What Makes A Good Rap Artist?
Of course depending on whom you ask will determine what answer you get in return. Popularity, flow, hooks, content, flashiness, bling, tone of voice, creativity, swag, appearance, bravado; again, one can come up with many adjectives. I won’t get on my soap box to browbeat you about how horrible rap music is today and talk about “how it used to be” but I will say that I feel popular rap music has become diluted and less organic. I feel it’s more about seeking a hit in hopes of a payday and less about the art and the music. To me this approach bleeds over into the arena of LGBT hip hop artist as well.
Weekly our submission box and direct messages via social media are full of inspiring gay R&B singers and rappers attempting to make it big. Dear Cypher Avenue, please listen my demo or watch my video and write about me. Often times these submissions are pretty bad to cringe worthy as the gay rappers seem to be Lil Kim light while channeling their inner Nicki Minaj with a dash of Big Freedia. Sex and salaciousness is pretty much the extent with no context or depth. As far as appearance, it seems the more glitzy or flamboyant, the more attention they feel they will receive. They’re trying way to hard which makes it feel like a gimmick. This is why I personally feel that the majority of rap and R&B music from LGBT artists sucks. Not necessarily the artist themselves but the music they produce for consumption.
The Palette of EarthTone
We got a tweet from Inpaq over at The LGBT Update with a link to EarthTone’s To Whom It May Concern teaser (see below; directed by Victoria Ng). It was past my bedtime as I was going through my Twitter notifications but I still managed to form a smirk on my face as I clicked the link expecting fuckery…and then the sample from Chance The Rapper/Jack One’s Acid Rain drops…hmm okay. Next the visuals peak my interests and at .25 seconds, the flow and voice tone begins. Wow, I’m digging it. Then at .45 seconds, EarthTone raps “Homo’s the sexuality, masculine is the presence, there I said it”. Okay, so a gay rapper is unapologetically representing and professing his masculinity on a track? As a consumer of music, a connection was established but I must say I was pissed this was only 2 minutes long.
To Whom It May Concern is not attempting to be typical mainstream rap music, which is being mimicked to the point of over saturation by the up-and-comers and wannabe’s. I feel like EarthTone is channeling Pete Rock and CL Smooth, Black Star, Jeru The Damaja, Digable Planets, Common, The Roots and Pharaoh Monch among other artists from 20 years ago. Technically not new, it’s still refreshing to hear this type of style from a gay artist.
From East Orange NJ, EarthTone has been in the underground rap scene for years. From videos on his Youtube channel it appears EarthTone may have been a part of a group called Jersey Journal back in 2011. Now riding solo, the rapper/producer is gearing up to drop his EP GMale in July 2014. In the buildup he has released tracks titled The Sound, Fuck Is You? and the aforementioned To Whom It May Concern.
The Sound doesn’t jump out and grab you like the other two tracks but that doesn’t make the song or video (directed by Gregory Addison) any less dope. I feel like this video could have easily been on BET’s Rap City back in the day between Black Moon’s How Many MCs and Gang Starr’s Mass Appeal. As you can hear and see in the video below, EarthTone pays homage to many rappers and presumably some of his influences.
With an introduction featuring an interview with Ebro Darden of Hot 97, Fuck Is You? is FIRE! The thought provoking lyrical dexterous track talks about society and sexuality from the MC’s point of view. The accompanying video (see below) directed by G. Addison, is simplistic but effective. EarthTone’s production skills need to also be highlighted here for their value. When the beat drops at 1 min .40 seconds, I felt like EarthTone was conversing with me over a double shot of whiskey after he had just passed me the spliff. He rhymes;
“If I was feminine it might be easier to deal,
But since I’m masculine they think I wasn’t being real,
But I’m just being me,
Naturally I’m discreet,
So certain aspects of my life you wouldn’t see.
That’s not to say I’m hangin in the closet like a blazer,
At the same time I’m not about to yell it to my neighbor.”
…(adds song to MP3 player). That sentiment and statement could only come from the mind of a gay man whose masculinity has been criticized and or characterized as being an act. After hearing this in a rap song, ladies and gentlemen, I was sold. I found my hip hop gay kindred spirit.
