DEAD HORSES ON THE ROAD
At the end of September the Oshkosh-born/Milwaukee-based acoustic folk band Dead Horses released their new album Cartoon Moon. The beautiful and thoughtful 10-track project was recorded at Cartoon Moon Studios in Nashville with former Wilco and Uncle Tupelo drummer Ken Coomer. Last month they hit the road on a 10-state, 14-date tour in support of Mandolin Orange. I spoke with lead singer Sarah Vos during the band’s day off in Charleston, South Carolina.
We are going to go to the beach and see the ocean today. I haven’t seen the Atlantic for quite some time so I’m pretty excited.
How has the road been?
It’s awesome because we’re playing all these new cities and they’re pretty nice rooms, and really, really receptive crowds. So it’s been a blast.
How was it returning to Nashville where the new album was recorded?
There was a cool coming around with that it being almost exactly a year later. It was really fun. Our producer Ken Coomer came out to the show with his wife and his son and we got to hang out with him backstage. It felt very special. I’m a big fan of Nashville. It’s going to be a main stop for us for touring in the future. We’ve started to make friends down there.
It was a good show?
It was a great show, one of our best in Nashville. We’ve done the Americana Music Festival in Nashville, so that was pretty cool. We got to play at The Station Inn, which is kind of a historic bluegrass venue. To do that as part of the festival was really neat. You have all these dreams and goals, as soon as you reach one goal you kind of got your eye on the next one and you never quite make it to the horizon. But I always try to remind the guys in the band that we should be celebrating because we are very blessed.
I read that Cartoon Moon is the record that you really want people to hear. What sets it apart and what makes it so special for you?
I think it’s a patient record. It shows how we have matured through the years. I feel that it’s crafted a lot more, it’s more deliberate than other things we’ve done. That’s something that I want to continue to do as we keep making records. Because you know in the industry they talk about how bands don’t make as much money from records anymore.
But when I look at the way music has affected me and the reasons that I even wanted to be a musician, it was growing up and listening to records. To this day I’m always searching for new things to listen to and I love that. Recording it was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. I love having this very focused project that was collaboration between the members of the band and the producer and the sound engineer.
Have you been writing new songs while you’ve been on tour or performing any new material?
Usually when I write it’s pretty private, at least when I start the songs. But at the Nashville show I was very inspired by all the things that we’ve seen touring and the people we’ve met. Traveling right now across the country during such a crazy time in politics and things that are happening in the country, I’ve been telling the audiences at every show that I think regardless of where you stand, a lot of people feel pretty disheartened by the state of things. But we’ve been meeting such compassionate and wonderful people everywhere. So I’ve been trying to remind people at all the shows that it’s going to be ok. Don’t lose hope because things are going to work out.
But yeah, I always write a lot, I journal a lot, and a lot of times I just write down little snippets of things. Or even just word combinations that strike my fancy. As far as actual songs I’m not sure exactly how the new record that we’re beginning to dream up is going to go, but I just feel very confident that everything that we need is already there. I can’t wait to make another one.
Click here to listen to Dead Horses on WUWM.
B-FREE’S NEW ALBUM & POWERFUL PERFORMANCES
In the fall of 2004 I saw Jill Scott in concert at the Chicago Theatre. That performance remains the most emotionally resonant live music experience of my life. The songstress regaled us with poignant stories in between beautiful songs performed with a full band and mini orchestra. My friend and I were brought to tears and compelled to call our loved ones immediately after the show.
Listening to the latest record by Milwaukee R&B singer B~Free (Britney Farr-Freeman) reminds me of that autumn night in Chicago. Ode 2 A Luv Affair is B-Free’s second studio album. It takes listeners on a journey through the trials and tribulations of love. The recording process was challenging for a couple of reasons. Freeman, who also works as an educator, contracted a throat illness from one of her students that required surgery.
