DEEP DICKOLLECTIVE with BELLA DONNA and the AWAKENING, DJ NIK RED, SHANTE PARADIGM, JOHNNY DANGEROUS and CAZWELL on the South Stage (Church and Wood), Friday (June 22), 10 pm (show starts at 6). Free. www.pridetoronto.com. Rating: NNNNN
I'm one of those dykes who dig Deep Dick. Deepdickollective make me happy. Five out queer black men producing tight DIY hiphop about Essex Hemphill, dads, lovers and the international queer black diaspora to beats you can shake your ass to - are you kidding?
Mainstaging it for Pride Friday night on the South Stage, DDC launch their latest album, On Some Other, alongside an all-queer hiphop lineup that includes Toronto's own Belladonna and the Awakening and DJ Nik Red and New York and Chicago's Shante Paradigm, Johnny Dangerous and Cazwell. It feels like the DCC's pulling off the miraculous and impossible.
And it's not the first time for the miraculous. Since Juba Kalamka and Tim'm West founded the Deepdickollective after a chance meeting at a Bay Area screening of Marlon Riggs's landmark black gay film Tongues Untied in 2000, they've been at the centre of the homo-hop movement and launched Peace Out, a three-day festival of queer hiphop that's branched out into New York's Peace Out East and Peace Out UK.
Pick Up The Mic, Alex Hinton's documentary about queers in hiphop, in which the DDC had a prominent role, had a sold-out premier at the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival and was a fave at festivals internationally.
"There's no way I'd have believed you if you'd told me seven years ago I'd be doing this," says Kalamka on his land line at his east Oakland home way early Saturday morning, before his baby daughter wakes up and he has to make it to the studio.
Locally, Blockorama is at year 10 and taking up space on Church Street for the first time, moving to the parking lot outside the Beer Store. And as transphobic as it is, this year's Michigan Womyn's Music Festival has a lineup thick with independent queer-of-colour hiphop artists: D'Lo, Skim from L.A. and Brooklyn's Hanifah Walidah (ex of the early-90s Brooklyn Funk Essentials, now rocking a baldie and a fedora.) This ain't your mama's Indigo Girl.
So have queers in hiphop arrived? And what does "arrived" mean?
I came of age dancing in Club Manhattan's weekly jams in the late 90s, where underground heroes like DJ BlackKat brought hiphop and dancehall to an all queer and trans, mostly black crowd. We went to Manhattan's like we were searching for water, and found it. Hiphop in a queer-of-colour space was like church for us.
When the building next to the club collapsed, destroying both, in 2002, the party moved on: to BlackKat's nights at Tequila Lounge, the annual Pelau jump-ups at Caribana and smaller nights at the Concord Café.
So, like many queers of colour I know, I was surprised when Big Primpin', a mostly white West Queen West monthly queer night that spins hiphop, was hyped as the first queer hiphop club in Toronto a few years ago.
The 99 per cent white hipster scene for whom the music is often kooky and ironic isn't why or how I came to hiphop.
While I'm sure some folks who go to Big Primpin' genuinely love the music and culture of hiphop, I find the way the night has been hyped as "Toronto's first queer hiphop club" an insulting erasure of all the years of queers of colour throwing down and dancing at Toronto hiphop nights and being involved as MCs, DJs, b-boys and girls and producers in Toronto's hiphop communities.
It's an example of who gets to blow up and who gets overlooked - and who profits - when a despised culture suddenly becomes hip.
According to Kalamka, after Pick Up The Mic a lot of the artists involved thought major labels would come knocking but were disappointed. "MySpace is now flooded with gay hiphop artists, but like all of MySpace, some of them are good and a lot of them are bad.
"As loath as we are to admit it, queer consumers are just as sheeplike as straight people. The masses of them don't have a deconstructionist relation to capitalism any more than straight people do, and they're many times more vociferous and hungry for validation: 'Let's get on Will & Grace!' We've never been about that," says Kalamka.
He credits Deep Dickollective's continued success to their commitment to remaining community-based, underground artists and their creation of their own micro-label, SugarTruck Recordings (named after a passing older black man nodded at the DDC and said, "Mmm-mmm, looks like somebody just fell off the sugar truck") on which they self-release all their albums. Kalamka'd rather be the Ani DiFranco (or the Coup) of queer hiphop.
"In the long term, there's a lot more safety in creating a micro-economy to support the work than in depending on the machine to give you your five minutes of fame."
This is especially true for five out black queer men who talk about sexism, masculinity, homophobia and gender in their work - with flava .
"Someone asked me why we had this appeal with dyke and trans communities. I said, 'Honestly, it's because we're five guys who are trying not to be assholes, five minutes at a time. '"
Maybe it has something more to do with tracks like On Some Other's For Colored Boys, which sounds like Ntozake Shange's black poetic shout come three decades later with a cock ring and a refusal to erase queer black existence.
"There's no male equivalent to Michigan because men haven't had to care. If we had to depend on gay men for support, we wouldn't exist. Dykes and queer and trans people who've supported us, they're the communities who are doing politicized queer music and having their own issues."
As the baby wakes up in the other room, he pauses and says, "As long as people want to kill me for who I am, I'm going to be a black gay man."