In my culture, in India, you regularly see men holding hands, or putting their hand on their friend’s shoulder while walking. This action doesn’t mean the men are gay—in fact, it actually most likely means that they’re not gay because Indian culture is very intolerant of homosexuality—but rather are just friends, and these gestures are how men in India show affection towards their friends. Over there, it’s normal.
Over here, in the U.S., it isn’t normal. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen two male friends comfortable enough with their masculinity to hold hands. In fact, in America, you could say that men are rarely affectionate towards each other at all, and even in instances where they show care or praise, they might very well exclaim, “No homo!” to make sure their props don’t come across as gay. It’s something Mick Jenkins points out in his latest conversation with Greenroom Magazine.
While on tour, instead of the standard meet-and-greets, Jenkins prefers to take a more personal approach when meeting his fans. According to Greenroom, after every show, he’ll buy a pizza to share with up to 25 fans backstage, as an effort to talk to each of them on a deeper level.
Despite eschewing the label conscious rapper, Jenkins’ brand of music is certainly one that makes you think—but, he found his music wasn’t having the exact effect he wanted. “I realized, niggas don’t be getting it,” he said. “I got self-righteous… I thought I was changing all eight hundred people that came in that room. Like they was right there with me.”
He identified an example of how some male fans talk to him. “Other men can't even compliment me without saying ‘no homo’… People have made them feel like they can’t talk to one of their favorite artists without saying that. That’s insane! That shows you don't have a complete sense of self,” he says.
Such machismo is far from foreign in hip-hop, even while some of the genre’s quickest rising stars—artists like Rae Sremmurd, Young Thug and Jaden Smith—test the boundaries of rap’s hypermasculinity.
These are the young emcees whom writer David Dennis, Jr. pointed to in his story for The Undefeated on black male affection, where he pieces together his own history of black male affection with that of Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi, Pimp C and Bun B, and Michael B. Jordan and Ryan Coogler, among others. It’s a story of Dennis coming to terms with his own lack of affection towards his black male friends.
Specifically using Rae Sremmurd’s The FADERcover as an example, Dennis writes, “The duo is part of a generation that doesn’t feel the need to perpetuate a hardness that so many of its predecessors maintained to hold up tough-guy images.”
“A dichotomy is being established: Real rap is masculine, and the new kids are all ‘gay’ — as if sexual orientation in itself takes away from one’s masculinity anyway. So last week, when The FADER posted the cover (photo by Alexandra Gavillet) of its June/July 2016 issue with Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi shirtless, and with one brother’s head resting on the other brother’s shoulder, the floodgates opened. Two blood brothers who love each other dearly posed together affectionately, demonstrating brotherhood and a comfort with each other’s bodies — and it’s an indictment of their manhood.”
As Dennis brings up further examples of displays of black male affection—of Jordan and Coogler intimately posing together for a feature on Vanity Fair, of Dwyane Wade and Lebron James saying ‘I love you’ to one another—he tussles with his own hesitation, noting that for him, he can more easily express his love to a black woman than a black man. He concludes that he’s going to make an effort to show more tenderness towards his male friends and family members.
Indeed, much of rap—and the male stereotype—has been built on hypermasculinity, which places an emphasis on physicality, aggression, and sexuality. It takes guys like Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmi, like Thugger and Smith and Jenkins, to show a new generation of men that you can openly love and praise the men in your life and still retain your manliness—that showing affection doesn’t make you any less of a man.
By Tara Mahadevan. Follow her on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Bryan Allen Lamb