“It was difficult for me to allow myself to be as comfortable in that space as I once was. There were a lot of moments of rawness and vulnerability that I wasn’t quite ready to deal with. For example, when I was recording ‘The Vow’ I was pretty much crying the whole time,” Freeman tells me.
I first saw B~Free at Linneman’s Riverwest Inn last year when she shared a bill with Klassik, who was being backed by Foreign Goods. Freeman is now a member of Foreign Goods, which she credits with allowing her to be more comfortable collaborating and playing in front of larger audiences. Last week she was joined by her bandmates at Turner Hall to see Esperanza Spalding, an experience as affecting for her as the Jill Scott concert was for me in 2004.
“It was absolutely phenomenal,” says Freeman. “I was so inspired and moved emotionally and musically. It made me sincerely question my own existence. It was so deep without even trying to be. She conveys such a strong message about finding your own path and putting everything that you’ve been taught or forced to believe to the wayside. That’s always something that I’ve been aiming towards in my own life and artistry. I want to be able to wield that same power with whatever I put out into the world.”
The response to Ode 2 A Luv Affair has been positive, albeit a few detailed critiques on the album’s iTunes page. She is in the early stages of developing her next record, but before that she will go into the studio with Foreign Goods to record their first album this winter.
“It’s our goal to have it be a project that highlights everyone’s talents. There will definitely be some rap on there, some jazz, some harmonies, vocals, R&B, just a mixture of everything that we do. So we’re excited and we’re gearing up for the process,” says Freeman.
Tonight you can see B~Free with Foreign Goods for free at Club Garibaldi for a live broadcast of 91.7 WMSE’s Local/Live. Erin Wolf and Cal Roach will talk to B~Free and take audience questions in between a live performance. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. and the segment runs from 6 to 7 p.m. If you can’t make the show you can tune in at 91.7FM or go online wmse.org.
THE JAZZ ESTATE REOPENS BETTER THAN EVER
Unbeknownst to many Wisconsin music fans, Milwaukee has a storied jazz history. The scene has gone through its ups and downs and is currently experiencing a resurgence. One of those reasons was the temporary closing of the Jazz Estate.
The historic East Side haunt became the focal point of the Milwaukee jazz scene in the 2000s. When it closed its doors last year a few venues began hosting live jazz. After much anticipation and a few delays, the Estate officially reopens tonight.
In November 2015 the Jazz Estate was sold to John Dye, owner and operator of Bryant’s Cocktail Lounge since 2008. I spoke with Dye at his acclaimed South Side lounge while they were hosting a Jazz Estate cocktail preview.
“It’s always been one of the places in Milwaukee that I’ve been interested in, but they approached me,” says Dye of his new business venture.
“We’re going to do some really nice versions of classic cocktails from the ‘70s and ‘80s, ones that nobody really touches. They’re good drinks, but they’re just a little uninspired,” says Dye. You might say he’s done the same thing with the Estate.
Opened in 1977, the building fell into disrepair over the years. The Estate’s reopening was originally slated for July, but more renovations were required than anticipated. Given his dedication to preserving history, Dye took his time to do it right. Last week I attended the club’s soft opening and I’m happy to report he’s done just that.
As soon as I walked into the Estate there was a “new club smell.” It’s as if Dye’s team polished every inch of the club and then added a few of their own flourishes, like the tin ceiling in the front room and the house drum kit. The vintage looking lights and register give the bar a Bryant’s vibe. The seating and sightlines in the back area are improved as well. And the acoustics are excellent.
The Jazz Estate will feature live music on Thursdays and Saturdays from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., with cover ranging from $5 to $12 in the first month. There is no cover for the grand opening Thursday night. DJs and pre-recorded old school soul and jazz will play the other nights at the Estate, which is better than ever.Click here for more information and to view their calendar.
