A Tribe Calls Queers Shit (ButIDon’tWannaHearIt!!!!)
A Panorama Day Reflection
On February 12, the world was treated to a sort of hip-hop homecoming cum coming out party. Legendary music group A Tribe Called Quest performed at the Grammys with a plethora of extended posse members to embellish a peak moment for a group known to combine intelligence, political awareness, and a distinct visual flair to accompany all of this.
So they knocked down walls and won fawning plaudits for their performance that was praised as a masterclass of been around the block activists showing up a potential dictator. And after years where both the defunct group, and its individual members were out of the spotlight, their sixth album We Got it From Here…Thank You For Your Service has won them renewed praise and makes them the very rare group in rap (and really all of popular music) to be in their mid 40’s, 15 years after their peak commercial and critical relevance, releasing material seemingly at the pinnacle of both ends (it is their second album to go to no. 1 on the Billboard charts).
But to be honest I can only postulate regurgitation on all the above. I didn’t watch Tribe at the Grammys. I didn’t listen to their new album either. I don’t say these things lightly, as some casual music fan, or as someone with a passing interest in political records say. ATCQ is a group whose discography and biography, I am hyper-aware of. In high school I didn’t just know their first three albums forwards and back, basically the required currency for this particular act to be considered a fairly serious fan, but also their 4th, the criminally underrated Beats, Rhymes, and Life, as well as a strong familiarity with their fifth The Love Movement, the occasionally inspired, somewhat turgid breakup album they put out as the 1990’s with its ebullient optimism, and rose colored lens imploded n’ ended.
Like a dirty secret I heard a rumbling I paid no notice to in those years. There was some unreleased song, it might be homophobic. I almost typed that “I paid it no mind” which is classic privilege boy-ism for “willful delusion.” Thankfully I’ve tried to be more vigilant against such delusion recently, doing so has helped me shed my boyism altogether, and pick up a pair of breasts along the way.
A group I enjoyed, who I considered to be a moral beacon for me, and a convenient whitewash (ha) for anyone who might think I was racist or otherwise prejudiced (“I only ever ‘correct’ the work of service people who are women of color?? No no, you don’t understand, I know b-sides off The Love Movement, next!”). Boyful delusion is probably the same as most other forms of delusion, but its the one I feel I have the most experience in. It would seem to be fairly chronic. Since all the boys saying this must be one of the 10 best albums of 2016, and hurtling towards record sales in the 100, 000s, all the while crowning Q-Tip in particular as a man deserving of our attention (and increasingly bankable asset these days, I feel like reminding the no one who doesn’t know that) as a voice against hate and prejudice.
You (I) may assume that “homophobic hip-hop” from the 1990’s follows the same cut-and-dry stereotype record types who don’t want anyone ruining their “escapist space” can ruin. The stereotype would be a passing reference to how being gay makes you not manly. “Person X is a faggot “ This is in a sense the safest kind of homophobia: it assumes the person is the product of a rapidly shifting time, they didn’t actually criticize a gay person, and the behavior they are exhibiting falls more in line with the idea that they used a random insult, that we only now happen to realize is a slur insulting a specific group of people.
“Georgie Porgie” is an entire song solely about criticizing a gay person for being gay. It goes beyond insults; it is criticism, from multiple angles (cultural, implied religious, why association with gays is bad). It brings in a level of disgust that is very shocking. It is far more homophobic than anything I have ever listened to by a mainstream rap artist, including ones who explicitly condemn homosexuality.
It is so aggressively thought out, that it is impossible to call it a product of anything but what it is: hate. It is reasoned out, disgusted hate. It is the kind of thing that sounds so considered by the person saying it, that you do not just assume it is a youthful phase but someone who didn’t know better.
Let’s look at some of Phife’s thoughts:
Officially a hundred times lamer than “I like my beats hard like two day old shit.” That line sucked, this one is both unoriginal, and sounds like it was written by someone 40 years older than Phife.
Oh my God how gross can one be
This is coming from someone who poisoned themself gorging on fucking soda so let’s cool it with the “whose the gross one contest”
What made you choose the path of the gays, oh why
Dudes are hot as fuck man that’s what. What made you choose the fucking abomanation that is the cover art of Beats, Rhymes, and Life??? Five star album hiding behind a one star graphic man, if beauty is truth that shit is the world’s biggest lie.
Again, this is a line by someone who is probably held up as the paragon of progressive hip-hop. Way to sound like Karl Malone circa ’96 talking about Magic man.
Call me homophobic but I know it and you know it
You’re filthy and funny to the utmost exponent
Never will I do that, disrespect my mommy
So run and hide your salami
Used to, didn’t you, used to be my man
Instead of shaking, you’re dragging your hand
Yes it’s the Abstract the info provider
Okay so this part to me is the most disturbing. This is pretty thought out homophobia. He’s literally inviting us to call him homophobic. This isn’t schoolyard “YOU’RE THE FAGGOT” stuff. This is” I found out you’re gay, we can never be cool again homophobia.”
A fairly aggressive apology and explanation is really all I personally need. Of course there is a bit of shame in saying this; I am the escapist I threw stones at earlier, I want this to solve itself fairly and neatly too. I want my old heroes to talk about their regret, to make a joke or too about how JIVE was right, that rule 4080 is untrue in this case.
And I wonder too about all the publications I’ve trusted. Pitchfork has proven to be a ground for progressive criticism, holding artist’s accountable for various -isms. Where is their criticism of this? Where is Rolling Stone, Stereogum’s? At a Grammy’s where Donald Trump was unsafe (though not racism tbh) the perhaps heroes of homphobia literally took center stage at one point. We all need our wise progressive heroes, but do we have to push the uncomfortable groups they may hate to the margins because we’re too lazy to find people who don’t sing hate?