EXCERPT: Writer Clay Cane Explores Hip-Hop Masculinity in New Book

By Sameer Rao Jun 13, 2017

Clay Cane‘s writing, cable news commentary and GLAAD Award-winning documentary all explore the struggles LGBTQ Black people endure in a society that routinely denies their humanity and complexity. The journalist turns that lens on his own upbringing in "Live Through This: Surviving the Intersections of Sexuality, God, and Race," his new book of essays available today (June 13) via Cleis Press.

"Live Through This" illuminates Cane’s personal journey to self-understanding while wrestling with the messages that pop culture, the church and the world at large placed on his identity. The excerpt below comes from "The Hip-Hop Closet," a meditation on the rappers who affirmed his Blackness while simultaneously demeaning his sexual orientation.

Read the excerpt below, and purchase the book here.

As a Black man, hip-hop saved me. Hip-hop was my Black Twitter. Hip-hop was my Black Lives Matter. As I was growing up in the 1990s, songs like 2Pac’s "Holler If Ya Hear Me," Nas’ "The World Is Yours" and The Notorious B.I.G.’s "Juicy" tapped into my angst. Trying to survive West Philadelphia and rarely seeing representations of my community in media, hearing my story chronicled in music was crucial to survival. Undoubtedly, hip-hop is one of the most precious, creative and iconic forms of art Black Americans-created. As someone from the hip-hop generation, I am grateful for artists like Ice Cube, Q-Tip, KRS-one, Brand Nubian, and Common—all artists who proudly spat hateful, anti-LGBT lyrics.

As a gay man, hip-hop hurt me. I remember when I first heard Ice Cube’s homophobic anthem "No Vaseline," which was Cube claiming his former group members of N.W.A., who were now his enemies, were all getting fucked by men. The track was and still is considered a classic diss record, but when I listened to the 1991 song, and countless others, I knew there was no place for my identities in hip-hop. Dr. Dre’s "The Chronic" is on my list of top five hip-hop albums, but nearly the entire record is Dre and Snoop telling all their enemies to suck their dicks—an attack on their manhood. Much like women who grapple with sexism in hip-hop, I was taught to deal with the blows; this was the artists’ "reality," and I had to separate the music from the madness. However, LGBT identity and hip-hop are not mutually exclusive. I am still a Black man grappling with police brutality, a crumbling education system, lack of jobs and the struggle of day-to-day survival. The music of the streets simultaneously loved and shamed me.

As a child and teenager, I worshipped the hypermasculine men of hip-hop. If I only possessed the grimy swagger of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, the rugged masculinity of Treach from Naughty by Nature or the intimidation skills of anyone in N.W.A., I believed I could survive West Philadelphia or any other city. As I walked the streets, I listened to songs like Method Man’s "Bring the Pain," hoping the track would inject me with the niggahood I could never achieve. I studied the drug dealers on corners, wondering what magic tricks I needed to become one of them. The pressure of Black masculinity overwhelmed every aspect of my pre-adult life, with hip-hop as one of the main ingredients. I longed to be wholly included in the narrative of hip-hop.