Tim’m West says hip-hop is gayer than you think —and he plans to prove it
RICH LOPEZ | Staff Writer firstname.lastname@example.org
KEEPING IT REAL
UT Dallas, 800 W. Campbell Road, Richardson. Oct 21–22. Visit website for schedule. Open to the public. Free. RedDirt.biz.
The gay community and hip-hop music often clash over homophobic lyrics, but in the last few weeks, those paths crossed in two different but significant ways. Amid the rash of gay teen suicides, rapper 50 Cent tweeted about how men over 25 who don’t have oral sex with women should kill themselves (he awkwardly tried to backpedal after an outraged response). That was soon followed by Anderson Cooper’s interview with Eminem, who responded to questions about his attitude toward the gay community with, “I don’t have any problem with nobody.”
But gay activist and rapper Tim’m West isn’t buying any of it.
“It’s all part of the necessitated spewing of homophobia in hip-hop,” he says.
“It’s like this right of passage for artists to do that.”
The thing is, West says hip-hop — the music and the culture — is gayer than it wants to be. He’ll set out to prove it with Keeping it Real: Hip-Hop Has Gone Gay, a master class discussing the queer side of hip-hop. The Fahari Arts Institute teamed up with UT Dallas to host this two-night session, starting Oct. 21.
The event is spearheaded by UTD faculty member Venus Opal Reese, who says now is the time for this kind exposure.
“I think the Dallas community needs this class to have a different experience of blackness, queerness and gender, even,” she says. “If all we ever see is black men killing, gay bashing or dying from HIV, there is no hope. Tim’m is hope.”
West says that hip-hop needs to be exposed and his class works to show people that LGBT culture was a part of the genre in its infancy.
“I argue that the music has always had those elements but the industry has this inability to see how LGBT culture influenced hip-hop,” he says. “In the early days, there was more acknowledgement of gays in rap. Grandmaster Flash referred to ‘gays’ and ‘fag hags’ in his music but with no derogatory notion. He rapped about that as part of the life and the city.”
West, who hails from Houston, boasts the kind of multi-labeling applied more to a medicine bottle: He’s an activist, author, rapper, poet, scholar and professor. Working as a project coordinator for the St. Hope Foundation, he’s now taking his work on the road to make the LGBT/black/hip-hop conversation a national one. He calls Dallas his first stop in this new venture.
“The plan is to advocate on a national scale,” he says. “I’m touring and traveling to speak about diversity, inclusion, bullying. I’m also a suicide survivor, which has risen as an issue recently. I feel the experience I have can lend itself to a bigger conversation.”
Despite the homophobia in hip-hop, West points out prejudices stem from gays themselves. Gay racism and stereotypes have also held back what he considers should be a progressive community. He cites that block as part of what keeps big gay events sanitized with the usual types of performers year after year.
“Parades or Pride events always may have gay artists and definitely have their drag queens, but propose a hip-hop entertainer and nothing,” he says. “I want to talk about how we can mobilize hip-hop as a tool rather than running from scary black men and gunfights. Gay musicians are choosing it as a medium and gay kids listen to it. “
Gay or straight, black or not, Reese says this class is open to as broad an audience as it can get. For her, the message here goes beyond labels, demographics and stereotypes and instead works to shatter those abstract restrictions.
“This class absolutely is for everyone,” she asserts. “If you are a writer, activist, a person interested in gender studies, it would be totally appropriate. You know, race, gender, sexuality, class are all different pieces that make the whole. When we realize that we don’t have one essential self but embody different intersections of those part, you can be moved to tears by who you really are.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.