Musician reflects on being gay in the world of hip-hop
Four openly queer hip-hop artists are gearing up to perform at the Center on Halsted's "Hip Hop on the Down Low" showcase Thursday, Sept. 22, at 6:30 p.m.
After individual performances, Tim'm West, Charity Taitt, Sage Morgan-Hubbard and Emanuel Vinson will take part in a panel discussion on homophobia and misogyny in the hip-hop community, and focus on how to make the industry more inclusive.
We caught up with Tim'm West before he jetted off to an Austin, Texas, show. A true Renaissance man, West has worked as a professor, author, hip-hop artist and producer. He has two master's degrees and four solo albums under his belt. Here, West reflects on his career, activism and future endeavors.
Windy City Times: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Tim'm. You've been in the industry for quite a while now.
TW: I've been an out gay identified hip-hop artist for probably longer than many people were aware there was gay hip-hop. [Laughs] I was with an inaugural group called DDC founded in 1999 in the Bay Area. We were one of the first openly queer hip-hop groups. We did four albums together between 1999 and 2008.
I think in a culture where hip-hop and homosexuality are kind of seen as contradictory or out of place, [it's important to have masculine-identified queer men.] There are people out there doing different kinds of messages. "Bitch" and "ho" and "slut" are not in every hip-hop artist's repertoire.
WCT: Do you make it a point to identify as gay?
TW: At one point I considered myself a gay hip-hop artist. I think I've evolved to a state where I consider myself a hip-hop artist who happens to be gay. ... It's easy to get pigeonholed. And most of my music, when I wake up and go about my day, I'm concerned about unemployment and trying to find a job in a really tough economy. I'm concerned about racism and racial profiling, living on the South Side of Chicago. There are so many other issues that are relevant to me.
In the '90s, things were a lot more homophobic than they are now. The culture has embraced gay people. You see it on TV. Every reality-TV show has its gay token. Ellen is huge. … Hip-hop is just starting to catch up to that realm.
WCT: Can you tell us about "fly-brotha" [from your fourth solo album Fly Brotha, released this summer]?
TW: I'm an HIV-positive individual. I've been positive for 13 years. The song "fly-brotha" is really a pep talk to myself about waking up and deciding every day that I'm worth living. When you take your medication every day that's kind of a testimony of "OK, I really believe I'm worth it. I really want to keep fighting." Thirteen years later after a pretty grim diagnosis, I'm here, healthy, strong.
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