Homophobic Vibes for Saggy Pants Song?
ALISON STEWART, host:
We were barely on the air full time and the BPP was already stirring it up. In October, there was a PSA running in Texas featuring a song telling kids to pull up their sagging pants. The artist was Dooney Da' Priest, a Dallas rapper who wrote performed it as part of a city-funded campaign to get kids to stop the droopy drawers. They put the song, "Pull Your Pants Up" on our blog.
(Soundbite of song, "Pull Your Pants Up")
Mr. DOONEY DA' PRIEST (Rapper): (Rapping) You walk the street with your pants laid down low. Oh no, look at me, you're on a down low. Some of you all think it's gangster, you feel you're bad. Only act a real man, we ain't feeling that. We don't understand man.
STEWART: Ah, the lyrics. Well, we posted it on our blog, the whole thing really blew up. BPP listeners started questioning those lyrics. Saying the song uses homophobia to scare kids into pulling up their pants. We received so many comments it seemed like the journalistic way right thing to do is to call up Mr. Da' Priest to find out just what his intentions were when he wrote the song.
Here's my conversation with him.
Mr. DA' PRIEST: It had nothing to do with the gay community, because like I said, I was dealing with the N-word too, you know what I'm saying, as well. So hey, like I said, I wrote an apology to the gay community and that's basically but all I can do, you know.
STEWART: The issue, Dooney, is that by making it uncool, you're saying being gay is uncool, being on the down low as you write your lyrics is the uncool thing.
Mr. DA' PRIEST: Well, one thing, it's not being gay that's uncool, I think the fact that a lot of - 80 percent of the young men on the streets are ignorant of the fact of what it truly means. And so my thing is to educate them. Now, whatever their sexual preference is to be a homosexual or being gay, that's their problem.
I'm the street - I'm the street priest and I have real good Christian values of what I believe in and I am against homosexuality, but this is not the reason why I wrote the song. My thing is to educate them. Now, if they still want to wear their pants below after being educated and being made aware of what that truly means, and if they want to be known as being a homosexual on the down low or gay, that's their sexual preference.
I have nothing to do with that because only God can judge them. I'm not here to judge. And I said it in the beginning of my rap. I'm the street priest. I'm not here to judge. If you want to be gay, that's your problem. That is something you have to deal with between you and God. My whole thing of doing the song was to create some peer pressure amongst the young people to where it changes their mindset to where amongst their group of peers to what is to - hey, let's pull up our pants because I don't want to be considered gay.
STEWART: To get a little more clarity on the saggy pants homophobia thing, we found the closest thing you can get to a saggy pants homophobia thing expert, a professor.
Mark Anthony Neal who studies race, sexuality and hip-hop. He's professor of black popular culture at Duke University. And his most resent book is "New Black Man: Rethinking Black Masculinity." Guest host Robert Smith and I spoke with him.
ROBERT SMITH: So I'm going to read you a few of these lyrics, okay?
(Reading) You walk the streets with your pants way down low.
I'm not going to do it justice.
(Reading) You walk the street with your pants way down low. I don't know. Looks to me like you are on the down low.
Do you want to decode that for us?
Professor MARK ANTHONY NEAL (Duke University): Yeah. That's kind of interesting. You know, one of the things this whole sagging pants thing is that there's a feeling that the hip-hop generation can't be embarrassed - even if they may embarrass their parents and their, you know, other elders. And I think what's interesting about that line is that the one thing that always gets that hip-hop generation men, are these questions about sexuality.
SMITH: And the down low refers to?
Prof. NEAL: And the down low refers to, you know, men who are on the down low, who are living heterosexual lives publicly but may be living homosexual lives, you know, on the down low. You know, (unintelligible).
SMITH: Yeah. There's another lyric that goes I think it's rude you - I think it's rude but some of you all think it's cool, walking around, showing your behind to other dudes.
Prof. NEAL: Yeah. Now, it's hidden on, you know, a particular critical point for young man. You know, hip-hop is a lot of things, but particularly about masculinity. And even gay men in hip-hop manage to put on the uniform of hyper-masculinity so that when you hear a lyric like this, you know, this is going to hit some guys a little hard.
