The four hundred people draped in the latest urban threads on Thursday nights at Baltimore's The Hippo could sub for any popular hip-hop club in a major East Coast city. The line to the entrance snakes around the corner as hundreds eagerly wait for a chance to groove to the unmistakable bone-shaking thud of urban bass.
Upon entering the dance side of the club, the latest hits by T-Pain, Lloyd, Lil' Boosie and 50 Cent keep the dance floor packed. Small clusters of dancers gyrate to the beat. It isn't until the flashes of red, violet and white lights pierce the dark room that the stark differences between a stereotypical hip-hop club and the Hippo become apparent.
A group of men dressed in white T-shirts, Timberland boots and baggy pants held up by flashy gold belts dance with one another. An elbow's length away, a group of women - some dressed in sports jerseys, backward baseball caps and bandanas around their necks - reveals the dimensions of the club's gay clientele.
In Baltimore and elsewhere, hip-hop has found an unlikely ally in the gay community. The support is shocking because homosexuality completely challenges almost every rule that governs the testosterone-driven rap industry, which is hip-hop culture's crown jewel. Not only are there are no successful mainstream gay rappers, but gay slurs also are frequently tossed into rap lyrics.
The support is also surprising given the troubled year rap music has had. Critics have attacked the misogynistic nd violent lyrics that dominate hit rap singles. Some have made rap music the scapegoat for everything from Don Imus' rants to the rampant use of the "n-word." Rap's popularity has even been questioned by critics viewing a decline in overall CD sales.
The strange love relationship between gays and hip-hop can be attributed to a myriad of factors.
Some think that certain groups of gay people fuel the support; club owners say lesbians and African-Americans make up a majority of their clientele. Many gays say the music itself, which is super dance-friendly, is responsible. Or could it be that hip-hop, the urban-based genre that has won a wide following among the world's youth, is simply embraced the same way in the gay community?Whatever the reason, the irony of gay attraction to hip-hop is undeniable.
Hip-hop music has never been gay-friendly.
"Da Dis List", an extensive web-based archive of homophobic hip-hop lyrics compiled by a listserv known as Phat Family, lists popular artists such as Common, 50 Cent, and Emeniem as repeat offenders.
Mark Anthony Neal, pofessor of African and African American studies at Duke University. blames the racial tendencies of mainstream America for the homophobic label associated with hip-hop. "The homophobia that we see in hip-hop is the homophobia that we see in society," Neal said. "Hip-hop is an easy scapegoat because people have never taken it seriously as an art form."
Still, Neal is quick to point out the hypocrisy in hip-hop. The true irony is that some rappers rely on homosexuals to advance their careers, he said. "You don't sell 10 million copies of anything if you are not reaching a wide demographic."
"We're just like everyone else; we're people who like music," said Shavone Scott, a 24-year-old Baltimore City lesbian, who attends the Hippo's hip-hop night twice a month. "The music is like a stress reliever. As long as you hear the beat, you are okay."
DJ Kristen Brzowsky, a Baltimore City lesbian who usually plays to several hundred clubgoers on Thursdays at Grand Central, Baltimore's largest gay bar, said lesbians are drawn to hip-hop because it relates "to their lifestyle."
"It's macho," said Brzowsky, who added that she idolized Snoop Dogg and Warren G -two rappers known for their macho lyrics - when she was questioning her sexuality growing up as a child.
And as for the large number of gay African-Americans drawn to hip-hop nights, most of them echoed the words of Kiana H., an African-American lesbian who lives in Baltimore: "It's part of my culture," she said, while catching her breath in between songs at Grand Central. "It's like my grandma's cooking."
Thursday nights at The Hippo, a 35-year-old gay bar and club on West Eager Street, belong to hip-hop music. The dance floor of the club regularly reaches capacity, and the line to get into the club remains about 50 deep well past midnight.
"Finally I have a hip-hop crowd who is receptive," said KuhmeLeon, one of two DJs who alternate spinning at the Hippo's hip-hop night. "It's what club nights should be."
The popularity is not limited to Baltimore. Hip-hop music dominates the playlist at Club Boi, a gay club in Miami; Sunday is hip-hop night at MJs, a gay club in Los Angeles; and hip-hop music rules Tuesday's Drag King nights at The Bourbon Pub and Parade, a gay club in New Orleans.