In Insult and the Making of the Gay Self, Didier Eribon suggest two kinds of insult. The first kind of insult comes from an external source marking one as queer, usually the accusation of being a faggot. The second insult comes internally from queer recognition of each other and is usually of the sort that interpolates community of some kind. Eribon’s distinction between those two kinds of insult is an important reminder of how language works in the production of identity and the ways identity might be marked or called into existence. Rap music, and hip hop culture more broadly, fits the method of insult that Eribon offers quite well. Indeed, rap music’s alleged homophobia is most often offered as the insult that interpolates queer or more specifically gay selves into a homophobic bear hug in popular culture. But what if the insult of rap music and hip hop culture was also a constituting gesture of queer selves? How then might we think of hip hop as queer, that is, as queer always already being a part of and inside hip hop and not external to it?
Queering hip hop is not as difficult as the uninitiated might think or imagine. It might in fact all be about where you begin to look and what you are willing to see. In fact, a case could be made plausibly that hip hop is queer, always has been, and always will be. Indeed, debates about hip hop, homophobia, and queers have failed to acknowledge the centrality of non-heterosexuality to hip hop and rap cultures from its very inception. Furthermore, because hip hop emerges out of the odd, or should we say queer [End Page 168] histories of urban black diaspora communities, the claim that hip hop and rap culture has always been queer is neither revisionist nor a play with language—even if both might be needed in the contemporary settlement of a straightened out hip hop. I would argue that it is precisely in the context of a straightened out hip hop that a queer sociality and definitely a homosociality animates some of hip hop’s most excited moments as the soundtrack of contemporary urban life and beyond.
In this brief thought experiment, I want to make three breaks, or riffs if you like. These breaks, much like the break beat of rap music, are meant to open up some conceptual and political space for queer hip hop potentialities, possibilities, and relationalities and to provide for a brief moment a site to rest, to move from, and to groove to, as a way to make possible that which so often seems not so. These breaks come out of a fatigue with the now repeated boring preoccupation with hip hop as homophobic and lacking in both queer content and queer bodies. The fatigue is conditioned by the ways in which critics and critical erasures work to produce hip hop as only having one kind of relation to queerness. Importantly too, though, I want to provide a challenge that might require a reimaginative practice, the kind that gave rise to hip hop as the most salient post–civil rights creative endeavor we have yet to witness. Again, these breaks are also produced in a moment of a certain exhaustion with an LGBT politics lacking in any queer sensitivity or humor in which young black men are never given the opportunity to just get it wrong without some other kind of dangerous motive being asserted about their risk or mistake. Additionally, my fatigue is conditioned by various forms of black middle and upper-class respectability and white LGBT racism that produce a dogma that narrates black youth cultures as deracinated, dangerous, vulgar, and also dismissive. The break beat is as much about a shift in tempo as it is a break into something new or different; maybe this thought experiment can shift our conversations a little bit concerning rap and hip hop culture.
Break Number 1
I count myself as among the first generation of hip hoppers—as both a fan and a critic. What I...