acts owe their commercial success to some LGBT folks who embraced and pushed their music on those airwaves.
In the 90s we had Rainbow Flava a queer Hip Hop group that was breaking ground and making noise..They used to do some big parties, the name of their monthly event escapes me.. By 2000 out of Oakland, we had the forming of DDC (Deep Dickollective ) with founding members Juba Kalamka, Tim’m T. West and Phillip Atiba Goff. They busted on the scene battling as they took on the folks from the spoken word scene and began mocking what they saw as pretentious posturing.They came to the table with keen intellect, skillz and brazen attitudes that demanded respect.
They used the name Deep Dickollective because there was a popular women’s spoken word group called Punany Poets and it was a good way to bring queerness to the center of the stage.. I recall Juba noting they didn’t want there to be any mistakes or misinterpretations..It was important for those cats to purposely hit Hip Hop’s third rail in the spirit of whoo-riding and taking space if none was given. They were all about challenging ‘lazy thinking about race, homosexuality and identity’..
Over the next 10 years DDC would encompass more members in a Wu-Tang like fashion.. In addition Kalamka, West and Goff, DDC also had Jeree Brown, Rashad Pridgen, Leslie Taylor, Ryan Burke, Baraka Noel and Marcus Rene’ Vanput. They put out several albums and was voted Best Hip Hop Group via the Bay Guardian in 2004. They were also founding members for a popular Oakland PeaceOUT Music festival which became a major hub for LGBT Hip Hop community all over the country. There was an accompanying festival back east.. They also formed their own record label Sugartruck Recordings where they released a number of recordings. Most recently some of their songs an lyrics were featured in the book Anthology of Rap.
Over the years we’ve seen a number of openly gay emcees hit the scene.. JenRo, Invincible, Katastrophe, Mistermaker, Cazwell, God-dess and She, Deadlee and Dutchboy just to name a few. Many of them were profiled in the 2006 documentary Pick up the Mic.. This is just a small list..
We could go on and on with history, theres so much to tell, but the point being made here its good Frank Ocean stepped up and out..It was courageous. No one should be denied their humanity and their personal truths. Hopefully him being as popular and talented as he is, will open up more folks. At the same time, it’s equally important to understand that within Hip Hop there are many truths, many stories and lots of history yet to be told. We should be cautious about NOT erasing or ignoring the histories of marginalized groups.. Hip Hop came about because we as a group of people were ignored, demonized and marginalized. Why turn around and do that today? Why become like the institutions and forces we fought against? I gave you a few names.. Hopefully all of us will reach out and create space at the table. LGBT folks especially those in Hip Hop aren’t going away anytime soon..
A video from DDC co-founder Tim’m T. West