Photo By Jamel Shabazz | Words By John Morrison
Can I Get Open? Towards A Healthier, Saner Vision of Masculinity in Hip Hop
While constant challenges to the prevailing constructs of masculinity (and the broader system of heteropatriarchy that supports them) are being made by Queer Hip Hoppers, it remains to be seen if a significant number of Cis-Heterosexual Men will be willing to do the deep and extensive work required to seriously investigate our own privilege and join the rest of humanity in the struggle to overturn systemic heteropatriarchy. Hip Hop, like most other cultural spaces has been shaped by the systemic forces that govern the society in general but Hip Hop also holds within it the potential to contribute greatly to the eventual demise of gender and sex related oppression. At this stage in it’s development, it must be said that Hip Hop culture in general and Rap music specifically has done more to reinforce oppressive sexual and gender roles than it has to challenge them. Although, there is promising work being done within the culture (primarily coming from Women and Queer identifying artists) the space for non-stereotypical expressions of gender and sexuality remains narrow. In order for Hip Hop to evolve and grow beyond its rigid parameters more Cis-Het Men who privilege and take up space within the culture have to do more, we have to challenge ourselves to thoroughly analyse our own thoughts, feelings, actions, opinions, viewpoints and values so that we may begin to form a vision of manhood and masculinity that is rooted in openness, respect, solidarity and revolutionary love, not misogyny, violence and homophobia. To close this piece, I wanted our group of interviewees to share some ideas about the future of masculine gender and sex politics in Hip Hop culture as they saw it.
John: How do you see masculinity being expressed in Hip Hop’s future? Do you think our culture will have a different standard of manhood in the coming generations? Will it stay the same?
Shawn: The definition and the performance of manhood/masculinity is changing faster than most of us can keep up. I’m hoping more men will step in when they see injustice done to women and children. I’m hoping that, within our cultural organizations, this is the last Afrika Bambaata we have to deal with. I hope that more men—and you’re seeing it more publicly—show each other more affection without second guessing if what they’re doing is “gay” or not. Men crave the affection of other men, but are so damn afraid to ask for it or give it. I hope (and think) we’re moving in that direction. I would also love to hear more music by men who are wrestling with this question.
D.J. : In general I feel like the identity of masculinity is already being discussed, challenged, and displayed in many ways. Genre, culture, or piece of art has to have movement in order to be taken serious. I believe in hip hop and the power it possesses, as optimistic as that may sound.
Fame: I feel we will get a resurgence of consciousness soon.... Something’s gotta happen but I do think it will change . But this time WOMEN have to be at the meeting .... The exclusion of women in our manhood is constantly showing.... And if we can connect that dot .... The circle will be complete.
Ambush: Masculinity in hip hop is expressed primarily as a power, there aren't enough nurturing, loving examples of masculinity in hip hop. That's a serious problem for us, because we're in great need of just that. I really don't see it changing because there has become this gaping disconnect between the music we create and the music we need to be hearing.
*This is the final part in a 3 part series exploring gender and sexual identity in Hip Hop. Here is Part 1 and Part 2.
Andrew Wallace (aka Sir PHresh): A Rapper/Producer currently living in Philadelphia.
Shawn Taylor: Father, Educator and Author of Big Black Penis: Misadventures in Race & Masculinity.
Fame Vasquez: Father and B-Boy.
D.J. Motley: Rapper and Former Member of Pioneering Queer Rap duo Sgt. Sass.
DJ Ambush: Father, DJ and co-host of the 215Live Radio podcast.
John Morrison is a Philadelphia based Writer, DJ and Producer. As a solo artist, Morrison has recently released his debut Instrumental Hip Hop album, SWP: Southwest Psychedelphia, a cosmic, psychedelic trip through a day in the life in his Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood available now on Deadverse Recordings.