"Just listen to the words," Mister Cee shouted during the middle of his Hot 97 set (which you can stream at the bottom of this post) this afteroon. "Just listen to the words, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut," he repeated, addressing his listeners. He reiterated throughout the show how blessed he was to be back in the timeslot he never actually deserted. "I'm so happy to say this," he said before reading an advertisement — and never before had anyone been more pleased to talk to you about a local Toyota dealership. But the words he was imploring us to listen to weren't his, of course: They were the words of Nate Dogg and 50 Cent and Janet Jackson and Sly & The Family Stone and Stevie Wonder. What they were saying — for example: "This is where I wanna be" or "You can hate me now, but I won't stop now" — functioned as a response to critics, homophobes, shit-stirrers, and anyone else trying to keep one of hip-hop's greatest down.
The day before, the man who DJed for Big Daddy Kane and helped discover Notorious B.I.G. resigned from the most important radio station in hip-hop's birthplace after 20 years. He did so because he has a habit of patronizing prostitutes, some of which have been transgender. Mister Cee is wrestling with his life — with his proclivity towards sex workers and the question of his sexuality, to start — and he stepped down, as figures of power often do, so that he wouldn't be a distraction to an employer that has proven loyal to him. Some hip-hop fans can't handle the idea of a gay or bisexual male DJ just yet — and the sense was that Mister Cee couldn't quite handle it either. This morning Mister Cee went on Hot 97's morning show to discuss the fallout from a video that purported to show him with a transgender prostitute. Less than 10 minutes into the interview Mister Cee began crying.
Mister Cee's resignation lasted less than 24 hours. Today Mister Cee returned to his perch in the noon-to-1-p.m. slot, where he has gifted the tri-state area with the type of rap music — often old, always expertly curated — that they don't really play on the radio anymore. Mister Cee came back to Hot 97 partly because his boss — station program director Ebro Darden — asked him to take his job back this morning. But as today's mix proved, Mister Cee really came back because, as much as he wants to open up about his personal life (he's done so twice this year on the station's morning show), ultimately he speaks with his hands. This is true for any DJ, let alone one that's been in the game for three decades, but it's especially true for the one who has found himself in the middle of a tug-of-war between hip-hop conservatives and those that want to make the culture inclusive the LBGTQ community.
Today's set celebrated Mister Cee's survival, but it also meant to provoke his regressive naysayers. It was an hour-long subtweet. How else to read his spinning of Brand Nubian's "Love Me or Leave Me Alone"? How else to read the set's most triumphant moment, when Cee blended Janet Jackson's "Doesn't Really Matter" — he played it from the beginning, allowing us to ponder Janet muttering "Doesn't matter..." — into Maino's "Hi Hater." To repeat: He blended Janet Jackson — who has entire albums basically devoted to exploring bisexuality — into a song called "Hi Hater." How else to read him slipping Lil Kim's "No Matter What They Say" chorus ("No matter what people say / We got it going on / Who cares about what they think") — in between Stevie Wonder and Alicia Meyers.
But before long the mix was more about Cee's gratitude for still having his place in hip-hop. But — crucially, it could be argued — this wasn't just Mister Cee congratulating himself for existing. Mister Cee is happy that Mister Cee exists because Mister Cee loves hip-hop. Mister Cee is, by his own admission, addicted to prostitutes and strippers. But he's also addicted to hip-hop, to the joy of being the person playing music that people love to hear. "Can't stop, won't stop," the Young Gunz rapped mid-way through his set, and, well, the past 24 hours has proved that Mister Cee is adhering to that credo.
Cee played mostly rap today before rounding the set out with a few classic funk records whose names are plainly illustrative: "You Can Make It If You Try" and "Thank You Falletinme Be Mice Elf Again" by Sly and the Family Stone. But the absolute final thing we heard was Missy Elliott — long rumored to be queer herself — singing on a J. Cole song: "Nobody's perfect / Nobody's perfect, hey." True, nobody is perfect. But this mid-day radio DJ mix? Well...
Ace Hood - "Rider" (feat. Chris Brown)
Mary J. Blige - "My Life"
Foxy Brown - "Sorry (Baby Can I Hold You)"
Diddy-Dirty Money "Coming Home" (feat. Skylar Grey)
Faith Evans - "I Love You"
AZ - "I'm Back"
Jay Z - "Thank You"
Notorious B.I.G. - "My Downfall"
Cam'ron - "Live My Life (Leave Me Alone)"
Kanye West - "Homecoming" (feat. Chris Martin)
Jay Z - "F.U.T.W."
G-Unit - "I'm So Sorry"
Nas - "Hate Me Now" (feat. P. Diddy)
GZA - "I Gotcha' Back"
The Alchemist - "Hold You Down" (feat. Prodigy, Nina Sky & Illa Ghee)
Mary J. Blige - "I Love You"
Jay Z - "Kingdom Come"
DMX - "We Right Here"
Jadakiss - "The Champ is Here"
G.O.O.D. Music - "Grammy Family"
Jay Z - "Ride or Die
Jay Z - "It's Alright"
Run DMC - "Jam Master Jay"
Run DMC - "My Adidas"
Run DMC - "Sucker M.C.'s"
Run DMC - "Down With the King"
G-Unit - "Ride Pt. 2"
Mr. Vegas - "I Am Blessed"
Shade Sheist - "Where I Wanna Be" (feat. Nate Dogg & Kurupt)
Brand Nubian - "Love Me or Leave Me Alone"
Janet Jackson - "Doesn't Really Matter"
Maino - "Hi Hater"
Wayne Wonder - "No Letting Go"
Young Gunz - "Can't Stop, Won't Stop"
Sly and the Family Stone - "You Can Make It If You Try"
Sly and the Family Stone - "Thank You Falettin Me Be Mice Elf Again"
Stevie Wonder - "For Once in My Life"
Lil Kim - "No Matter What People Say"
Alicia Meyers - "I Want to Thank You"
J. Cole - "Nobody's Perfect" (feat. Missy Elliott)