STEWART: Professor, whenever our Web commenter - a guy named Andrew - pointed out the reference to down low and commented, quote, "it's cute when homophobia is part of a citywide campaign, shaming the youth by calling them gay. Love that from the government."
Prof. NEAL: Well, that's one of those moments where you realize, you know, the value of homosexual bodies in our culture, where they can always be thrown under the bus. So even when you're going after a particular segment like, you know, young black - young black or Latino youth for sagging, you could always just throw a gay person under the bus and that can get everybody, you know, back in line.
SMITH: Well, is there any reason to think that sagging is at all connected to homosexuality?
Prof. NEAL: Well, clearly, because it comes out, you know, the whole idea of sagging comes from out of prison culture. But also this idea that if your pants is sagging that, you know, it may be read as there's certain kind of availability, both within prison culture and obviously as it comes out of prison culture.
It's one of those unique moments where, you know, part of a, kind of, subculture of gay and lesbian life, you know, comes into clash and contact with the subculture of hip-hop. And that happens a lot but we rarely see it played out in the mainstream, as it is in this case.
SMITH: So do you think it's going to be effective?
Prof. NEAL: I think it will affect some young men. Because again, that whole thing - I mean, given the kind of significant homophobia that we find in American culture but, you know, particularly in the context of black and Latino life, you know, around male culture, in particular, I think there will be young men that will think twice.
I mean, again, you could be lots of things in hip-hop, you know, but the idea of being gay or being the f-word is something that, you know, really gets a rise out of young men. And I think there would be some young men what will respond. Because if sagging now gets connected to some sort of notion of homosexuality, that's a crisis for some of those young men.
SMITH: Well, let's broaden this out. We're talking about this particular PSA and the sagging pants was making these gay allusions. You know, we hear a lot about sexism in hip-hop and calling them hos and such. It's been a very popular topic this year. But we don't hear as much about gay slurs in hip-hop. Is there a lot of it or is that not done as much?
Prof. NEAL: I don't think it's any more than what we see in mainstream culture. I think hip-hop, very much, is targeted, you know, for being the worst examples of sexism, misogyny and homophobia within hip-hop. And you know, the use of homophobic slurs in hip-hop is a very complicated thing. In that, you know, because it comes out of young male culture, because comes out of a masculine culture there have always been these words that have been thrown towards other men, you know, in an effort to dehumanize them; in an effort to feminize them. You know, whether we're talking about listening to hip-hop or guys playing basketball in the park, I mean, that's just a part of male culture. I mean, that's part of the reason why a term like, so gay, you know, has became such a mainstream thing in which, you know, kids, you know, who have no investment necessary in homophobia, one way or the other, will employ that term to talk about something that they don't view as being cool or cutting edge.
But that said, you know, it does get to a point in the context of hip-hop, where because it's all about a certain kind of masculine privilege, and hyper-masculinity and the best rappers are seen as those who embody, you know, the hardest notion of masculinity. It's very easy to throw out slurs like that, you know, as a way to feminize, you know, to make those other rappers, you know, authentic.
So when you get a rapper like Cam'ron a few years ago and looking at a picture of Jay-Z in a New York newspaper, you know, with a pair of jeans on and some open-toe sandals, you know, he could make a song that revolves around this whole notion, you know, how even to be the king of New York if you wear an open-toe sandals. And that was Cam'ron's attempt to kind of queer, you know, Jay-Z in the public eye.
MARTINEZ: Always the fashion slams.
Prof. NEAL: Yeah, exactly.
MARTINEZ: Mark Anthony Neal is professor of Black Popular Culture at Duke University. His most recent book is "New Black Man: Rethinking Black Masculinity." Thanks for joining us.
Prof. NEAL: Oh, it was great. Excited to be on.
STEWART: The saggy pant debate is never ending. Dooney Da' Priest and the Dallas deputy mayor who dreamed up the anti-sagging ban reportedly taped an episode of "Dr. Phil" last month. No word on when it will air.
Stay with us here at the BPP. Mo Rocca stopped by to help us decipher Miss Teen South Carolina's philosophy.