"Who's the gay rapper?" It's been a parlor game in hip hop for years. A short and incomplete list of some of the most common names tossed around: Kanye West, Puffy, Jay-Z, Lil Wayne, Common, and, of course, lisping, yoga-master rap mogul Russell Simmons. While there are plenty of rumors for each one, most of those guys are suspected, honestly, because of their fashion sense (except Lil Wayne, who kissed a guy). Or because somebody's homeboy's cousin knows this cat who Puffy tried to do a three-way with. Innuendo is king. But now a formerly closeted gay MTV music executive named Terrance Dean is about to release a book—which has been anticipated for more than a year—that he says will out the gay rappers once and for all. Don't be mad, y'all! This could be the chance of a lifetime for one lucky closeted homosexual.
A riveting memoir, Hiding In Hip Hop, uncovers a hidden and well-known unspoken secret. Deep within the confines of Hip-Hop is a prominent gay sub-culture. A world that industry insiders are keenly aware of, but choose to ignore. From the testosterone of men striving to be on top and in control, to the "by any means necessary" bravado in an industry that thrives on power, homosexuality is a reality at nearly every level of Hip-Hop.
What's really surprising is that hip hop has managed to keep the identities of its gay people officially secret for this long. Rap has been big business and big money for a long time, but unlike in Hollywood—where gossip hounds have essentially uncovered the gay celebrities, who are then allowed to go about their business—the rap industry still feels that being openly gay could jeopardize an artist's career for good. Tom Cruise hasn't lost work because of the gay rumors surrounding him; Jay-Z surely would. It's a barrier that everyone remains afraid to cross. A rapper who started out as openly gay could theoretically make a career in hip hop, but it would not be a mainstream one. Even today, fostering the twin images of sex lord and crime lord are the most reliable way that MCs propel themselves into superstardom. Though this is changing (see Kanye), it's a long way from changed.
So when Hiding In Hip Hop comes out on May 13—assuming that it does out some identifiable figures in hip hop, and that it is reliable—the fallout will be fascinating to watch. I would expect immediate denials, and private reprisals from anyone named. But the real gay rappers, whoever they are, would be wise to stand up and be counted for the first time. They would go down in history for something much bigger than mediocre album sales. And the marketing opportunities would be enough to relaunch a flagging career, albeit in a slightly more bohemian arena.
If Del tha Funkee Homosapien came out as gay, no one would care. If a hardcore rapper like, say, Fat Joe came out, people would be surprised. But if one of the usual suspects like Kanye or Puffy came out, they would be positioned to use their already-deep resources to continue their careers as trailblazers. So a bit of advice to whoever may be named in the book (assuming it's true): Don't be the mad rapper. When you're dead and gone, one small step you took towards toning down the homophobia in hip hop would be worth much more than your music. And if you are Puffy, your music always sucked anyways. So go for it!
(And if anyone happens to get their hands on the book before May 13, email us.)