Monday, June 16, 2008

Hiding In Hip Hop: A New Book On Down Low In Hip Hop, And Some Thoughts On Parallels In Dancehall.

Felicia Pride writes a commentary and review of this new book on Black Voices. "Hiding In Hip Hop" is written by Terrance Dean, a black man in the music industry who battled with living two lives in hip hop culture. He goes on to say:

It was important for me to continue my double life. One for my career and the other for myself--the real me. Only I didn't know who the real me was. I was so accustomed to living in multiple worlds I often confused myself. As a down low man, I had to make sure people saw me as a heterosexual man; they had to see me with women...Nothing about me could be associated with the gay lifestyle.

From the perspective of a brotha in the Down Low scene in hip hop, he continues to reference the struggles of popular hip hop & r&b stars without naming them. In her article, Felicia Pride talks about the "tell-some" book:

In Hiding in Hip Hop, Dean writes of tight-knit communities of down low men in both Hollywood and the music industry. He writes of thugged out rappers with girlfriends and wives who sneak around to sleep with other men. He writes of down low ministers and in-the-closet R&B singers... He writes of a world where fear, pain, shame, and a lack of self-love are the dominant emotions. He paints a world where masculinity is narrowly-defined, heterosexuality is the only option, and down low men spew hatred toward homosexuals because they hate themselves.

Wow. Intense. What is also intense are the comments that Felicia Pride gets in response to her review. There definitely seems to be more vilifying of the men in DL culture than criticism of a larger culture that gives few options for people to just live their lives. I am not endorsing anyone cheating on their wives/partners in order to have down low interactions, I just think that some of the pain that Terrance Dean seems to convey should be taken into account... As a hetero man, I myself wonder what it would be like if I lived in bizarro switcheroo-change-o land, and had to keep up appearances to be "a gay man" but really want to date women, and have to see them on the down low. If you are also a straight man, and reading that made you cringe... hold on to that feeling. Especially if you are not able to understand why men would go on the down low. Empathy to the human condition is essential for us all to make it y'all...

I hope this book starts more conversation on homophobia in our communities than spark witch hunts. I myself am waiting for some dancehall version of this book to drop! That would be amazing. I think the author might be exiled from yard tho! But for reals, like it says in the last line from Felicia Pride's quote about down low gay men "spewing hatred against homosexuals"... I suspect that a similar connection may be happening in Jamaica, and that it is very possible that dancehall artists who are most vociferous with anti-gay lyrics may actually be expressing self-protection/self-hatred around their queerness and masculinity. Another yardie friend of mine and I were talking about a lyric by a dancehall artist that sez: "bad man nuh wear g-string". Ok. sooo... i guess the lesson trying to be conveyed here is that real tough guys don't and shouldn't wear g-string panties. The thing is... this artist had to actually conjure up this image in order to write this lyric...! Where did this image of guys in g-strings come from? Not saying that this lyric is evidence that the artist is gay, but i consider it a curious example of the extent that some Jamaican men will go to in order to showcase their heterosexuality- paradoxically evoking homoerotic images in the process! But where this leaves a lot of men in Jamaica... not only down low men have to keep up appearances of straightness, but some hetero men also have to keep up the exhausting job of re-proving their heterosexuality and a certain brand of masculinity.

What makes things even more headspinning is that the rude bway style (aka the thug steez) includes aesthetics that may be construed as queer associated in European and North American cultures. Meticulously plucked eyebrows, Vaseline on the lips to make them shiny, see through mesh/net shirts... i could go on. Is it possible that down low men in Jamaican culture have become such powerful icons of hyper-masculine heterosexuality that there is now safety to be less gender conformist in appearance? Or is masculinity in Jamaica something so complex that it escapes definition?

The labyrinthine journey to one love continues...


also peep Keith Harris' essay on the down low phenomenon, he is a gay black man who very much calls for gay black men to step back up into a visible representation of black masculinity. This is one of the essays featured on

7 comments: said...
This comment has been removed by the author. said...

