American society is being increasingly more open to gay people, but the hip hop world seems to be lagging behind. Hip hop gossip sites still write salacious articles making snide remarks about allegedly gay rap stars. Atlanta-based rapper Young Thug has courted controversy by wearing dresses and calling his homeboys “bae.” Jaden Smith, son of rapper-turned-actor Will Smith, faced backlash when he was recently pictured wearing a dress.
Todd Dahn, a hip hop producer who recently came out of the closet in an article on Rap Rehab titled, “Loving Myself as a Gay Man in Hip Hop,” understands what’s it like to be a gay man in the rap world.
Dahn has been involved in the hip hop world since 1998 and worked with names such as Chubb Rock, Craig G and Shabaam Sahdeeq. Dahn, a producer who goes by the name Rediculus, currently runs his own company Platformz, which has developed a music search app.
Dahn said he always knew he was gay and became aware of his sexuality when he was about 8.
“As a child, I was attracted to men, not girls” he said.
Dahn said his sexuality was never talked about when he was in the closet. He was a very private person and simply never showed up to events with women. (He stopped dating women when he was 19.)
Dahn said his mother’s death gave him the courage to come out of the closet and be open about his life.
“After my mama passed, I looked at my legacy,” he said. “The only legacy I have is the things I do. I decided to be completely honest.”
However, coming out in the hip hop world was not without it’s drawbacks.
“I lost several projects,” Dahn said. “Several artists don’t do business with me anymore.”
But there was a positive side to his coming out. Dahn received praise from some people in the hip hop world. He said many of the people surrounding big hip hop stars, stylists, managers, ect., are gay.
According to Dahn, Young Thug is using rumors about his sexuality as a sly marketing tool. This is a tactic that has been used in the past, with rappers deliberately starting gay rumors to help promote their brand, he said.
“Young Thug is not popular because he is a great rapper, he is popular because he does things other people like to talk about,” Dahn said.
Using personal controversy to push your brand is the name of the game in the music industry now, according to Dahn. He cites Azealia Banks, who has become nationally famous for making outlandish statements and appearing in Playboy, rather than for her music.
However, Dr. Earl Wright II, a professor of Africana studies at the University of Cincinnati, said Young Thug and Jaden Smith are forcing hip hop, and society in general, to reevaluate what it defines as “masculine.”
“What is important is that what he (Young Thug) introduces to the hip hop community, along with Jaden Smith, is the idea that there is more than one way to be a male and man in this nation,” said Wright, who teaches a sociology course on hip hop. “In a society where one’s manhood is largely defined by a person’s ability to physically control the body and actions of others, Young Thug and Jaden Smith’s ‘revolutionary’ presentation of self provides an opening for young males, who do not fit the traditional notion of masculinity, to find a comfortable space for themselves within hip hop culture.”
Wright said hip hop came out of an aggressive, confrontational culture and so it’s roots are macho.
“Rap is hyper masculine because, at it’s core, it is a verbal fight whereby the aim is to defeat one’s opponent,” Wright said. “The way that one verbally ‘defeats’ his opponent is by demeaning him in the most graphic way possible. What is the most embarrassing way one man can demean another . . . by addressing him with female or feminine names or stereotypes.”
According to Dahn, inner city hip hop is more hyper masculine than hip hop in general. Rap is merely a reflection of society, Dahn said, and society in general is largely homophobic.
“There is a deep-seated hatred for gay people in society itself,” Dahn said.
However, as hip hop becomes more diverse, and performed by artists from different communities and cultures, it’s becoming less homophobic and misogynistic. However, Dahn doubts if a big-time rapper would ever come out.
“I don’t think an artist of Jay Z’s caliber would ever come out of the closet,” Dahn said. “Their brand would suffer too much disruption.”
According to Dahn, if a major rapper ever came out, it would be a controversy for a while — until the media found something else to talk about.
Wright said while younger hip hop fans are more open minded about gay people, hip hop culture in general is still pretty homophobic. Although nowadays, artists may be less openly derisive of gay people, because it’s simply bad for business.
“While I believe there is a newfound awareness of the fact that gay and lesbian artists exist, I don’t think the rap game is becoming less homophobic,” Wright said. “I believe that many artists are better able to hide their homophobic beliefs because they understand that to not do so may cut into the profits they can earn.”
This post was written by Manny Otiko. Otiko has been published in The Riverside Press-Enterprise, The LA Sentinel, The LA Wave, The Washington Afro-Am and IE Weekly. He is an active member of the National Association of Black Journalists and the Black Journalists Association of Southern California.