Whenever you pick the brain of someone like Lord Jamar about hip-hop’s ills, he’ll give you minutes-long rants about how the “feminization” of hip-hop is destroying both the culture and the Black men who contribute to it. His most recent display of this sad lil’ shtick was an interview he gave to Vlad TV earlier in the month about rapper Young Thug daring to wear something that looks an awful lot like a dress. When asked about it, the former Brand Nubian emcee flatly said, "I'm not feelin' him. The more feminine shit that you do, the more you're going to have to do other shit to try to prove your manhood."
I’ve always found homophobia (which is in a deeply committed relationship with misogyny) within the hip-hop community to be especially laughable. As Aaron McGruder used to routinely point out in the pre-TV days of The Boondocks, this is a genre of music in which its biggest stars are greased muscle men instructing other men to suck their dicks. On top of that, many of these guys are adorned in so much jewelry you’d think Liberace had a bunch of unidentified bastard seeds. Meanwhile, a common narrative of rap is, was, and perhaps may always will be to drive home the point that women—excuse me, bitches—ain’t shit.
We are collectively a very He-Man woman hating society, though, so I can’t dismiss Lord Jamar as some sort of outlier like a Five Percenter or one of those Black Israelites who every Sunday on 125th and Lenox disparage Islamic men for wearing “dresses” and, like Lord Jamar, act as if femininity is some terrorist organization hell bent on the annihilation of Black men.
Yes, Lord Jamar may be one of the harsher and outspoken critics of the “feminization” of Black men, but he’s no less guilty than many of the other people who griped over Kid Cudi wearing a crop top at Coachella. The same goes for those who roasted Kanye West for wearing a kilt. Sure, you could sweep some of the critics aside as “jokes,” but it all ultimately plays into the sentiment that when you are a man—particularly a Black one—you are limited in your personal expression for the sake of preserving your manhood.
To Lord Jamar and others, manhood is a performance. One’s personal style is a part of that act and the minute you deviate from the collective acceptance of masculine ideals, you are worthy of ridicule, condemnation, or the very least, be questioned about your manhood, an all-too common occurrence that deserves re-examination.
In a piece entitled “metrosexuality is dead, thank god for that,” Anders Christian Madsen celebrates the end of the early 2000s trend and credits the likes of David Beckham, Jared Leto, and Zac Efron for showing (white) men that it’s okay to break from the mold. Similar pieces have been written in celebration of Kanye West, and perhaps over time, Kid Cudi, Young Thug, and others may receive similar accolades for doing the same for Black dudes.
This undoubtedly spooks the hell out of the Lord Jamars of the world, but what frightens me mostly is that ultimately, we’ve still yet to challenge how exactly we should judge one’s manhood.
If you are gay, you are used to the idea that some men may view you as less of a man for your attractions; however, we’ve reached the point where a straight guy could literally be swimming in a pool of vagina and he'd still be considered less of a man and boxed in because of a crop top or a kilt.
These trends, like others in fashion, will end. And then what? Rappers and those who aspire to look like them may retreat to something viewed as more “masculine.” And then once that trend ends and, say, kilts are back in style, we may find ourselves having this same argument again.
I would like to think of Lord Jamar as a relic, but I often wrestle with the reality that while the culture has moved forward, the speed is a lot slower than many are willing to admit. It only takes one dumb interview from an insecure rapper or a stroll on a social media timeline to notice.
Ideally, we should get to the point where manhood isn’t based on whether or not you toss on a skirt for the hell of it or a crop top because you want to show off your six-pack—or fuck, just because it’s hot as shit in the desert you’re performing at. It’s a rather juvenile display to cling to these archaic ideas of what makes a man. Manhood isn’t about performance. It ought to be about common decency, individuality, and yes, expressing yourself however you choose to.
But we’ll only reach that point if the people so busy grabbing their dicks all day learn to stop checking under other people’s skirts.
Michael Arceneaux is from the land of Beyoncé, but now lives in the city of Master Splinters.
Follow him at @youngsinick.