Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Same Love Conflict: Macklemore, Le1f, Angel Haze, and the Search for an Authentic Voice for Gay Rights

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I’ll admit it. I shed a tear or two when I first saw Macklemore’s “Same Love” music video.  The heartwarming story of two men sharing their lives together.  Walking along an aisle of scattered flowers to join hands in marriage. Embracing each other in a hospital room. The whole nine yards. Maybe it was because I had never seen gay marriage portrayed on the stage of mainstream media.  Perhaps I thought it represented a larger movement among straight allies to support LGBTQ rights. Possibly it’s because I had just began my journey as an openly gay male. Whatever the reason, the tears were there.

In retrospect, the video is somewhat of a token anthem; something for straight people to post on their facebook and say: “this song was a hit! Macklemore is such a great guy! It’s ok to be gay!”  Yet, we’re still at the point where queer hip-hop is forced underground, popular hip-hop groups still throw out “faggot” as an insult, and thousands of teens suffer from suicidal thoughts because they’re excommunicated by their families and churches, bullied by teens, and misrepresented in mainstream media.  Same-sex partners are forced out of hospital rooms, denied civil rights on a daily basis.

I’m not saying that Macklemore has done any wrong by making the video.  We need allies in the straight community to speak out in support. But there’s a part of me that’s nauseated at the fact that queer artists have been pushing the same message for years, and Macklemore comes along, makes one record in support of LGBTQ rights, and it goes platinum.

So when Le1f went on a twitter rant criticizing Macklemore’s video, I wasn’t surprised.  For those of you who don’t know Le1f, he’s a leading voice in queer hip-hop.  His most well-known song, “Wut,” features lyrics like “Ukrainian cutie –he really wanna cuddle/The fever in his eyes. He wanna suckle on my muscle.”  One of his songs is titled “Gayngsta.”  In “Fresh” he spits:

I made this song for my girls in Timbs, boys in gems posing real femme

It’s not pretend. No Barbie, no Ken. Hater step up and I poison them

I poison them with a 10 10 10. Homophobes, go watch ESPN

The point is, if anyone should be the authentic voice of queer America, it’s Le1f, not Macklemore.  Le1f is the man who unabashedly breaks the boundaries of mainstream hip-hop, pop music, and the narrow ideological views of the black community.  He slides seamlessly between what we’ve defined as masculine and feminine roles.  He boasts about his conquests of men, his fabulous fashion, and how “he’s the type of john closet dudes wanna go steady on.”

But as popular as Le1F has become in the queer rap scene, I haven’t heard one second of his voice on the radio.  In fact, the most recognition he ever received was when he spoke out against Macklemore, with many criticizing him for refusing the support of a perceived ally.  Well, can you blame him?  Le1f has devoted his entire career to giving a proud, authentic voice to the queer community, and a straight white man comes along, makes one song about gay rights, and he’s made a hero.  As Le1f said best in one of his many twitter-rants: “it saddens me out that a straight man is the voice pop music has chosen for gay rights.”

As with all things, there is a grey area here.  I’m not mad at Macklemore.  I appreciate his support for gay rights as much as I want to see Le1f’s music to go platinum.  I want the straight community to support gay rights without needing a straight white guy to lead the charge with a feel-good story.  A story that hides all the bullying and suicide and discrimination.  A story that makes everyone think that the world is fully accepting of any lifestyle.  Realistically, the fact that Macklemore’s video has become this anthem for gay rights speaks volumes to how far we stand from true equality, genuine acceptance, and a space for an authentic voice for the queer community like Le1f.

If you want to hear the real story about growing up in America as a queer individual, listen to Angel Haze’s remix of “Same Love.”    Here’s a glimpse of her message, which tears down the fairytale that is so happily portrayed in the original video:

So don’t badger and abuse the solemnly defenseless

See us as yourself

There’s no equality in difference

Until we all get it, we’ll be drowning in the same blood

Despite orientation, we all feel the same love

We’ll be drowning in the same blood

Despite orientation, we all feel the same love

Angel Haze has rested perfectly in the middle of this Le1f vs. Macklemore conflict.  She tells the real, bloody tale of facing childhood bullying and a narrow-minded family without bashing allies.  She provides a message of hope without ignoring the reality that we still have a long way to go.  And hopefully, her message will make us realize that how Macklemore’s video doesn’t begin to tell the real story of the present state of acceptance in America.  For now, it’s a feel-good pop anthem for straight America.

