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Gay and phat. (notes from a blonde).

OK, first Eminem wins the Oscar. I was standing backstage when it happened, wondering if everybody in the Academy had decided to let their kids mark their ballots this year, but my surprise was nothing compared to Barbra Streisand's. She had actually gotten dressed and left the house, figuring she was at least going to have a nice photo op with Paul Simon or maybe Bono. And here she was, standing onstage, presenting an award to Eminem. And not even to Eminem but to one of his collaborators, a young man who looked and dressed distressingly like Barbra during her Esther Hoffman in A Star Is Born period. Oy, as millions were heard to remark.

If Eminem, long reputed by everyone except Elton John to be a homophobe or at least a wholesale purveyor of homo hate, had made nice enough with show business to win an Oscar, then the world of hip-hop, hitherto blissfully ignorable, had to be taken seriously. The recording industry evidently has not been as enlightened as the movies, choosing to ignore Eminem in general categories and give the big Grammy to Norah Jones, the Johnny Mathis of this year. But the success of the movie 8 Mile had a lot to do with Hollywood's embrace of Marshall Mathers--not just the box-office success, but the undeniable effort he made to answer his critics on the gay issue.

In the movie, Eminem's character launches a rhyming attack against an assembly-line worker who disses the gay guy at the plant. He's proud of who he is and he's not hiding, Eminem says, or tortured couplets to that effect. He is therefore not to be dissed.

Eminem has said he used the word fag because in his world fag equals weak. Now that he's been made aware that fag has some other meanings--for real?--he has backed away from it. It's been replaced in popular culture lately by the word gay, which is the new weak. In a universe where bad is good and awesome is thank you and phat is almost orgasmic, gay means sad, weak, goofy, or pathetic beyond repair. It's nicer than fag, but it's still not bad or awesome or phat. But then, one of the biggest hip-hop artists in the country--and not a blond one either--is called Nelly. Nelly is straight. He tells girls in no uncertain terms, "It's getting hot in here, so take off all your clothes." That's how you know he's straight. What gay nelly would say that?

So now Eminem, who has gone out of his way to give homosexuals their props, wins the Oscar, and there is a big straight hip-hopper named Nelly. What next? What else--gay hip-hop.

As you read in both this magazine and The New York Times in recent weeks, a growing underground of out rappers are working around the country and submitting their tapes to record companies. One of them, an Oakland, Calif., lesbian named Hanifah Walidah, said that coming out gave her new strength in her performances. Tim'm West, who is HIV-positive and raps about it, is part of the San Francisco group known as the Deepdickollective. Caushun, who styles himself "the gay rapper," is a New York-based makeup and hair artist. One of his clients, Kimora Lee Simmons (who's married to rap impresario Russell Simmons), is trying to break him on her Baby Phat record label.

Conventional music biz wisdom has it that while there might be a novelty single in one of these people, the hard-core rap audience will never support them because the gay rappers don't represent a lifestyle this audience would like to live--bitches, ho's, block-long Navigators, and bling-bling being more their style.

This is not the most promising news for the gay rappers, but I hope they keep trying, because each gay rapper who gets on the rap radar is a reminder that gay isn't weak, that gay is part of the world, and that "don't be hatin'" isn't just a tag line from a movie but a bad, awesome, and phat way to live.
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Author:Vilanch, Bruce
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Jun 10, 2003
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