Rap and hip-hop have a history of being homophobic and heavily relying on toxic masculinity to help draw in audiences and sell. However, everyone who listens to rap and hip-hop don’t feel that this tradition is the only way to make music in the genre and stay true to their values. California-based Chicano rappers, Deadlee and Baby Boi Slim, are building the genre of homo-hop to add to the rich lexicon of rap and hip-hop. These two men are self-identifying gay Chicanos from California that believe that rap doesn’t have to be anti-gay.
The term Chicano has kind of become synonymous with tough guys, hyper masculinity, and pride in Mexican heritage for mostly west coast Mexican-Americans. However, the term Chicano was never intended to be synonymous with hyper-masculinity – it was created to be a unifying and organizing tool by Mexican-American youth that were inspired by the Civil Rights movement to advocate for the unique needs and experiences of Mexican-American people. Chicano — and its sibling term, Chicana — are meant to be an inclusive terms to describe the subculture of being simultaneously from two places (Mexico and The United States) and no place at the same time.
Famed Chicano film, El Norte, perfectly captures the reality of being stuck between two worlds both literally and figuratively. In fact, the genre of Chicano movies is so diverse that it includes cult classics like Selena, the biographical film about the singer’s life; Blood in Blood Out, a film about three young Chicano men in central Los Angeles that have varying connections to gangs during their teen years and how they grow away from these ties or strengthen them as life progresses; and feel good film Stand and Deliver, which is centered around the lives of the students in an underfunded school and how their teacher, through being able to culturally relate to them, is able to help them excel in various aspects of their lives. The one common denominator in most Chicano films is the feeling of being displaced on either side of the border that you call home and having to create home and family on one’s own terms.
When you live at the intersection of several marginalized identities, the feeling of displacement can be even greater. For young homosexual men of color who enjoy rap and hip-hop, hearing the hyper-homophobic rhetoric in its lyrics can be difficult. On one end, you’re enjoying a genre of music that was created by Black Caribbean immigrants in The Bronx; but on the other hand, you’re hearing homophobic slurs thrown in as a way to juxtapose “real men” (read cisgender heterosexual men) from “fa**ots” (read men who have sex with men and for some reason aren’t ‘real men’).
Rap/Hip-Hop’s’s Homophobic Roots
Ten years after the creation of hip-hop in 1983, Grand Master Flash, a pioneer of the genre, used the homophobic slur fa**ot in his song, The Message.
Five years later, a quintessential California rap group released a song entitled “Gangsta Gangsta,” whose lyrics included: “We didn’t get no play from the ladies. With six niggas in a car — are you crazy? She was scared, and it was showin’ We all said, “Fuck you, bitch!” and kept goin’;” and “So we started lookin’ for the bitches with the big butts Like her, but she keep cryin’ ‘I got a boyfriend’ — bitch, stop lyin’! Dumb-ass hooker ain’t nothin’ but a dyke.” N.W.A was no stranger to using homophobia and toxic masculinity in their music. These lines are loaded with toxic masculinity, insulting women, intimidating them, and using a homophobic slur when their intimidation and advances aren’t met the way they wanted.
The release of the group’s biographic film, Straight Out of Compton, was rife with said toxic masculinity and homophobia and yet some of the prevalent violence against women was left out. Famed Pump it Up host Dee Barnes recounted the very real violence caused by N.W.A and now multimillionaire Beats mogul Dr. Dre of which she was a victim victim. While Dr. Dre is now synonymous with household brands and music, Dee Barnes alleges that she wasn’t even paid one million dollars in the settlement for the case she brought against him. She also believes that her choosing to seek justice for the abuse she suffered by Dre has led to her being blacklisted from working in Hollywood again.
Machismo in Latino communities is just as prevalent and violent. At the 2018 Latin American Music Awards, Gloria Trevi finally spoke out after years of silence about the abuse she experienced at the hands of her then Producer Sergio Andrade. Trevi unjustly served prison time in both Brazil and Mexico, while he served no time. Those four years alone cost her millions of dollars in lost wages, a loss of credibility in the public sphere, and time away from her loved ones because of the crimes of a man.
