Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Boundaries Are For Chumps

For those not in the know, stereotypes about hip-hop stubbornly persist. Vague, obtuse notions of all rappers being male thugs pushing backward ideas about violence, gays, women or all of the above somehow still carry currency on this planet. When Common, about as sanitized a hip-hop artist as you can find, is getting harangued by right-wingers looking to score points, you can see how laughable most of these accusations are.

Nonetheless, as always, it's crucial to have artists breaking these molds. Moreover, whether these molds are imposed from inside or without, it's important these artists not be overlooked. Palin and the rest would be hard-pressed to find misogyny or anti-gay violence in the work of Chicago's Emanuel Vinson or New Orleans' Big Freedia, but she'd undoubtedly find umbrage in Vinson's outspoken bisexuality and Freedia's transgendered lifestyle (she's biologically male identifying as a woman). Just goes to show that some folks won't be satisfied until the rapture.

Both of these artists can carry their own in any straight-boys' club, and both played yesterday's Do-Division Fest here in Chicago on Sunday. This interview, where Vinson talks to Freedia in last week's Chicago Reader, isn't about LGBT liberation; it's about the music. Quite frankly, that's how it should be. But there's a connection to be drawn here: here are two rappers who are just as talented, unique and innovative as any others out there. I honestly don't know how hard either of them have tried to "make it" in the mainstream--though the fact that Freedia has opened up for Lil Wayne and Snoop Dogg points to how widely her work is becoming accepted in the hip-hop world. It doesn't take too much of a stretch, however, to see that most figures in the realm of MTV and the Big Four wouldn't have any clue what to do with these artists.

That's because, once again, even though artists like Vinson and Freedia may easily be about to trounce most mainstream MCs, the mold exists. And those who put it there don't like for it to be pushed. Record execs make too much money off the imposed concept of hip-hop machismo. The bigger question is whether this is a problem only with rap (as some would have us believe) or merely one aspect of a much broader system of inequality.


JM said...

On the subject of Rap, Lupe Fiasco ain't voting, but is still playing AT&T which had all that wiretapping mess a few years ago:,57255/

Care to explain the contradiction?

Alexander Billet said...

What would you have him do, live in a cave? I've made my position rather clear on Lupe and other artists who play festivals that receive corporate sponsorship: 1.) unless it's a boycott with an organized presence and goal (ie. the BDS campaign against Israel) it won't have have any affect other than making us feel all ooey-gooey inside, and 2.) artists often have little to no control over which festivals they play, especially during the summer. If they want to take a stand and speak out on it, great, but not doing so doesn't harm Lupe's activist credentials.