Sunday, 16 September 2012

Transgender imprisonment case exposes hip-hop's ignorant failings

Activist B. Dolan is the challenging hip-hop scene

When you love something dearly, admitting it's flawed is as easy as ripping your own knuckles out. So accepting that hip-hop remains inherently ignorant, homophobic and misogynistic doesn't come easily.
But one of the year's most exhilarating tunes has highlighted this fact, as well as the failings of the US prison system. Rhode Island rapper B. Dolan, a label mate of living legend Sage Francis, has released 'Which Side Are You On?' a four minute shot across the bows for the US establishment and the North American hip-hop scene. The tune, a perfect balance between angry rasping hip-hop and a lilting folk chorus, highlights the case of Chrishaun “CeCe” McDonald. McDonald, born a man and transitioning to a woman, was attacked outside a Minneapolis bar, stabbed her attacker and has been imprisoned for three and a half years for manslaughter reportedly without counsel. Her case has rallied the support of the transgender community of Minnesota and kickstarted a #FreeCeCe Twitter campaign after she was jailed in a men's prison. 
Dolan's call to arms video (see below) takes McDonald's imprisonment as a case in point to highlight what he believes is an ignorance from the US penal system to put her in a facility based on her gender at birth. But the video takes the argument one step further, highlighting his genre's lack of openness when discussing sexuality.
At one point there's an extract from the excellent PBS documentary Hip Hop, Beyond Beats and Rhymes. Hip-hop figurehead Busta Rhymes is shown saying: "That homo shit? That's what you talkin about? I can't even talk to you about that. What I represent culturally...doesn't condone it whatsover." Does he think that a gay rapper would ever be accepted? "Oh wow," he says, shaking his head and leaving the room.
If one of the biggest figures in hip-hop of the last twenty years can't even entertain the concept of a gay rapper - of which there are many - presumably for fear of his public image among his peers then that's the single most depressing element of a genre which is simultaneously empowering and effortlessly enjoyable at its best.
Busta and his likeminded peers are undermining and embarrassing the rest of us who love hip-hop with his pathetic stance. Huge swathes of people who never listen to hip-hop, have never given it a chance or dismissed it out of hand want to hear comments like his. They want to believe that every rapper wants to treat women like shit and demonise homosexuals. They want to ignore the fact that crowds are rarely more unified than when gee-ed up by the best emcees. They believe it is an aggressive genre which only encourages violence rather than channelling healthy aggression and creativity.
We know different. We know hip-hop highlights differences in society more than any other genre, uses more clever wordplay than a thousand Kindle-friendly trashy novels and, crucially, can intelligently hold people to account.
Hip-hop remains as vital in overturning views that are inherently wrong now as it did in Public Enemy's heyday. B. Dolan, an activist and founder of, claims that many rappers could "put the mic down and be a Republican" representing antiquated views. He wants to be the Harvey Milk of his generation, let Dolan inspire you, let hip-hop fulfil its real role. 

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