At about 11 p.m. on a Saturday, Dutchboy, a local hip-hop MC, struts onto the stage at San Francisco’s Peacock Lounge, just a few feet in front of a tight half-circle of fans. He’s decked out in standard MC gear: Raiders jersey, baggy pants, Kangol hat, and Chuck Taylor sneakers. But aside from that, Dutchboy is about the farthest thing imaginable from a traditional MC.
He stands at only about 5-foot-7. He is Caucasian, which gives him all the street credibility of a farm hand. And he … well, just listen:
“Struggling every goddamn day/Cuz I decide to be real/Got to be who I am — a gypsy queen!”
“Gypsy queens” — slang for gay men, or in Dutchboy’s case, bisexuals — are certainly not uncommon in San Francisco. But a self-proclaimed “queen” rocking the mic at a hip-hop show is something of a shock to both gay and hip-hop cultures. Homophobic rap lyrics are as prevalent as blunts at a Cypress Hill show. And while gay hip-hop clubs have been a part of New York City’s underground for years, the gay community has not exactly welcomed the hetero-centric ruffians of rap music with open arms.
But the climate may be changing. Dutchboy (real name Judge Muscat) is the front man for Rainbow Flava, a group of gay, lesbian, and bisexual hip-hop artists in San Francisco. The group is part of a nascent nationwide network of openly gay rap musicians. The sub-subculture includes New York’s gay/lesbian duo Morplay, Houston’s Money the B-Girl Wonder, and the Austrian MC/producer Operator Burstup. Meanwhile, New York-based producer Tony “DJ Soul” Dobson says he’s “scouting feverishly” to build a coalition of gay hip-hop artists.
“Most of the people who I was worried would have a homophobic reaction, didn’t care,” says Kevin Cruze, a.k.a. DJ Monkey of Rainbow Flava. “It’s just not an issue for most of them.”
It sure doesn’t seem to be for the Flava’s fans. By the middle of his set, Dutchboy has people screaming for him to take off his shirt. When he asks “all the ladies in the house who don’t shave their legs” to give him a “Hooo!”, the hooos reverberate off the walls.
Though Rainbow Flava’s fan base is small, Dutchboy believes that their music will ultimately help open the door for mainstream acceptance of gay hip hop. “It’s only a matter of time,” he says.
“I’m in this business to make a lot of changes for faggots,” adds Cazwell, an MC from Morplay. “We’re gonna drop a new album soon, and when we do, I think it’s gonna prove to record companies that [a gay rap group] can sell.”
Maybe, but don’t expect to see gay rap albums at Sam Goody anytime soon, says former punk rock and hip-hop producer Matt Wobensmith.
“Gay hip hop doesn’t yet have a ‘scene’ — it’s more conceptual,” Wobensmith says. “But that was what it was like when the gay punk scene started.”
Wobensmith’s now defunct record label, Outpunk, paved the way for gay punk’s emergence as a viable genre that has spawned such relative mainstream successes as Sleater-Kinney and Pansy Division. In 1998, Wobensmith started the Queercorps label, which was devoted largely to recording gay hip-hop music. However, the label released just two albums before Wobensmith quit his music career altogether.
A critical difference between gay punk and gay hip hop, he says, is that the gay punk movement coincided with the rise of punk feminism. In hip hop, despite an upsurge of female artists in recent years, the booty-slappin’ fraternity remains firmly entrenched. “Hip hop is dominated by black males, the people who are the most homophobic,” says N.I. Double-K.I., a black lesbian rapper who occasionally performs with Rainbow Flava.
Frank Williams, deputy editor for the hip-hop magazine The Source, says he would like to see a gay rapper gain widespread acceptance, but it’s not likely to happen. “Part of proving yourself in hip hop is showing how hard you are,” he says. “If you’re a record company that’s gonna invest all this money to get these kids to believe in this myth of toughness, you’re not gonna sign a gay rapper.”
No high-profile rap artists have ever outed themselves publicly, despite widespread speculation that some of them are gay or lesbian. The relatively small number of hip-hop fans who do admit to having same-sex relations typically do not celebrate their sexual orientation. “Most of the bruthas I know, be they ‘homie-sexual’ or not, don’t identify themselves as ‘gay,'” says James Earl Hardy, who authored a series of novels about young homosexuals in hip hop. “Who they are attracted to or have sex with is not an identity; it just is.”
Of course, winning over a hip-hop audience is only half the battle. Traditionally, says Dutchboy, gay people see rappers as adversaries. “We look like the kids who beat them up in high school,” he says.
But that attitude may be changing. The crowd at the Peacock Lounge was more Rocky Horror than Ruff Riders — comprised largely of gays, bisexuals, and transsexuals.
“[Gay] people who weren’t turned on to hip hop before are getting turned on to it now,” says Cazwell. “I think that if you’re gay and out, you can still be successful, but you have to give yourself more time to make it.”