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Still, it's one thing for fashion editors to see the influence of Puffy's pouffy pals on the runway or at the after-party; it's quite another for the baggy-assed consumer at HMV. "Rappers work with gay hair and makeup people all day, but they aren't telling the interviewer on Hot 97," says a former publicist at a major rap label. "If you're in a room with your boys, they don't want people to know they've got a gay publicity coordinator because if the word gay is somehow attached to you, it brings up that you are soft, a pussy, and going to hell. You'll have no street credibility, and you won't sell that record." In rap, homophobia doesn't just ruleit sells.
The irony is that many rappers who rail about "piss[ing] on that sissy" (to quote Snoop Dogg) are actually just "studio thugs"the industry term for a disingenuous gangsta veneer. Some of the most homophobic rappers have tight friendships with gay men in their entourageor so these gay brothers claim. "Major hardcore rappers treat me like family," says the broker of deals with clothing lines. "We work hand in hand." A major reason for this bonding is financial. "I have to have a relationship with these people to make an album," says the closeted a&r man. "I don't want to sound like I'm selling my soul to the devil, but I'm here to sign artists that make money for the label, and for myself."
But greed is only part of what keeps these gay brothers in line. There is also solidarity with rappers and sympathy with their struggle to rise. Says the a&r man: "They come from backgrounds where they are isolated and know nothing else." Quohnos Mitchell, a former rap publicist who is now an executive
at Tommy Hilfiger, knows what the ghetto is like. "The whole rap thing is about minorities making money for the first time," he explains. "The artists, the producers, the magazinesthese are all black folks making money."
As black men surviving in corporate America, these gay brothers are loath to rock the rap boat, because that would mean tampering with one of the few routes to prosperity for African Americans. Like countless black gay people in all walks of life, they see race as central to their identity. While they would never support an antiblack artist, they don't feel the same impulse to halt a homophobic rapper. "Race is an overt issue, whereas sexuality is much more covert," says the a&r man. "So I'm definitely not as sensitive to it."
But the solidarity goes deeper than just race. For some of these gay enablers, it reflects an unspoken admiration for the hard-man icon of the rapperand an expectation that this will include contempt for homosexuality. The result is an eroticized self-hate that feeds the cycle of degradation. "It works on your self-esteem," says Mitchell. "It's a kind of psychic slavery. What you're getting from your work is that you aren't rightand you validate that by doing what you do."
There are signs that this cycle may be broken soon. A few gay mensome of them industry titansare beginning to speak out against homophobia in rap. When Emil Wilbekin was hired to edit Vibe, he addressed homosexuality in hip-hopeven as he put hate-rappers on the cover. "I have the power to raise questions about it, but it's not my job to police every album and tell every rapper they're doing something wrong. That's where GLAAD can speak out."
Some gay men in rap are willing to go further. "I feel like if it's not right to say 'nigger' it shouldn't be right to say 'faggot,' " says stylist Darren Anthony. He won't work with homophobic rappers. "It's my integrity. I'm not going to style your video or editorial while you're dissing my community. If that's the case, it won't work."