SOUL LOW COVERS FEMMES, NEW RIO TURBO & UPCOMING DANCE PARTY
In my second feature for WiG I wrote about the young Milwaukee pop rockers of Soul Low. The success of their debut record (Uneasy) and acclaim for their latest effort (Nosebleeds) has put them in an exclusive category of Wisconsin music, alongside only a few other bands. One of those is The Violent Femmes. With lead singer Jake Balistreri’s quivering falsetto so similar to the Femme’s Gordon Gano, it was just a matter of time before the Soul Low boys paid homage to their Milwaukee music ancestors by covering “Blister in the Sun,” the Femmes’ biggest hit. I had heard the song was in Soul Low’s repertoire, but hadn’t experienced it live until last Friday night at Cactus Club. It was Night One of Gloss Records’ Halloween Spooktacular. Soul Low — half of whom were dressed as Power Rangers — closed their set with the rollicking, fine-tuned cover.
Performing right before Soul Low at Cactus Club was Rio Turbo, Milwaukee’s premier trash pop dance party. Joey Turbo — dressed in neon orange hunter regalia — and his Turbette dancers debuted three new songs to kick off their set. “No He Can’t” is an instant hit, with a driving beat that my feet couldn’t deny. “Ballad” is a trippy, airy track that made me think of The Flaming Lips, with Turbo sounding a bit like Wayne Coyne. Rio Turbo also debuted their sick new neon sign, which sat on the table in front of DJ SPACE BAR, the latest edition to the Turbo lineup.
Also on Friday I announced the Beyonce + Jay Z vs. Rihanna + Drake dance party at Company Brewing on Saturday, November 26. I’m producing this event with my girlfriend and visual artist Kristina Rolander, which Rio Turbo will be making a special appearance at. The event also includes an all-star lineup of DJs (Bizzon, Annalog, Optimist, Turtle Sooup), host Lex Allen, cocktail specials and an original photo backdrop by Kristina. Click here for more information and to RSVP.
NEW MUSIC FROM WEBSTERX, BO TRIPLEX & HIS BEAUTIFUL BAND, AUTOMATIC
Experimental hip-hop artist WebsterX has released his first song of the year, “Blue Streak.” Since putting out his debut project Desperate Youth in 2013, the most high profile member of the New Age Narcissism collective released some major “loosies” (singles not attached to a larger project) with 2014’s “doomsday (feat. siren),” 2015’s “Lately” and “Kinfolk (feat. Allan Kingdom).” Not to mention, last fall’s excellent 3-track, Radiohead-inspired collaboration with Q the Sun entitled KidX.
Thankfully for fans, the Four Giants produced “Blue Streak” does not continue the “loosie” trend. It is the first single from what will be WebsterX’s debut studio album. Upon the song’s release WebsterX also announced that he agreed to a distribution deal with Chicago-based label Closed Sessions. The outfit was responsible for helping the early career development of Chicago rappers like Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper. WebsterX will maintain 100% ownership of his masters and will benefit from the label’s influence and reach. Click here to listen to “Blue Streak.”
Milwaukee bassist, New Age Narcissism member and music scene all-star Bo Triplex released a new single as part of the Nightmare on Center Street II playlist. “Hold Me Down” is from Bo Triplex and His Beautiful Band’s forthcoming EP deux, which has an early February release date. Bo says of the track, “‘Hold Me Down’ is a clash of worlds. Bo has been captured by those he came to defeat and though they taunt him so he refuses to give up. For he knows y’all are holding him down. Special thanks to Beathouse Music Inc. and Yessica Jimenez for the art.” Click here to listen to “Hold Me Down.”
“For the 3rd single from their upcoming full length, Marathon (11.11.16), smooth hip-hop group AUTOMatic brings the classic early 90’s R&B vibes with their certified slow jam, “You Don’t Love Me.” Emcee APRIME explores what it’s like to be caught in the trap of a love/hate relationship – something all of us have been in at least once in our life. Producer Trellmatic’s production is top notch and he adds updated drums to the retro groove. This one is for everybody that grew up with the Quiet Storm radio show playing in the background, late at night.” Click here to listen to “You Don’t Love Me.”
