In the late 70’s a recording artist by the name of Sylvester made his debut, one of the first openly gay male artist who went on to release hit albums and singles like “You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)” & “Dance (Disco Heat)” which both landed at the top of the charts. Jermaine Stewart later emerged in the 80’s, his biggest hit was “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off.” Who was a former background singer for the group Shalamar before he signed a recording contract with Arista Records. Both contrastingly and as a flamboyant as they wanted to be received love, respect and success from mainstream music lovers and the industry as a whole.
Artist wise, there is no place in Hip-Hop for a gay artist. I mean no bashing at all, it’s just history has proven that it won’t work! Rapper T.I. (2008 UB Interview)
UrbanBridgez.com looks at the new breed of gay male Hip-Hop Artists And ask the question…Can A Gay Hip-Hop Artists Find Mainstream Success?
(director/actor winner of GLAAD Media Award for The DL Chronicles.)
It’s really difficult to imagine that, honestly. The current climate of hip-hop seems to be systematically distancing itself from anything that could be even remotely considered gay or effeminate. “Gay” seems to be the antithesis to hip-hop culture; however, if you had have asked me a few years ago if I’d see a black president in my lifetime, I would have answered much the same way, and here I now stand corrected. I’ll say I’m cautiously optimistic.
Lloyd Banks (rapper)
I mean anything is possible! I’ll say that, anything is possible!
MUTHAKNOWS (blog/talk radio personality)
Anything is possible it depends on the label. If they will support 100% it can happen. Especially if they know the gay artist will make them millions. It just depends on how the artist is marketed. As well the era we are in when they decide to do it. The industry is so crazy. With so many gay people working behind the scenes. You would think by now. At least one gay act would be in the spotlight. Society has slapped one heavy hand on the gay community. It makes it hard especially for African Americans, to come out and be honest. You have mean people, and not enough educated people. This is exactly why you have performers that are in the closet. All it takes is for someone to believe in the product.
A small feature we planned turned into a very large feature with interviews and commentary from various industry talent. So that we don’t take away from the artists who participated in the feature, some of the commentary gathered for this featured will be used at a later date!
Last Minute Change: Miss Lawrence has decided the story scope is not something he feels comfortable talking about. He sends his apologies about the last minute change.
What are your thoughts on that T.I. statement?
Tim’m T. West: That’s interesting, I don’t agree with him for one. I think it will just take some time and nurturing from a Hip-Hop seed. I remember a time when a rapper would make a homophobic comment; nothing would be said about it. We’re in a day now where people get checked on that you know. You got rappers apologizing now for saying something that could be considered homophobic, because they don’t want to loose some of their fan base. So it’s slowly getting there and I think because the talent on the gay side has gotten so much better since I first started. I have the benefit of being around for more than a decade. With making music and albums, so I’ve seen it improve and eventually somebody is going to take that chance. Because the reality is, you can model anything to sell! I think the industry is just being scaredy cats and don’t wanna put any backing behind it. That’s my thing for the Kanye’s of the world who say they don’t think people should be homophobic, well put your money where your mouth is and get behind one of these artist and promote and market them. Don’t sit on it, but really promote them. And if you get one of these truly talented kats to do something, people are going to respond. Like the white side you have your Elton Johns and George Michael’s but then again they had careers well before they came out. So that’s kinda like a lot of peoples thoughts that the first one to do it is going to be a Hip-Hop artist who comes out after the fact. That’s also some people’s game plan to stay in the closet, get their career going then bust out of the closet. And I also have to say it depends on what we mean by success, because I’ve had a successful career, not sold a lot of albums I always joke that I went aluminum (laughs). But I promise you 20 years from now people won’t be talking about Soulja Boi, but they’ll be talking about what Tim’m West did. To me that’s more important than to have that social imprint of being the man of the moment.
Bry’Nt: Well he says it will fail because people who have attempted it, it didn’t work. Well it really only takes one good person to break the mode and be successful! I’ve met DJ’s like Funkmaster Flex and Cipha Sounds, they’re both from the most popular station in New York City & they both said I have skills. So it’s only a matter of time before somebody is able to show and prove that and be successful. Obviously I didn’t even think I would get this far. I don’t even have an album out, just two mixtapes. And I’ve been able to tour the world and I never thought that would happen. So to me that’s a grain of success. And to be able to open up for famous artists without a record deal or an album.
