Song Links Saggy Pants to Being Gay A new campaign by in Dallas targets the hip-hop style of wearing your pants low — with a signature song that suggests it makes you look gay.

Song Links Saggy Pants to Being Gay

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ROBERT SMITH, host:

Hillary Clinton turns 60 years old today. Last night, the presidential wannabe was fettled in grand style at the Beacon Theater in Manhattan, Elvis Costello saying, happy birthday, Mrs. President.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: Billy Crystal served as master of ceremonies. I'm sensing a baby boomer theme here.

ALISON STEWART, host:

I think so. The big boomer of them all, Bill Clinton. Yeah. You know what? He showed up.

SMITH: Oh, that's nice of him.

STEWART: Isn't it nice of him?

SMITH: Late. But he showed up.

STEWART: Here he is courtesy of CNN.

(Soundbite of archived CNN recording)

President BILL CLINTON: I've seen her now for more than half of her life. She was just 23 when we met. Poor child, didn't know any better than to talk to me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Pres. CLINTON: And I was thinking the night about how we celebrated her 24th birthday when she was in law school and all the ones we'd celebrated since.

SMITH: Oh, that's sweet. Lots of Hillary supporters showed up too. But really, no presents. No presents, please.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: But Hillary was registered at the bank. Her friends had to pay anywhere between 100 and 2,000 bucks to get into the party.

STEWART: I have to tell you. Can I tell you what Hillary Clinton's horoscope is in the New York Post today?

SMITH: Oh, love to hear it.

STEWART: So she is the senator from New York and you know how much the Post loves her.

(Reading) It may seem as if you have no control over what is going on in your life, but appearances can be deceptive and with a full moon on your birthday this year you need to remind yourself, each and every day, that you and you alone are master of your destiny. Say it enough and you'll start to believe it.

SMITH: She has a mantra now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: Happy birthday.

STEWART: Happy birthday, Mrs. Clinton.

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: Yesterday, the BPP featured a piece about a certain public service announcement running in Dallas right now - fighting against the scourge on our nation's youth.

I'm sure you've seen this problem - sagging pants. Now, don't laugh. They are taking this very seriously in Dallas. And the PR campaign includes a rap song called "Pull Your Pants Up." Let's listen to a little bit of it.

(Soundbite of song, "Pull Your Pants Up")

Unidentified Man: (Rapping) Pull 'em up. Pull 'em up. Pull 'em up. Pull 'em up.

DOONEY DA' PRIEST (Rapper): (Rapping) Be a real man. Stand up. Is that your underwear, man? Pull your pants up. I'm a grown man on the ground trying to shine. How you going around with your mind showin' your behind…

SMITH: So all around the news from yesterday, we're singing pull your pants, pull your pants up. I mean, it's really catchy. But it didn't take long for folks in our blog to parse these lyrics and say, you know what? They're a little bit homophobic.

STEWART: First line. Be a real man. You noticed that?

SMITH: Be a real man. And they talk about, if you walk your street - walk the streets with your pants way down low, I don't know. Looks like, to me, you're on the down low. Well, this brings up all sorts of layers of race, sexuality and hip-hop. And oddly enough, we have a man who is an expert in all three areas. Mark Anthony Neal is a professor of black popular culture at Duke University, and his most recent book is "New Black Man: Rethinking Black Masculinity."

Thanks for joining us, professor.

Professor MARK ANTHONY NEAL (Black Popular Culture, Duke University; Author, "New Black Man: Rethinking Black Masculinity"): Glad to be on this morning.

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 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?

Prof. NEAL: Yeah. That's kind of interesting. You know, one of the thing to towards this whole sag in 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 managed 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 in the 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.

STEWART: We're talking to Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of popular black culture at Duke University.

Professor, can you hang on for a minute? We want to continue this conversation after a quick break.

Prof. NEAL: Not a problem.

STEWART: You're listening to THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT from NPR News. Stick around. Reviews coming up as well.

(Soundbite of music)

SMITH: This is THE BRYANT PARK PROJECT. I'm Robert Smith. And we're still here with Professor Mark Anthony Neal, professor of black popular culture at Duke University, talking about sexism, talking about homophobia and hip-hop and pants sagging way down low.

Thanks for staying with us, professor.

Prof. NEAL: Not a problem.

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 besides - 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 concept of hip-hop where because it's all about a certain kind of masculine privilege, and hyper-masculine and the best rappers as seen as those who embody, you know, the hardest notion of masculinity, you know, it's very easy to through out slurs like that, you know, as a way to feminize or…

SMITH: Uh-hmm. Yeah.

Prof. NEAL: You know, to make those other rappers, you know, authentic. So when you get a rapper like Kamron a few years ago, looking at the 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 can revolves around this whole nation, you know, how you going be the king in New York if you wear an open-toe sandal. And that was Kamron's attempt to kind really queer, you know, Jay-Z in the public eye.

SMITH: Always the fashion slams.

Prof. NEAL: Yeah. Exactly.

SMITH: Mark Anthony Neal is professor of black popular culture at Duke University. His most recent book is "New Black Men: Rethinking Black Masculinity."

Thanks for joining us.

Prof. NEAL: Oh, it's great. Glad to be on.

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