Queer rappers like Le1f, Angel Haze, and Mykki Blanco continue to devote their careers to providing an authentic voice to the gay community.  But until they gain recognition and popularity on the mainstream stage, I’ll remain unimpressed with the progress we’ve made in hip-hop, music, or the American social atmosphere as a whole.  If you’re going to be an ally, then at least be cognizant that a video of rainbows and flower petals isn’t exactly an accurate representation of acceptance in mainstream America.

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Acid Rap: Chance The Rapper’s Good Ass Job

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The first time I heard Chance the Rapper’s voice, it was on the intro to his latest mixtape Acid Rap, appropriately titled “Good Ass Intro.”  With this perfect blend of joy, rasp, and charisma, Chance interrupts the gospel-swoon background to announce: “We back, and we back, and we back….”

I knew, after only ten seconds, that this was a man who was happy to be alive.   Ecstatic that he’s finally emerging as a new voice in hip-hop.  Thankful that he can financially support his mother.  And by the end of the song, confidently content that: “this your favorite fucking album and ain’t even fucking done.”

In a style that many rappers attempt but few can master, Acid Rap is full of self-praise. It’s a “Good Ass Intro,” he’s done a “Good ass job,” he’s “better than I was the last time,” it’s your “favorite fucking album,” that includes “your favorite song, you just don’t know the words.”

Sure, he’s tripping balls on acid right now, but can you blame him?  Chance is alive, he’s not in jail, and he has emerged as one of the best new rappers on the scene, thanks to his original sound, hilarious ad-lib, well-chosen sampling, and witty lyricism.  Coming from a city that tallied more deaths than Afghanistan last year, I think he has the right to rejoice.

But as all acid trips go, there’s a handful of loneliness, mistrust, and abandonment on Chance’s mind.  On “Cocoa Butter Kisses,” he yearns for familial affection, looking back on his childhood days when life was simpler; his family was close, and he wasn’t afraid to hug his grandmother without putting visine in his eyes, or get a kiss from his mother without reeking of cigarettes.

But Chance is grown up, now.  Despite burning up a fair amount of his brain cells, he’s still cognizant enough to recognize the tragic stench of death in his hometown.  On “Pusha Man,” Chance takes us “to a land where the lake made of sand, and the milk don’t pour, and the honey don’t dance and the money ain’t yours.”

It’s not the Israel that God promised Moses–try Chiraq.  And if you’re patient enough to wait through the silence following “Pusha Man,” you’ll be rewarded even more tales of fear and murder and crooked cops on the mixtape’s secret track “Paranoia:”

They merking kids, they murder kids here

Why you think they don’t talk about it? They deserted us here

Where the fuck is Matt Lauer at? Somebody get Katie Couric in here

Probably scared of all the refugees, look like we had a fucking hurricane here

Really, though, where the fuck is Matt Lauer?  While The Today Show is busy reporting on the latest fashion trend, or interviewing a rescued white girl, there are hundreds of young black men dying from gun violence in our inner cities.  While school shootings are mourned across the nation, inner-city schools provide the only glimpse of shelter for many of today’s youth.  The media spotlight has consistently avoided the tragic genocide and mass incarceration of black teens.

But who needs Matt Lauer when we have Chance the Rapper.  He’s here to report that, while he has successfully escaped the dangers of his hometown, his peers are dying from Chicago’s summer heat:

And I ponder what’s worse between knowing it’s over and dying first

Cause everybody dies in the summer

Wanna say ya goodbyes, tell them while it’s spring

I heard everybody’s dying in the summer, so pray to God for a little more spring

This third verse in “Paranoia” is as telling as it is haunting.  It’s springtime, and the summer is approaching, so he’s saying his goodbyes.  He’s already accepted that hundreds of his city’s youth, and probably a handful of his friends, will die in the coming season.  He’s heartbroken.  He’s perplexed.  But he’s brutally frank.  If only spring could last forever, perhaps Chicago wouldn’t lose another hundred teens.

Acid Rap is much more than a blissful hallucination.  We see Chance bounce seamlessly between pure joy and sadness.  Between mourning and thankfulness.  Paranoia and confidence.  We see the duality hidden in the life of a newly successful black man.  A man who can’t help but rejoice in his triumph, but refuses to forget the calamity he has narrowly escaped.

I’m excited to hear what Chance has to offer in the future.  He’s already established himself as a thought-provoking, innovative artist in an industry full of rappers with a get-rich-and-brag mentality.  For now, I think we can certainly reaffirm Chance’s claim.  So far, he’s done a good ass job.