KAOZ: T.I. answered that question very careful, I like that (laughs). That’s a perfect way to start. He knows the truth, there are hundreds of gay artists and Hip-Hop artists who have raw ass talent. Matter of fact I’m sure he knows some of the dudes in the industry who are gay. With you asking him openly gay rapper, he answered that truthfully, I couldn’t agree with him more. Now I would of said that like two years ago, before I had found out that gay rap had blown up to what it has. I would have told you the same thing. But now I think different and I have always held on to this wish, that one that is already out there and established that gives you all that thug boy, trade, what people think is straight sh*t will come out the closet like Ricky Martin did. I was waiting on (name withheld) to do it. Or maybe (name withheld), and even if she did, it wouldn’t mean like it would if like (name withheld – male artist) would of did it, you know. So for me now being in this game, I know there are openly gay artists on Universal, Def Jam just on different labels already. Whether we here about them and they are promoted is another story. There is Jeffree Starr, we even got Miss Lawrence Heeyyy (laughs). But it will happen because there are people like me, Tim’m T West, even though that puts him in another category as well being openly HIV positive. I think that with itself, gives him more of a lead way, you know. Because HIV is a universal thing even though there is a little stigma behind it, we all now know it’s not the gay people’s disease. So he can make a connection all over the world from publications, etc. So yeah people like me, him, Verbal Science, etc. not to mention we’re all masculine. Which doesn’t hurt, because it’s less intimating. So it will happen but it won’t without a strait ally. But the industry is in a transition period so it will happen eventually.
What’s the biggest misconception you think people have about gay men that influences them not to support gay rappers?
Tim’m T. West: That whole street cred thing is ridiculous on a couple of levels. For one if street cred means I gotta get shot and beat up my women, why should I celebrate that? So I have an issue with what we associate with street cred. It’s glamorizing basically illegal activity. As if that’s what makes you a black man. It’s gotten to the point where people are doing stuff as gimmicks to beef up their street cred. Try being honest, let’s let that be street cred. Start telling some truth about some sh*t and that’s what I want to hear more about. Why can’t we get street cred for just being real! Hip-Hop always talks about keeping it real but the way some beef up street cred it’s not even who they are. So I think that’s part of it. There has been a hijacking by our community, we don’t see openly masculine guys out period! When we do see masculine gay dudes it’s assumed that we’re DL. This is no knock against my effeminate brothers, but I’m not effeminate. I feel just like you have the right to get out there and strut your runway; why is it everytime a masculine brother gets out there and try to promote a different image. We’re being hetero-normative? I don’t put down feminine guys, but I also celebrate my masculinity. I know I have an influence on guys like KAOZ and other guys who have came into movement, because I’ve proved you can be out and masculine and do this thing and be honest. If Hip-Hop has this image of grit and masculinity it’s hard to get peoples approval if you’re not that. So that’s part of it and that’s not to say you should beef up your masculinity if that’s not who you are, be who you are. But I do think it’s going to take somebody who has the skills set, the longevity of being on the scene and doing a lot of stuff. I think it’s gonna be a lot harder for a feminine brother to do it unfortunately. Even women in Hip-Hop have to have a hardcore edge, you know. If you look at Nicki or Lil Kim even though they may have been dolled up, they had to have that edge about them in order to be taking seriously.
Bry’Nt: The biggest one, even though I play into this is that we’ll be talking about homo-sex all the time. It is something that we talk about but what rapper doesn’t touch on their lives? Whether it be sex, love or relationships. So I think that’s it, they don’t wanna hear it I guess (laughs). And that we’re going to be walking around in boas, the image of the black gay man right now is kind of one noted. You have someone like Miss Lawrence who is the face of all of us, but is not the representation of all of us!
KAOZ: That being gay makes us any less of a man, than they are. And that’s the thing & it’s not from I wouldn’t even say straight males and females. Because straight ones really ain’t thinking or tripping on that. It’s the ones that have had thoughts and are questioning their own self. That’s what I totally believe! For all those people who have a problem with it, something happened to them or they just don’t wanna admit they like d*ck. But that is the biggest thing and honestly the most hurtful.
You guys are all successful in your own right from successful mixtapes, anticipated albums on deck, Tim’m with books and all of you guys tour and continue to sell out shows, what needs to be done to transition that into the mainstream audience?