Hey there,

Thank you for mentioning this new expose! I heard an interview on the radio (online) about three weeks ago about this book.

I think being on the D.L. is cowardice....I do.

If a man wants to love men, then he should just SAY SO. Geeeesh.

Sistas who claim they didn't know their man was on the D.L. are not being completely honest....a woman who KNOWS her man's psyche will know if he has other proclivities...

My position about the whole D.L. phenomenon is that the society's homophobia is not to blame for it... those who TRULY believe that there is nothing wrong with being gay or lesbian or bi would not hide it...they would live their truth and take whatever comes in order to BE alive in truth.

Those who are hiding feel that deep down their choice has shame attached to it.

Do I think that societal pressure has a factor? Sure I do but ultimately a person has to make a choice to be what he/she believes is truly honest.

Thanks for blowing the trumpet about this new book because it will get a lot more publicity in the weeks and months to come!


richard said...

Keith Harris, the author of the essay on BeyondMasculinity definitely agrees with you on that one! And he has the perspective of being a gay black man.

I don't know if i would essentialize being on the down low as simply being cowardice tho. I would even say that in places like Jamaica, being on the DL is survival. Feeling that there is nothing wrong with being gay or lesbian won't stop a mob from chasing you and the police probably helping you get beaten if you get caught.

I also do not want to minimize the experience of internalized homophobia that others may have as well, because i have not experienced it. I cannot imagine psychically living where supposedly my God, family, friends, and government find me abhorrent for who i love.

Question: were our ancestors who could pass for white and did in the all the way up to the mid 1900s cowards? said...

Hello there,

Thank you for sharing.

Some blacks who passed for white were cowards who did not want to endure the pain and the stigma of their blackness... some were not AFRAID of their blackness but were being opportunistic....and there could have been some who felt that their lives were in jeopardy (during the time when a black man would get lynched for just walking down a road at the wrong time)...I am not sure of all of the stories that have existed will ever be known...

I do not know the extent of hatred that gay men encounter daily...and the impact that it has on their psyche....

There IS something that changes within a man when he has been with a man sexually and most astute women pick it up. Something in a man's constitution changes from that's hard to even describe...there has never been a gay man in hiding who I did not accurately detect.

Thanks for your insights...

Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!

richard said...


perhaps i shouldn't have phrased my question quite like that... ancestor reverence is a huge part of my spiritual practice, and its difficult for me to read an assessment that some of our ancestors were cowards if they tried to pass as white. like you said, we don't really know all the stories, so perhaps my question was a bit to general.

i think my point was to highlight the role that institutionalized oppression has in the dynamics we speak of. i think we may just have different stances on this, though you do acknowledge that it plays into the dynamics. in the equation of oppression, for me, it is the oppressors who express cowardice, lashing out at what they don't understand and fear, and also expressing cowardice to really look at themselves and their/our privileges. the oppressed must be creative in survival strategies. and that can look a host of different ways, some of which may seem dysfunctional. but when dealing with an oppressive system, we are already dealing with imbalance and dysfunction.

when living in a society where simply walking down the street and holding hands with a lover becomes an act of revolution and defiance (and an action that can magnetize all sorts of negative targeting), i think it is too easy to label the actions of people as cowardly while we (assuming we are both hetero) can enjoy these privileges without a second thought.

i agree that something changes in a man when they love men. i only know deep brotherly love, familial love, etc... but i would imagine that for any same sex couple, something profound around "self-love" can happen.

to take that idea and go a step further... in my experience, black lesbians tend to keep their hair natural more so than our hetero sistas. more self-love goin on maybe?

thanks again for bringing some thought provoking perspectives! bless up


Anonymous said...

All this "analysis" and media hype about "DL" has moved this lifestyle from the margins of black gay culture to the "reality tv" channels of straight folks. And ast they are so completely enthralled, there's much money to be made off their ignorant fetishism of black men.

