Just like America wants to believe that it’s “post-racial,” hip-hop wants to believe that it’s post-homophobia, or at least something close to it. This is apparently what lead Ebro Darden, Peter Rosenberg, Cipha Sounds, and K. Foxx — hosts of “Hot 97 in the Morning,” the drive-time morning show on New York’s influential hip-hop radio station — to publicly implore hip-hop legend and Hot 97 afternoon DJ Mister Cee to come out of the closet during yesterday’s broadcast. The group was discussing Mister Cee’s weekend arrest for soliciting a prostitute; it was the third time that Mister Cee — who was Big Daddy Kane’s DJ before discovering Notorious B.I.G. and co-executive producing his first album — had been arrested on the same charge. Mister Cee insisted on Monday that he was caught with a female prostitute, but the morning-show hosts either didn’t believe him or decided to fixate on the fall-out from his March 2011 arrest in which he was caught receiving oral sex from a male prostitute.
During the discussion, the morning crew directly asked Mister Cee if he was gay, and they further pressed him when he denied it. Darden — who, as the station’s program director, is also Mister Cee’s boss — seemingly attempted to provide a safe space for the DJ to come out, telling him “your preference doesn’t matter to us, you’re our brother” and “if you’re gay, you don’t need to hide, you’re our family and we’re here to support you.” Mister Cee reiterated that he is a straight man with an addiction to prostitutes, but later wavered by saying, “Let’s say, for argument’s sake, I’m lying, that’s my choice.” The interview ended with the issue unresolved — despite Mister Cee’s insistence, one got the sense that his coworkers were rejecting his explanation.
Mister Cee’s sexuality is mostly irrelevant — if he is gay, it would help hip-hop if a figure of his stature lived openly, but coming out is his business, to be done how and when he chooses. And his evasiveness proved nothing about him or hip-hop — coming out is hard enough, let alone in front of tens of thousands of radio listeners. But the actions of a rival radio DJ glaringly showed how far hip-hop culture has to go before it can be considered even a remotely safe place for gays and lesbians.
Charlamagne Tha God, who works for New York’s other hip-hop station, Power 105, revealed exactly the acceptable level of open homophobia that still exists, and at worst is celebrated, within the culture, by hatefully mocking Mister Cee on air during the station’s own morning show. During an early segment, Charlamagne started off as if he were an ally: “Calvin,” he said, referring to Mister Cee by his birth name, “come out of the closet. Live your truth so that nobody can use your truth against you.” But this was little but a bait-and-switch. Charlamagne then went on to repeatedly call Mister Cee a “serial purchaser of penis” and attempted to belittle a man whose accomplishments in hip-hop dwarf his own, by referring to Mister Cee as “sis” and “boo.” Then he set gay activism back three decades by asking Mister Cee when he last was tested for HIV. His co-hosts cackled and guffawed intermittently in the background.
Charlamagne tried to wrap up the segment with a positive bow by framing his homophobia as progressivism, saying that he just wants Mister Cee to show “the same strength that Frank Ocean and Jason Collins have shown” in coming out (nevermind that Frank Ocean has never detailed his own sexuality). Yet, Charlamagne, and others like him, don’t actually care if Mister Cee comes out — either way he’s just another piñata at which to take hacks. Frank Ocean has broken a barrier, but as anyone knows who has stood in the crowd at a rap show, or perused hashtags on Twitter, much of hip-hop has yet to follow his lead.
Charlamagne’s homophobia unequivocally should not be tolerated, even if it falls under the nebulous guise of “comedy.” None of his colleagues called out his hatred, and his bosses have gone about their business. No rapper or singer or producer will refuse to appear on the Power 105 morning show because of his comments. There is no boycotting of the station, no online petitions available to sign, and no pressure on Charlamagne to recognize how over-the-line his comments were. This is still the status quo.
It should be noted that some small caveats do apply here. Charlamagne is known as a professional shit-stirrer, and at some point people just tune out the guy who does nothing but stir shit. He also has a keen interest in Mister Cee because he works at the rival — and more popular — radio station, so his comments have to be viewed through the lens of provocation. And this is far from strictly a hip-hop (or African-American) problem: all of America, despite survey responses and laws allowing gay marriage, wants to believe that this country is safer place for openly gay people than it actually is.
But the non-response to Charlamagne’s bashing of Mister Cee — and gays at large — is specifically a hip-hop problem. The words and actions of the hosts of “Hot 97 in the Morning” are evidence of a community that wants to believe that it is putting homophobia to rest, and the sincerity of Mister Cee’s colleagues should be applauded. But Charlamagne Tha God’s hatred has been swept under the rug, and because of that, it’s still obvious that a post-homophobic hip-hop world remains a faint, fleeting fantasy.