Bry’Nt: It only takes investors. I’ve already proven that I can do a show and people will come out, I’ve already proven that people will download my mixtapes. So there is no type of promotion and I’ve had over 500,000 downloads. So it really only takes investors, that’s how you get to mainstream. You need a little money (laughs), no you need a lot of money! And you need to show that you can generate it back, the money that was invested in you. So that’s the only thing I can say. Many of the gay rappers I know have the talent, so there should not be any reason they can’t make the profit.
KAOZ: It’s gonna take the support of our community. It’s not gonna happen until they take ownership and pride. They can’t use the excuse that we don’t make quality music anymore. They would rather support a Nicki Minaj or whatever. They support those mainstream things, that’s what they go for and we need them to support us because they are a representation of us. They would rather support these communities that have torn them down and that make fun of them. So it would take us to see the value in our lives. We have to get empowered and educated; see the value in our lives and how we can make this a village! Just take pride in ourselves and be smarter about our dollars. We need to get over that little fairytale ish we’re still going through now. Where we would rather spend on a Nicki or a Janet, people they most likely will never meet in their lives. But that’s where they throw their support. That’s why I don’t have a problem with connecting with people via Twitter or whatever. It gets a little stressful at times and you have to draw the line sometimes but it’s a good thing. Because how many mainstream artists do that? If I do blow up, I will be able to look back and say I knew or met a certain amount of my fans and knew a lot of them by name. I can do that and it’s a good feeling because I’m never going to forget where I came from.
KAOZ already answered this in a previous answer. In your honest opinion, do you feel we already have some mainstream gay rappers in the industry, just not openly gay?
Tim’m T. West: Oh I know that we do (laughs)! I ain’t calling no names but yeah we do. It’s funny because I’m inclined to talk about somebody who we lost fairly recently, but yeah. It’s just sad and tragic when these things come out after the fact. It’s really unfortunate but it tells a story at how at how far some people are willing to go. It’s sad because they live gay lives but lie on record. That’s like going back to our history of African Americans, I’m sure there was some slave on the plantation, saying you can’t run away from Master! You know what I’m saying, because they didn’t feel that you could do it. Eventually somebody just had to do it. And I’m sure some got shot in the pursuit of freedom, but I’m sure some still did it.
Bry’Nt: I wouldn’t doubt it! I feel like 50% of the nation is gay. So I wouldn’t doubt it, that someone who is popular at the moment is.
Did you ever consider being DL, to better your chance at success in the industry?
Tim’m T. West: Quite honestly and I’m going to be really frank, I realized that I had grabbed too many boys booties in the club to be trying to act like I was straight (laughs). Somebody woulda-been-done told on me. I’m not a molester or anything but I’m very firm in my orientation. There was a time where I was told that I could probably break through if I was willing to tell that lie. I just had to tell them that I’m just not the one. I’m just not good at lying. And I have enough respect for Hip-Hop being about creative expression and your experiences, going back to Grandmaster Flash and them who talked about their experiences. So to be honest I feel like I’m actually keeping more in line with Hip-Hop legacy & tradition by being an out rapper. Because that’s who I am!
Bry’Nt: Well when I was younger and started taking it serious I was. I started out in a group called 3rd Degree and left that group and was in another one. I think my management knew I was gay, but they assumed that I was living a straight lifestyle and that’s what I was doing. But when I got my third chance at being a solo artist, I decided that I couldn’t lie about it anymore. I was too deep in the lifestyle to cover it up. I knew a lot of people and a lot of my friends are gay. So it just made no sense for me to continue to do that.
KAOZ: Sure did! Of course, everybody does. If they say they don’t they’re lying. Unless it’s them kind that can’t cover it (laughs). I was like I don’t wanna come out gay because I want people to like me, buy my stuff or whatever. But nothing about because I felt ashamed or anything of who I am. I just thought I wouldn’t be able to make money and my thinking was like what’s the point of even wanting to be a rapper then (laughs). That’s when my focus turned to spoken word. Because there was a different thought process, even though some of them are spineless just as much as Hip-Hop artists. But they were more excepting.
In closing what would you like to see moving forward when it comes to acceptance in the urban community & Hip-Hop and how do you think it can be achieved?