NEW VIDEOS FROM ISHDARR, HOT COFFIN, THE RECORD COMPANY, NO NO YEAH OKAY
Last WiG issue’s featured artist IshDARR released the first video (“Locals” directed by Damien Blue) from his latest project Broken Hearts & Bankrolls, which has received over 4 million streams in its first 3 weeks. Metal band Hot Coffin spent a late night making a freaky video in The Oriental Theatre for their song “Whistle, Hawk & Spit,” which was directed and edited by Jed Schlegelmilch. Burlington-native Chris Vos’ wildly successful LA-based blues rock band The Record Company released a lighthearted, hula hoop-centric video for their hit “Rita Mae Young.” Also, local chill wave rockers No No Yeah Okay put out an eerie Ryan Bilinski directed video for “Great Scott” from their debut EP Dual.
Whether scorned woman or confident seductress, Beyonce moved seamlessly between the two on the opening night of her Formation World Tour in Miami, offering no insight into the rumors of marital infidelity fueled by Lemonade, her latest album.
Queen B came out swinging April 27 in an oversized black western hat and bodysuit, trading her normal stilettos for military-style combat boots. She opened the show with “Formation” and had the crowd in a frenzy as she moved to her latest anthem “Sorry,” noticeable scorn in her tone as she sang, “Tonight, I regret the night I put that ring on.”
Both songs were from Lemonade, which she released days earlier in an HBO special with full visuals. Much of the album appeared to tie into Beyonce’s life, and lines like “Are you cheating on me?” raised questions of whether her husband, Jay Z, had been unfaithful.
Her opening anthems were fueled by red lights and hot fireballs shooting into the night sky to punctuate her rage — and the angrier she got, the more excited the crowd grew. At one point, Beyonce donned a sequined bodysuit studded with red flames as she sang about her plans to “smack that trick” as a tempestuous lightning storm raged on a screen behind her and later a red, she-devil-esque number.
Just when you thought she was in full-on fury, she switched to the overtly sexual “Rocket” and “Drunk in Love,” a song seemingly about her once hot and heavy marriage. She drew from an older song, “Me, Myself and I,” to remind the crowd “I’m going to be my own best friend,” and brought two girls from the audience who had perfected the choreography to the much-mimicked “Single Ladies.”
She moved so skillfully between vulnerable and in control, that it was impossible to tell what was real and how much was artistic posturing.
Beyonce did not mention her husband — aside from a quick thank you at the end — and said little about Lemonade, noting only that her favorite song was “All Night,” a slow number that starts, “I’ve found the truth beneath your lies.” There was no mention of the presumed other woman, the much-discussed “Becky with the good hair.”
Noticeably absent from the two-hour concert were the political undertones of her Super Bowl halftime show earlier this year, where Beyonce’s dancers donned berets, sported Afros and wore all black, similar to the style of the Black Panther party.
Police unions urged officers not to volunteer or work at her shows and criticized what they called her “anti-police” messages. The police presence at the Miami show seemed normal, and media reports have revealed that security sign-ups for her upcoming Tampa show have not been an issue.
She also did a quick cover of the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams,” cast her stage in purple to honor Prince during a costume change while “Purple Rain” played and dedicated her final number “Halo” to the late star as fireworks shot into the night sky.
“Prince, thank you for your beautiful music. … He’s an artist that inspired all of us,” she said.
In perhaps the most meaningful moment, Beyonce said her daughter reminded her on the way to rehearsal that “when I was a little girl and I dreamed, I dreamed of this day right now. … You’re witnessing my dream coming true right now.”
Later, a montage of Jay Z holding the couple’s newborn child in the hospital played as she sang — a reminder that the last time she toured, she headlined with her husband. The April 27 show also included a snippet from Jay’s grandmother’s 90th birthday telling the crowd she turned life’s lemons into lemonade.