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Reminiscing and Rambling: Thoughts on Subdued Racial Commentary in OutKast’s Catalog

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It’s a beautiful thing, revisiting some of your favorite childhood anthems.  Putting on a throwback jam that you listened to on repeat for days when it hit the airwaves.  Reminiscing on the exact feeling you experienced when you first heard the song and knew, right then and there, that you wouldn’t be able to get the track out of your head for at least a week.  I’ve been doing this quite often with OutKast lately, whether it’s playing “Heyya” on the commute to work, or pestering my neighbors with the funkadellic bass line of “Southernplayisticcadillacmusik” at 3 am.  My apologies to the lady in apt. 1, but I’m having too much fun with the funk.

“If not I’ll wait, because the future of the world depends on

If, or not if the child we raise gon’ have that nigga syndrome

Or will it know to beat the odds regardless of the skin tone”

With every spin of Stankonia, I’ve realized that what made me love OutKast back then was very different from how appreciate the duo now.  I remember learning how to play the chorus of “So Fresh and So Clean” in piano class, and giggling when I found out that my 8th grade English teacher’s name was Ms. Jackson; but I hadn’t even begun to realize the musical genius and political lyricism rampant in OutKast’s catalogue.  All the funk and silliness and head bobbing was a front, and I was one of many lab rats of my generation, racing around the wheel of the music industry, “sipping a milkshake in a snowstorm.”

Y’all tellin me that I need to get out and vote, huh. Why?

Ain’t nobody black runnin but crack-kers, so, why I got to register?

I thinkin of better shit to do with my time

Never smelled aroma of diploma, but I write the deep ass rhymes

I’ve only recently realized that Outkast’s catalogue acts a microcosm of the subdued tensions of racial atmosphere in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.  How was I supposed to know that OutKast had picked up where George Clinton and his Parliament Funkadelics had left off? How could I have possibly recognized that “Ms. Jackson” was a testament of black male demonization, or a critique of the flawed child support system that contributes to the tragic downfall of young black men.  I was only certain that I could listen to Andre 3K say “foreva-eva?” forever.

On a first offense drug bust, fuck the Holice

That’s if ya racist or ya crooked

Arrest me 4 this dope I didn’t weight it up or cook it

It’s no coincidence that the album that drew me into OutKast as a young teenager, Speakerboxx/The Love Below, was also the duo’s least political compilation.  Dre and Big Boi abandoned the racial commentary ever-present in Stankonia to embrace a funkier, pop-driven album in Speakerboxx, which led to phenomenal commercial success, and an entirely new fan base of young white kids such as myself who knew nothing of Outkast’s previous work.  We only knew that “Roses” was a hilarious anthem about fecal matter, “Heyya” got us up on the homecoming dance floor, and “The Way You Move” had a killer beat.   Speaking for my generation, we viewed OutKast as a goofy duo of funny black men who differed from the aggressive rappers–DMX, Ludacris, and Cam’ron, for example–who dominated hip-hop at the time.

The United Parcel Service & the people at the Post Office

Didn’t call you back because you had cloudy piss

So now you back in the trap just that, trapped

Go on and marinate on that for a minute

To think that I completely bought into this clown-like parody of OutKast’s later albums is troubling.  I wish I could’ve recognized, at the time, that these men were performing this image of happy funky black men to criticize the epidemic of subtle racism heading into the new millennium.     If you didn’t align with the “angry black gangster” identity, they couldn’t portray you as a threat to society.  If you didn’t make fun of yourself, young white kids could take your music too seriously, and maybe even learn something about the tragic systemic racism that continued to thrive in a nation insistent upon keeping up an appearance of equality for all.  OutKast proved that there was no room for the politically critical socially conscious black men in mainstream hip-hop.

Of course you know I feel like the bearer of bad news

Don’t want to be it but it’s needed so what have you

Now question: is every nigga with dreads for the cause?

Is every nigga with golds for the fall? naw

I can only hope that more of my fellow oblivious white kids take a moment to revisit OutKast’s catalogue.  Perhaps they’re realize that there’s much more to their music than shaking it like a Polaroid picture.  They just might find a new perspective on the deeper message hidden in OutKast’s music, and maybe even have an awakening about the racial injustice that has remained in the closet of mainstream hip-hop for decades.  That’s the only way the genius of the two dope boyz of OutKast can be adequately appreciated.

Now look at yourself, are you an OutKast? I know I am

As a matter of fact, fuck being anythang else

It’s only so much time left in this crazy world

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