Tim’m T. West: I think it starts with the culture. I mean we talk about Hip-Hop and we kind of create out of the larger social context of African Americans. I mean look at a video like the Marsha Ambrosius video for “Far Away” I think it’s stuff like that and people seeing it more. I think it’s people having conversations and it requires that we’re out more. I think when people start to realize that gay is in your family or your fraternity or whatever else, it’s harder for people to sit back and ignore and act like it doesn’t exists. And to be honest I haven’t dealt with alot of homophobia in Hip-Hop, I have when it comes to getting my stuff recognized. I think I’ve been cheated in my talent and what I’ve been able to produce because there are people that won’t get behind it. I think it’s a barrier that’s slowly starting to break down. I’ve kinda stepped out of the role as rap artist and more into mentorship. And how can I support these younger artists coming up, they have alot more energy than I do and probably alot better chances. I’ve said I know I’m not the best MC out there so you don’t have to diss me. But without me you probably wouldn’t exists (laughs). Just pay your dues; I don’t mind being the KRS-1 figure of the Gay Hip-Hop side, that’s cool. That’s not a bad place to be because of who he is in Hip-Hop. He’s an educator, activist and has done alot for the movement. And in my lifetime I think I’ll see that happen and hopefully when they’re up there getting their Grammy, they’ll be like and yo props to OG Tim’m T West (laughs). And also I teach by trade and the young people I teach they’re not trippin off of sexuality. It’s truly dying out generationally and that’s not to say there are not homophobic kids & bullying, I don’t want to undermine that. But the high school kids now don’t flinch at something gay. Compared to when I was in high school, you wouldn’t even dare even to think about talking about a boyfriend at your school or going to the prom with someone of the same sex. I think we have to look at those as markers that things have gotten better. I try to be an optimist, we can talk about how bad it is but I’ve seen worse. The fact is you have people who are pressing albums and doing shows. There was a time where we use to have our little Gay Hip-Hop Festivals, that would be the only show some people got all year because they couldn’t get booked with straight acts & venues. And now you don’t even have Gay Hip-Hop Festivals because you don’t need them. Everybody is able to do their own thing on their own. I think that is really impressive! The sad part is there is alot more pettiness. I’m like why are you battling with another gay rapper? They barely know who you are and sure don’t know who the other person is. My straight friends find that funny, they say if you’re gonna battle someone go for one of the straight homophobic guys!
Bry’Nt: It’s only a matter of tolerance. I think the level of tolerance needs to be elevated! In the urban community we have a hard time excepting people who are different. As with white America, they tend to embrace those who are different faster than we do. I don’t know why, I couldn’t tell you why. I have a small theory about the double negative. Like if you’re black that’s already a strike against you, so if you’re black and something else as well, others won’t embrace you. Just because they feel it’s two negatives, two things going against you. So if you’re black and gay, you already have two things going against you. So we need to have tolerance for people who are different and teach our kids to have tolerance to people who are different. That’s where it starts!
KAOZ: To everybody from the fag hags, DJ’s, label execs, producers, etc. The ones who have people like us in their lives and they love them, they need to do what’s right by them! Just engage people and support! Grow up and realize that just because you say you like someone’s art doesn’t say anything about you & anything you should be ashamed of or any of that. So many things need to change, but that is the main thing. If our straight counter parts, just stop being bi*ches you know and give us a chance! And it doesn’t influence your child or anybody to do anything to do that. Like I give props to Gaga because she has taken a stand and said yeah I like gay people.
Any last words or anything you want to leave people with regarding this discussion?
Bry’Nt: Just to those who are like us in this discussion and trying to get into the industry, not to give up. Like I said earlier I never thought I would be touring, doing shows with the little bit of material that I have out (laughs). So just never give up! Whatever you feel you may have going against you, whether it be race, gender, age or whatever
KAOZ: The key is getting someone like a Russell Simmons to sign a gay artists and say I did because he’s dope, I support him! That’s what it’s gonna take. That doesn’t make him gay, that doesn’t make his company gay, because everybody already knows gay dudes work at these labels. We’re so close but yet so far because nobody is pushing the envelop and taking a chance. Right now they have it like rap seems to be the thing to do when you can’t get a job or you’re a criminal, so become a rapper and rap about it. That’s how they make it seem right now. It’s just so different from the days of Public Enemy when all these different types of rappers from different markets came together in the name of Hip-Hop. They all had different backgrounds and different subject maters, economy situations, etc. We’re not getting as much of that right now, it’s like one sided. That’s the thing that’s missing. Imagine how many rappers would fall off tomorrow if a gay rapper came out tomorrow mainstream and blew up! Do you know how many nig*as would be out of a job?