But We May Have Some Problems
Who are the most successful Black LGBT hip hop or urban artists out right now? Big Freedia and Fly Young Red. Sorry but you can’t include Frank Ocean because he never publically said he was gay. Big Freedia is bounce (at its core is booty shaking dance music) and Fly Young Red gained some notoriety for celebrating Boy Pussy. Not questioning either artist’s skills because obviously they are both talented; nonetheless either’s music doesn’t have much depth.
Historically speaking, from the mid 90’s to present more positive or conscious minded rapper’s and their music have been less successful then their more mainstream counterparts. Keep in mind when I say “positive”, it’s not as if hood circumstances, sex, violence, partying and masculine machismo are not rapped about by these artists; it’s just that the context and tone is different. You’re not bitch, hoed and nigga’d to death in addition to said rapper/s rhyming about killing all human life on every track. Yes there have been some breakouts of more positive or conscious minded lyrical rapper’s like Nas, Kenye West, The Roots, Mos Def, Lupe Fiasco and Talib Kweli but for the most part radio DJ’s and radio stations don’t play the more positive or conscious rap music, so a lot of these artists are not as successful as their bling frenzied equivalents. So what chance does a gay rapper like EarthTone have?
Black gays are always protesting the they want more mainstream hip hop artist to come out of the closet because “we don’t have any black gay rappers”; all the while ignoring and not supporting out and open black gay artist like Kaoz, LastO, Bry’Nt and Freaky Boiz who have released some cool tracks over the years. When there is mass support and internet viral, it’s about Boy Pussy. When I look at social media feeds and timelines from black gays; outside of Drake, Jay and Rick Ross, I don’t see them talking about rappers, I see them discussing both old and new school divas. So I ask the question again, what are the chances EarthTone will get support from the LGBT community?
I do feel he has already alienated some gays by simply mentioning his masculinity. This is a no-no to many sensitive (“What is masculinity? “We need to blur gender lines.”) mainstream gays. Also look at the type of gay media we consume. The majority of our gay centric web series and movies are over sexualized, overly dramatic and flamboyant. Even still the “followers” of this media content are still extremely hesitant to financially support these products but will gladly not only come out of their pockets but shake their assess to anti-gay rappers. As some gays have stated before, “normal, regular and masculine is boring”, except when it comes to heterosexual actors and entertainers.
EarthTone’s Self-Imposed Problems
Paraphrasing the words Neil DeGrasse Tyson, “I criticize because I care”. I’m just being observant of what I see. There are videos on Youtube featuring EarthTone from 2011. The phrase “unsigned gay rapper” appears within the title of some of his newer videos. I’m assuming that’s because he is open to being “signed”. In a couple of the teaser videos, you see EarthTone in the studio and what appears to be a home studio. He is on Facebook, Twitter, SoundCloud, Instagram and Vimeo, so it’s not as if he is not technically and digitally literate. So now I have to question…where the fuck is his website? Why did I have to search hard online for a bio? Where is the press release kit? Where are the HD glossy pictures that websites like Cypher Avenue can post? How can I book him for a show? I want an EarthTone t-shirt or a sticker, what do I do? What if I want to give CD’s to friends so they can bump him in their ride? Releasing teaser trailers and videos is not enough. What wannabe gay entertainer isn’t doing this?
Just an additional thought I want to put out there for ALL aspiring gay rappers; the internet is global. The world does not begin and end within the US boarders…duh, right? If you are a gay artist and you think you’re a talented gay artist, what are you doing to market yourself to international audiences? Just because you may not be successful in the United States that doesn’t mean you can’t be successful internationally. There are vast scenes in Europe and Asia that love underground non-mainstream rap and hip hop. Maybe try connecting with LGBT hip hop communities in other countries and promote your work. Considering a talent like EarthTone, you never know what could manifest. I hope he gets a website very soon…I’m just saying.
Okay so I’m doing my part to promote this gifted and proud gay rapper; EarthTone. Readers of Cypher Avenue and listeners of our podcasts know that I’m very critical and vocal about media that I like and don’t like. EarthTone, I really really like! Until another gay rapper comes along that actually speaks to me, I’m comfortable and confident with labeling EarthTone as the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) Gay Rapper. Who the Fuck Is You?
Check out EarthTone’s Videos Below. You can also listen to snippets from his upcoming EP GMALE here via SoundCloud.
To Whom It May Concern
Fuck Is You? Teaser
Fuck Is You?
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