Often the only queers in hip-hop are the ones rappers say they want to kill. There are, of course, oddities -“ political musicians wanting to raise our consciousness -“ but there is plenty of evidence the world of hip-hop is dominated by a few angry guys on the US east and west coasts.
At the Peace OUT East hip-hop festival in New York there are no signs of the split down the east-west axis that is evident in straight hip-hop. From the San Francisco Bay area, you have the Deep Dickollective (D/DC) and Katastrophe, while Soce Tew and BQE come from New York. At Peace OUT East everyone is queer, and as the festival name suggests, this gathering is all about love, music and celebration.
Now in its second year, the Peace OUT East hip-hop festival is an annual gathering of queer hip-hop, spoken word and performance artists who meet in New York City. During the four-day festival, artists converge on the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, the Bowery Poetry Club and the Galapagos Art Space to DJ, MC and to watch and listen.
For Soce Tew, a gay Jewish MC from New Hampshire who has just released his second album Dream De La Dream, Peace OUT East represents a small blip on the radar screen in a fast emerging queer hip-hop scene.
The Peace OUT World Homohop Festival, the precursor to Peace OUT East, began in 2001 in Oakland, California. It was started by one of queer hip-hop’s leading voices, Juba Kalamka. The festival was the first in a series to celebrate the queer production of hip-hop music, something Kalamka believes is lost on most of the world’s media.
So often when articles are written about gays in hip-hop, it is either to romanticise the spectacle of studs or homothugs listening to (presumed) straight hip-hop at secret clubs or an article about a suspect and closeted -˜homie-sexual’ who is almost always quick to deny the gay rumour, Kalamka says.
Kalamka started the Deep Dickollective (D/DC), a loose collective of artists who will release their fifth album this year. Their fourth album Them Niggas Done Went And Said -¦ is the first recording to include D/DC’s newest member, Marcus Van, a female-to-male transgender performance poet.
The political focus of D/DC’s music has given the group more prominence than anyone else in the queer hip-hop world, but it has also left D/DC high and dry when it comes to favourable reviews. According to Kalamka, even the queer world is not yet ready for a hip-hop collective when reviewers recently refused to listen to the group’s latest album.
This is because it is a more cogent, solidified and a much more foregrounded dialogue on race and sexuality, Kalamka believes.
It is not something that you could pick up if you’re black and bourgeois and gay, pick it up and name-drop it, and say this is Deep Dickollective, this is a gay hip-hop group that I know about.
There is no comfortable space for anybody to enter into what we do. It is a challenge all around for anybody, whether you are black or white or gay or straight.
Kalamka has given the musical movement a name: homo-hop. Matt Wobensmith (the man who instigated a queer punk craze in the US) calls homo-hop an attempt at contextualising gay hip-hop within a larger LGBT community, particularly with regards to youth culture. Kalamka took it on himself to promote the queer hip-hop community in 2001, and the festival has since spawned the Peace OUT East, Peace OUT North-West and Peace OUT UK festivals.
The festivals are simple tributes to a culture that has never been celebrated but has always been visible. One artist who will return to New York from a European tour for Peace OUT East is transgender activist and rapper Rocco Kayiatos, otherwise known as Katastrophe. Kayiatos, who also speaks about sexual identity at universities throughout the US, thinks people should not be surprised that queer hip-hop exists.
Everything in this world is homophobic so I am not going to let that stop me making hip-hop. And I certainly don’t feel that hip-hop is the first and only thing that has been massively homophobic in mainstream culture, the singer says.
Hip-hop started as an underground culture. Queers have always been a part of it, whether they have been making beats or making disco that ended up getting cut into the hip-hop beats.
The artists at the root of Peace OUT East are responsible for some of the craziest, zestiest and sexiest music the queer music world has ever seen. If reviews of the last couple of homo-hop festivals are anything to go by, the Peace OUT East festival in New York City is going to be a massive explosion of hip-hop taking the art form to new limits. Let’s hope it continues and, who knows, maybe someday we will get Peace OUT Down Under.
The 2nd annual Peace OUT East festival is taking place from 15 to 17 July 2005 at various locations in New York City. For more information about the Peace OUT East festival check out http://www.peaceouteast.com.