And Beyonce — whatever state her personal life and marriage is in — appears to be doing the same. Her commanding performance of “Freedom” served as reminder to the world that she “breaks chains all by myself. I’m gonna keep running because a runner don’t quit on herself,” she sang as her dancers splashed about an onstage pool. She carried that theme into “Survivor,” encouraging those in the crowd who had “survived anything in your life, I want you to celebrate with me tonight.”
And, just to keep everyone guessing, she gave a shout-out to her husband at the end.
“I want to dedicate this song to my beautiful husband,” she said. “I love you so much.”
Since Apple shook up the music world with iTunes a little more than a decade ago, online music has exploded and become the central way many people enjoy and discover music. Internet services such as Pandora and Spotify have millions of users. Now, several high-profile musicians are behind what’s being billed as the first artist-owned music-streaming service.
Tidal isn’t new, but it’s getting a reboot from rapper Jay-Z, who bought the Scandinavian company behind it, Aspiro. Madonna, Rihanna and Beyonce are among the co-owners. That’s notable because many artists complain about how little payment they get from other music services, such as Spotify. As owners, artists could insist on better deals.
There are now three main ways to get music, and many services offer a blend:
• Pay per song. Apple’s iTunes has made it easy to buy singles or albums. Many artists release new albums early through iTunes. Google and Amazon now compete, but the premise remains the same: Buy songs or albums to own forever.
• Unlimited listening. For a monthly subscription of about $10, you can listen to as many songs as you want on a variety of personal computers, phones, tablets and other devices. Many also let you download songs for offline playback. Once you stop paying, though, you lose all your songs, even ones you’ve already downloaded. Some offer free versions with ads and other restrictions, such as song selection only on PCs.
• Internet radio. You can’t choose specific songs or artists, as you can with the unlimited-listening services. But you can fine-tune your Internet stations by specifying a song, artist, genre or playlist. The station will then stream songs similar to your choices. You can personalize stations further by giving thumbs up or thumbs down to songs you hear.
Music services typically have deals with all major recording companies, so they differ mainly in features rather than song selection. That said, Taylor Swift took her music off Spotify last fall in a dispute over fees. All but her most recent album are on Tidal, Rdio and Beats.
Here’s a look at who’s who in music streaming.
One of the most popular music services, with 60 million active users worldwide, and a quarter of them paying subscribers. Just this week, Spotify launched an app on Sony’s PlayStation game console. The two companies worked closely to make listening seamless, so music can be heard in the background while playing games, without losing the game’s sound effects, for instance. Spotify offers unlimited listening and Internet radio. It’s free with ads; on mobile devices, users are limited to Internet radio and can’t choose songs. Paying $10 a month gets you an ad-free premium service that offers song selection and offline playback on mobile devices.
Offers Internet radio only. More than 81 million active listeners. Free with ads, or pay $5 a month for an ad-free premium service and higher-quality audio over Web browsers.
Unlimited listening. Among the few services offering high-fidelity songs, which many audiophiles prefer over MP3s and other formats that reduce quality in the compression process. Offers music video and curated playlists from experts. $10 a month for standard sound quality and $20 for high fidelity. There’s no free offering.
Pay per song to download and own forever through iTunes. Free Internet radio through iTunes Radio on Apple devices. Also owns Beats Music, which offers unlimited listening for $10 a month, with no free version. Beats touts its playlists and other recommendations curated by experts, not computers.
Pay per song through Google Play. Google Play Music service offers unlimited listening for $10 a month, with no free option. Google also offers YouTube Music Key for selected music videos, free of ads, for $10. Paying for one gets you the other, too.
Pay-per-song offering. Amazon’s $99-a-year Prime membership comes with unlimited listening, though the song selection isn’t as broad as what rivals offer.
SAMSUNG’S MILK MUSIC
Offers free Internet radio like Pandora and others, but tries to make it easier to find music to match your mood. Instead of typing in songs or artists to find matching stations, you spin an on-screen wheel to go through various genres until you land on something you like. Initially exclusive to Samsung TVs and mobile devices, there’s now a Web player for personal computers.