All this chatter is really just another (incredibly effective) way to pathologize black folks' sexuality. Is there a related term when you're talking about white folks? or is that white men just don't do these things. Give me a break already. I have stopped listening to any of this talk because it doesnt add anything to what we already know about dishonesty in relationships. I'm not so sure why women would be tormented by the fact that their boyfriend or whoever is sleeping with a man. Hello!! If you dídn't agree to him having another sexual partner besides you, he's fucking around, end of story. Based on the stories that women are *choosing* to offer to support the supposed trauma of having a man on the DL, I'm not sure that that same man would tell her he's sleeping with another woman either, so focusing only on who he's sleeping with completely misses the bigger picture. I'm not dismissing the macro issues of heterosexism, racism etc. I am saying that we can take responsibility for how those bear out in our intimate relationships. And so far, straight black women are not really taking responsibility, neither is the new black superstud aka "on the DL."

"finding out" about who's who in dancehall wouldn't do much except to add to the gossip and repression. In Jamaica we don't really know what to do with such information, since the framework for understanding sexuality is either this fucked up one imported from the US or the British what-lef we have been carefully re-heating for the past two decades.

richard said...


woy! nuff respect, you are bringing some perspectives with realness!! its also great to hear from another yardie blogger (nice blog!).

i don't have a cable connection, so i am out of the loop of what is on tv. i think i heard that there is a DL show on a queer channel called Logo, but is there also one on mainstream tv as well??? never knew... and yes, i also feel like black sexuality can get maligned in the media this way. i prefer to frame this phenomena as a survival strategy under institutional heterosexism, as opposed to "lying, cheating, homoerotic drama."

"Is there a related term when you're talking about white folks? or is that white men just don't do these things. Give me a break already."

good point again. i think we as black people have different coping mechanisms tho, and a different relationship to language than white folks. White folks didn't name this phenomenon, we did. queer white folks also have a different relationship to oppression. I imagine that black creativity in a multi-layered existence of oppression led to the creation of this term.

On the flipside of our creation (and preoccupation) of the term DL, the internalized idea that whiteness is the standard of humanity (internalized by almost everybody) contributes to the complexity for sure. No naming for married white men who say they are working late, but are picking up male tricks & having intimate relationships with men on the side. Just a human phenomena, not really something to name. And perhaps there is less gender specific preoccupation in how these issues are covered in white culture (whatever THAT broad, general, constructed term means) so that the wife and community may be more inclined to be more focusing on the transgression of being cheated on than the gender of the lover. i dunno. its super general like i said. i would also like to see more responsibility being taken by the black women who respond a certain way to this, and to the black men who enact this. Sounds like decolonization therapy to me...! Black bodies have historically had so much projected onto us, and taken away from us, that i think this phenomena triggers something can trigger something powerfully that can take us back to unresolved trauma in slavery.

did you by any chance read my other post that draws links with Jamaican homophobia with slavery and colonialism? would be curious about your thoughts there.

i also agree that Jamaicans would not be able to handle knowing which dancehall artists are queer, and that it would lead to more demonizing. when i said i am waiting for a book similar to this one in dancehall, i don't mean one that names people ("Hiding In Hip Hop" doesn't name folks either), but one that would hopefully humanize the world that queer folks are forced to live in, and start some needed empathy building.

speaking of waiting for a book, have you picked up "Our Caribbean: A Gathering Of Lesbian & Gay Writing From The Antilles" edited and introduced by Thomas Glave? It was released this year, and is the first book of its kind. i just got it, planning to post about it soon. but one quote from it that rings really true as we go back and forth on dialogues of homophobia in Jamaica is:

"Even as we seek to restore 'indigenous knowledge' systems, we must simulataneously seek to sharpen an 'indigenous' criticism"
- Charles Carnegie, pg 80.

i gotta run! thanks for your response and your much needed perspective. bless up