Sex workers in the Dominican Republic are constantly abused and murdered by the police force. The pressure to not be “feminine” as a man is so strong that men are literally refusing to use reusable canvas bags because they “are too feminine.” Reggeaton artist Bad Bunny is often taunted with homophobic slurs for exploring gender presentation as a proud Puerto Rican artist.
Chicano Hip-Hop Artists
All these layers of homophobia, misogyny, toxic masculinity, and violence are just a few things that Deadlee — whose real name is Joey Lemar — and Baby Boi Slim are fighting against in their art. Deadlee believes that because of his masculine appearance he feels he is ‘always coming out as gay.’ People assume that because he looks like the archetype of a Chicano and raps, that he must be heterosexual. Deadlee however, has been happily married to his partner of 10 years, Jose. He essentially launched the genre of Homo-Hop in 2002 when he released his first album, 7 Deadlee Sins.
While Deadlee is credited with being the first openly gay rapper and a pioneer of the genre of Homo Hop, Baby Boi Slim is a newcomer to the scene and just as eager to make his mark on the genre and the Hip-Hop community at large. “I’m of mixed race Black White & Chicano so I don’t claim just one,” he said to us. “I actually have a track tiled otuP (PUTO) on my new cd. A Spanglish track and another, BLACK FAG, about black queers; and even a country rap song.”
Baby Boi Slim and Deadlee collaborated in 2018 on a song entitled “How Can you Prove.” A love song that goes back and forth between two gay Chicanos discussing their respective vantage point of the relationship they share. Upon listening to it, it sounds like any other love song that one would hear about the trials and tribulations of relationships, but when you realize that the song features two men and that these men self-identify as gay Chicanos, you really get a sense of how profound and daring these men are as hip-hop artists and openly gay Latino men.
Their mere appearances really encapsulate how inclusive and diverse being a Chicano is. Deadlee sports a shaved head, long goatee, bandana, and tough looking exterior; but his smile and gentle demeanor can light up a room. Baby Boi Slim is, as per his name, slim, rocks a fierce full face of make-up, and talks about the realities of growing up in neighborhoods in central Los Angeles that were impacted by street violence, and how that has made him tougher than people expect. “Hip-Hop is more upbeat and lively, whereas I consider my music to be Chicano Rap,” he told us. “My music deals more with the struggles of growing up Gay, Brown, and in the hood. Usually, not a lot of people can face this lifestyle, so many choose to leave it. Others face it, and my music is a reflection of those who chose to stay.”
Both rappers are inspired by the world around them and rap about gang violence, police brutality, love, and the struggles young gay Latino men face all at once. Their music lets you know that they don’t want to shy away from their homosexual identity but that they are also a lot more than their sexual identity.
Music gives us life. We asked Bay Boi Slim what songs shaped him and created a playlist.
Deadlee’s 2009 song, “Good Soldier II,” tells the story of how difficult life can be as a young gay man of color growing up in environments that are impacted by systemic white supremacy, strict heteronormative cultural expectations, and the fact of wanting to be true to oneself.
The comments under videos, articles, and profile uploads of both Deadlee and Baby Boi Slim can be outright hateful and violent. If this is just the online risk these two men face for simply being themselves, the real world ones must be even more grave. However, both men continue to stand in their truth as California Chicano rappers that demonstrate you don’t have to be misogynistic nor homophobic to be a rapper. About 56% of Hispanics have a favorable view on gay marriage and this number may increase as Hispanic youth are increasingly more liberal and more open minded than their parents.
Some may say that the genre of homo-hop is so fringe that it won’t succeed however, but those naysayers should keep in mind that the genre of Chicano film was born out of a super fringe television time slot that allowed local programming to be put on air in central Los Angeles neighborhoods.
Every emerging genre starts somewhere, has its naysayers, and grows as society evolves. Thankfully for homo-hop, Generation Z is one of the gayest generations yet, longs to see more diversity in media, and is more accepting than every generation prior. Baby Boi Slim and Deadlee are pioneers in hip-hop that prove diversity, nuance, and evolution of every genre is necessary. They demonstrate that being street and heterosexual aren’t synonymous.