When big-name celebrities pair up with big businesses, customers often believe the adage: You are the company you keep.
Rap artist Jay-Z is learning that firsthand. He has complained recently that he was unfairly “demonized” for not backing out of his collaboration with Barneys New York after the luxury retailer was accused of racially profiling two black customers.
Jay-Z, whose real name is Shawn Carter, has said he’s waiting to hear all the facts. Meanwhile, Barneys said in late October that its initial investigation showed no employees were at fault in the two incidents in which customers complained that they were detained by police after making expensive purchases.
The controversy illustrates the problems that can arise when celebrities and companies team up.
The deals are lucrative: Companies like having big names on their roster and celebrities are always looking to expand their brand. Revenue in North America from celebrity merchandise lines, excluding products linked to athletes, was a $7.8 billion business last year, according to figures available from trade publication Licensing Letter.
But when either side is accused of wrongdoing, the negative publicity can cause damage to the other’s reputation.
“It literally shows you how vulnerable the celebrity business is on both sides of the equation,” said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at The NPD Group, a market research group.
More often, it’s the celebrities — not the stores — who are accused of bad behavior.
Late last year, for instance, Macy’s was pressured by some customers to dump real estate mogul Donald Trump’s line of $65 power ties after the billionaire verbally attacked President Barack Obama on social media following his re-election. One customer collected close to 700,000 signatures on a petition website signon.org. Macy’s stood by Trump.
Another example: home maven Martha Stewart. After being convicted on federal criminal charges of lying to prosecutors about a stock sale, she served a five-month prison sentence that ended in 2005. Kmart, which sold her towels and kitchen accessories until 2009, continued to carry her line.
But experts say that the subject of race can stir up even more emotions, so there’s less tolerance for slip-ups.
“Everybody wants to be fair minded and not make generalizations about a group,” said Marty Brochstein of the Licensing Industry Merchandising Association, a trade group.
Celebrity chef Paula Deen’s empire, which spanned from pots to TV shows, began to unravel in June, within days of the public disclosure of a legal deposition in she admitted under oath to having used the N-word to describe black employees.
In addition to losing TV shows and book deals, Deen lost valuable partnerships when Target and other retailers said they’d no longer sell her products.
Until now, Michael Stone, CEO of brand licensing agency Beanstalk, says it’s been the norm for personalities to have moral clauses in contracts that let merchants back out.
But Stone, who has reviewed 100 celebrity contracts, says he hasn’t seen it the other way.
For Jay-Z’s part, in late October he was facing significant pressure from an online petition and Twitter messages from fans to cut his ties to Barneys.
Barneys is starting to selling items this month by top designers, inspired by Jay-Z, with some of the proceeds going to his charity. Jay-Z is also working with the store to create its artistic holiday window display.
A music-oriented poll from Public Policy Polling finds Americans united in their dislike for teen pop sensation Justin Bieber.
PPP surveyed people to test the favorability ratings of music stars and found above 50 percent favorability ratings for Taylor Swift (53-27), Adele (54-18), Beyonce (51-30) and Justin Timberlake (52-24).
On the flip side, registering out of favor, were Chris Brown (13-57), Lady Gaga (29-50), Justin Bieber (20-54), Jay-Z (25-44) and Rihanna (30-39).
People were uncertain about veteran British rocker Morrissey (17-31 with 52 percent not sure) and Skrillex (11-35 with 54 percent not sure).
PPP said Bieber was the only artist whose unfavorability rating stretched across partisan lines – a majority of Democrats (23-54), Republicans (17-52) and independents (18-56) reported negative views of the singer.
When asked who they’d most like to see as president when given the choices of Adele, Bieber, Beyonce, Brown, Jay-Z, Timberlake, Lady Gaga or Rihanna, 34 percent chose Timberlake, 19 percent for Adele and 14 percent for Beyonce.
