Growing up in
Detroit, I was raped by an adult male next-door neighbor.
The incident left me emotionally and mentally paralyzed. But
it started a craving and yearning for other teenage
boys. I figured it was a phase. Something I would grow
out of. I felt lost.
happened out of the depths of New York City in 1979. A
movement was being born, and it helped me discover a voice I
felt had left me. I came across a song called
“Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill
Gang in my aunt’s living room, and it sparked
something in me. The voice was relatable and the
message was timely. I fell in love with this new
movement and its creators: Run-DMC, Big Daddy Kane, Eric B.
and Rakim, Afrika Bambaataa, MC Lyte, and Whodini.
In 1985 a young
teenage rapper from the Hollis neighborhood of Queens had
everyone listening to his Radio. His name was LL Cool
J—short for “Ladies Love Cool
James.” This breakout sensation was energetic,
masculine, and sexy. When I saw his sweaty, muscular
body gyrating in his video “Rock the
Bells,” I fell in love with the genre all over
again—and he was the reason. LL became my new
fascination. This new sound not only spoke to a
generation of young people across the country but also had
young girls and boys lusting after its stars.
When they sported
their Adidas, Kangol hats, and skin-tight Levi’s, I
couldn’t get enough of the eye candy. Was this a ploy
to spike the hormones of young men questioning their
sexuality? If so, the movement grabbed me so
ferociously I couldn’t breathe. Long before
“leaked” sex videos and naked pictures
of celebrities became the popular marketing ploy,
Father MC became the first to bare all—for Playgirl.
I rushed out to get my copy. I constantly stared at
his naked, dark body.
The messages in
the songs were equally satisfying to my soul. The music
gave me a reason to understand the power of words, of being
confident, strong, black, and proud. It also gave
America another reason to acknowledge the power of
As the years went
by and record labels got involved, hip-hop went from
powerful voices, fun times, and party anthems to gangster
thugs, killing machines, and beef rivalries. Yet the
homoeroticism remained in the videos, magazines, and
CD covers. These hard-core thug rappers were more than
happy to display their chiseled, worked-out
bodies—bulky chests, ripped abs, huge biceps,
and sagging pants. I and many gay men across America
wanted a thug—as Luther Vandross sang so
eloquently—“if only for one
There was Big
Daddy Kane (what did his name really mean?), Chuck D (there
is nothing sexier than an inspiring, outspoken intellect),
50 Cent (his muscular body and no-holds-barred
gangster mentality), DMX (a true dog), Naughty By
Nature (Treach—need I say more?), Common (the sexiest
rapper to hit the scene), Nelly (a country boy with an
adorable Southern drawl), and Tupac (the epitome of
the urban bad boy).
Years later I
found myself no longer merely a fan but working in the
thick of hip-hop at MTV Networks. I got to meet a lot of my
idols and many of my crushes like Jay-Z, Nas, Kanye,
Snoop Dogg, Sean “Diddy” Combs, the
Wu-Tang Clan, and Will Smith. I also found myself
romantically linked to some of the most adored members
of hip-hop, and became part of their
“down-low” underground. From one perspective,
nothing changed. They were men like me, seeking love,
acceptance, and self-identity in a male-dominated
environment full of ego and machismo.
with them afforded me another insight into hip-hop. It
was a force to be reckoned with. I was a part of it. I was
no longer a young boy questioning my sexuality and
lusting after these sexy men. I had grown into a man,
a proud gay man working to help make the genre a
phenomenon—a gay man ready to come all the way out.
Man, I love hip-hop.