The Femming Up of Hip-Hop

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So, so many questions sprang to the tip of my queer tongue when I spotted Pharrell Williams of The Neptunes rocking an oversized Purplesaurus-colored purse on the June 2008 cover of Paper. Had his recent collab with Madonna eroded the rapper’s testosterone banks? Was homegirl Beyonce rubbing off some Sasha Fierce? Does he even realize what lavender shades do to one’s skin tone? (The risks!)

The accompanying article, which focused on Pharrell’s Billionaire Boys Club fashion empire, did little to help resolve such queries:

“‘Don’t call it a murse,’ he says, pulling out his second look from the gargantuan purple croc Hermès tote, which he has accessorized with another Jacob keychain, this one covered in yellow diamonds to match the bag’s gold hardware.”

Honey, I’d never call anything a “murse”–not with an incurable flesh-eating disease called MRSA spreading around, and not with the kicky "manbag” option readily available.

Instances of fashion femminess have been rampant in hip-hop of late, causing a lot of masculinity-insecure haters to wonder if the ballers’ club got stealth-fagged while Jay-Z was out getting his eyebrows waxed. Pharrell’s purple personalized Hermès, Lil Wayne’s come-hither chicken poses (and purported daddy relationship with the Birdman), Nelly’s hot pink leather ensembles, the massive attack of blipster neon cravats, a glut of tranny-licious dance crazes from Tamechi’s juicy “Poak Chops” to the New Orleans “sissy bounce” movement… and wasn’t that dressed as the leather Village Person in his “It’s a New Day” vid? Plus, you know, just Gym Class Heroes in general. There was even a loathsomely funny vid viraling around last summer called “You Gay, Nigga!” wherein an unfortunate black poser in skinny jeans, white frames, and a flaring keffiyeh was set upon by two sweat-suited thugs wielding baseball bats. Gay bashing at its finest.

Gender-bending is nothing new–and extremely marketable–in black music, from Jimmy Scott’s reedy croak to Sly Stone’s glittery platforms and hemp-weave choker, Big Daddy Kane’s tangle of golden bangles to Snoop Dogg’s luxurious Persian cat full-lengths. Such girly signifiers are more about cocky peacocking than outright cross-dressing–African kingly to African-American blingy. (Although it’s interesting that there’s a concurrent movement among hip-hop’s women, with Janelle Monae’s android-androgynous ska suits and pompadour, Yo Majesty’s proud-dyke drop jeans, and Beyonce’s new jam “If I Were a Boy.”)

And getting a little fussy with your accessories certainly doesn’t mean you’re limp-wristed: just ask Prince, elfin queen of mascara, whose recent homophobic comments to the New Yorker (since clumsily retracted) proved that the naughty bits of 1999 were all a put-on. In fact, it was Andre 3000 of OutKast’s re-Princeification of hip-hop in the early aughts that opened the current door to more sexually ambiguous expressions–the softer side of rap, if you will. And he’s more man than a thousand downlow Fiddies. I’m speaking hypothetically, of course.

What’s different now is that hip-hop hipsters like Pharrell may not be slinging aspirational women’s apparel for the freak effect alone–they’re comfy with their options… And if you gotta haul outfits, you might as well do it with Hermès.

As hip-hop moves farther away from the hard-edged hoodrat-ness of gangsta rap into the more fluorescent realms of electro and prog-rock indie, of course it’ll ditch the dead-end Rocawear aesthetic and explore more timely duds. Good for it, and for us. Time to call an 8XL t-shirt a dress and move on, sucka. Text me when Ludacris flashes his satin butt-floss.