In a survey on genres, classical music had a 77 percent favorable rating, country a 71 percent favorable rating, jazz a 71 percent favorable rating, pop a 59 percent rating, R&B a 58 percent rating and rock a 65 percent rating.
Voters were split in their opinion on “today’s popular music”, with 45 percent rating it favorable, 37 percent unfavorable and 19 percent not sure. When asked their favorite musical genre, 24 percent chose country, 22 percent classical, 16 percent rock and 12 percent pop, with R&B and jazz each earning 6 percent, dubstep 2 percent and rap 1 percent.
The survey, conducted May 6-7, among 571 voters has a margin of error is +/-4.1 percent. The poll was not paid for or authorized by any campaign or political organization.
President Barack Obama’s iPod could pass for a voter outreach tool. Interviewed recently on Cincinnati radio station WIZF, Obama ran through his musical tastes, an eclectic and all-encompassing list of artists and tracks that reflect the varied coalition of voters he is seeking to attract.
Asked what was on the “presidential iPod,” Obama replied that he had “a pretty good mix.”
“I’ve got old school – Stevie Wonder, James Brown. I’ve got Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan,” he said.
There are also plenty of tracks that young voters might have downloaded to their own collections.
“And then I’ve got everything from Jay-Z, to Eminem, to the Fugees, to you name it. There’s probably not a group that you play that I don’t have on my iPod,” Obama told the station’s E.J. Greig.
For the voters whose tastes are more esoteric, “I’ve got some jazz – John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Gil Scott-Heron,” the president said, adding, “You’ve got to mix it up. It just depends on what mood I’m in.”
No mention of The Boss, Bruce Springsteen, who has been campaigning for Obama, including in Wisconsin. And he apparently doesn’t have any bootleg of Bill Clinton on saxophone.
Or country music. That vote tends to tilt to the other guy.
For years, anti-gay epithets and sentiments in rap have largely been accepted, along with its frequent misogyny and violence, as part of the hip-hop culture – a culture that has been slow to change, even as gays enjoy more mainstream acceptance.
But a shift appears to be on the horizon.
“People are learning how to live and get along more, and accept people for who they are and not bash them or hurt them because they’re different,” Snoop Dogg said in a recent interview.
Frank Ocean may be largely responsible. The rising star, who revealed on his blog this summer that his first love was a man, is technically an R&B singer. But he has produced and collaborated with some of music’s top hip-hop acts, from Jay-Z to Andre 3000 to Kanye West to Nas. He’s also co-written songs for Beyonce, Justin Bieber and John Legend and is a member of the alternative rap group Odd Future.
“When I was growing up, you could never do that and announce that,” Snoop said of Ocean’s revelation. “There would be so much scrutiny and hate and negativity, and no one would step (forward) to support you because that’s what we were brainwashed and trained to know.”
When 24-year-old Ocean made his announcement, he received a ton of support from the music world, mainly through Twitter and blogs, including encouraging words from 50 Cent, Nas, Jamie Foxx, Def Jam Records founder Russell Simmons, Beyonce and Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Even Ocean’s Odd Future band mate, Tyler, the Creator, showed some love, though he’s used homophobic slurs in his songs.
“(The support for Frank is) an extension of the overall kind of support we’re seeing across the country for LGBT people, and not just in a broad sense, but specifically from iconic members of the black community,” said Daryl Hannah, gay rights group GLAAD’s director of media and community partnerships, who namedropped President Barack Obama and Jay-Z as those leading the change.
While the support for Ocean is strong, and some rappers – including Nicki Minaj – have said a gay rapper will soon hit the music scene, it’s still hard to imagine that the male-dominated, macho rap world could include a gay performer.
Anti-gay sentiments have been entrenched in hip-hop for decades. Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels of the iconic rap group Run D.M.C., says it was the norm for years.
“You would have had 50 rappers jump on a song, diss the gay people because it’s cool,” said D.M.C.
That attitude has abated little, even as other parts of the entertainment industry have curtailed what many consider to be anti-gay material. (Last year, Universal Pictures altered a trailer for the movie “Dilemma” because a character called a car “gay.”)
Eminem was targeted by groups like GLAAD for his incessant slurs against gays, a role that now seems to be embodied by Tyler, the Creator, in his raps. Lil Wayne recently used a slur on Chris Brown’s “Look at Me Now,” a Grammy-nominated Top 10 pop hit and No. 1 rap and R&B song.
There are also terms like “no homo” and “pause” used in the hip-hop community after an utterance to acknowledge that what was said does not have any homosexual intent.
In an interview, Wu-Tang’s Ghostface Killah recently explained the genre’s stance toward gays like this: “For the most part I think that hip-hop is, you know, we always have been open-minded to a lot of things. It’s just certain things we just – we don’t deal with.”
When asked if a gay rapper could make it in hip-hop, Raekwon, another Wu-Tang member, said: “I mean, I don’t know. I guess that’s a question we all want to know.”
When asked the same question, Snoop said with a laugh: “There might be some openly gay rappers in hip-hop that’s having success _ for real. You never know. There might be some(one) right now that hasn’t pulled a Frank Ocean yet, that hasn’t jumped out of the closet to the living room to make that announcement.”
Ice-T said he could see a gay rapper on the scene – depending on what kind of rap he or she performed.
“I’ve done hardcore hip-hop in my life where masculinity is at a premium. At this moment right now, we’re in the world of pop-rap and it doesn’t really matter right now. These guys are singing, it’s pop music and being in pop and gay is OK,” he said. “It would be difficult to listen to a gay gangster rapper … If you’re a gangster rapper like myself and Ice Cube … if one of us came out and said something, that would be a big thing. That would be like, ‘Whoa! What?’”
But some of hip-hop’s key figures have given some kind of support to the gay community. Pharrell recently collaborated with the openly gay pop singer Mika on the song “Celebrate.” Jay-Z, like Eminem, has said people of the same sex should be able to love one another. Eminem performed with Elton John at the 2001 Grammy Awards at the height of GLAAD’s criticism.
D.M.C. is skeptical about some of hip-hop’s recent support of Ocean, since he believes homophobia is still rampant in the culture. Still, he is sure a homosexual hip-hop act will emerge: “Of course there’s going to be a gay rapper.” He said that a rapper’s success would be determined not by his sexuality, but by the quality of his raps.
Shaheem Reid, a veteran hip-hop journalist, said the inroads that gays have made in mainstream culture have made a dent in the rap world: “Hip-hop is just a reflection of what’s going on.”
He added that gay rappers can gain mainstream exposure, but that will come with challenges.
“I think that if the music is great enough and the topics are great enough, there’s a slight chance,” said Reid, who is editor-at-large for hip-hop’s XXL magazine. “If there was a homosexual emcee, male or female, I don’t think that talking about them being gay or lesbian could be the only substance in their music.”
Frank Ocean says he feels like a free man: The acclaimed singer has revealed on his website that his first love was a man.
He wrote on July 4 on his Tumblr page that he fell in love at 19 with a friend whom he spent two summers with. When he confessed his feelings, the friend didn’t reciprocate, though he did years later.
Ocean wrote, “Whoever you are, wherever you are..I’m starting to think we’re a lot alike. Human beings spinning on blackness. All wanting to be seen, touched, paid attention to.”
Ocean’s self-released “nostalgia, ULTRA” was named as one of the best albums of 2011 by some critics.
He also was prominently featured on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Watch the Throne” album last year. He is part of the hip-hop collective Odd Future led by Tyler, the Creator, who is known for using anti-gay epithets in his lyrics.
Tyler expressed support for Ocean on Twitter – in crude fashion.
At the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, president Herndon Graddick said, “Frank Ocean’s bravery will no doubt help countless young people, who might still be struggling with their identities, realize that it’s ok to be who you are.”
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