Various Artists: Queer Trax

Various Artists
Queer Trax

As much as I love hip-hop, it is something of a shame that it evolved the way it did. To wit: how is it that DMX can release a song like “Where the Hood At?” to national radio and television outlets and not be called to task on this kind of rampant, vicious homophobia?

“Last I heard, y’all niggaz was havin sex / With the SAME sex / I show no love, to homo thugs . . . How you gonna explain fuckin a man? / Even if we squashed the beef, I ain’t touchin ya hand. “

There’s something essentially insecure at the heart of many of the best MCs that causes them to brag and boast at an almost pathological level. The modern MC is a lone gunman, spitting rhymes against his foes, both real and imagined, and buffering his own esteem through constant favorable comparison to his forebears. The sad fact is that the MC, as the lynchpin of modern hip-hop culture, serves as a conduit for base prejudice as often as enlightened rhetoric.

Trax’s Queer Trax compilation, subtitled “Coming in Loud and Queer”, serves as an effective and inspirational corrective to the kind of corrosive sentiment found in too much of modern urban music. House music is urban music too, and what’s more, it owes as much to black musical culture as it does to anything else. House music and hip-hop share much of the same DNA in common, but history saw house music percolate up through the underground at the exact same time that hip-hop was expanding outward from New York and becoming a national phenomenon. House music never became the pop genre in America that it is in the rest of the world, and there’s some argument to be made that a great deal of the blame for this can be placed with the fact that hip-hop and house exploit very similar cultural niches. With hip-hop on the ascension, there was just no room for house to prosper in America. Almost two decades on and this situation hasn’t changed, although it should be noted that in most countries besides America house and hip-hop are perceived, and rightly so in my estimation, as being very closely intertwined.

But I digress.

House music was born out of the ashes of disco, and crossbred with funk, new-wave synth-pop, salsa and good old fashioned rock and roll in order to create a truly cross-cultural and stridently all-inclusive musical movement. At the heart of it all, however, was the gay community, which crossed ethnic lines and served as a common thread for so much of the early house culture. The black, white and Latino queers who embraced (and continue to embrace) house music served as a lynchpin for the burgeoning international community of house music, and this collection rightly and proudly celebrates the music’s diverse roots.

I am a bit confused as to whether the featured artists are all gay or whether these were merely tracks especially beloved of the DJs at the gay clubs of the mid-to-late ’80s. Regardless, there are any number of gems by stalwart producers and performers such as Robert Owens, Santos, Mr. Lee and even the legendary Frankie Knuckles. The latter contributes the album’s high point, “Bad Boy”, featuring a surprisingly blatant (but proudly defiant) lyric reminiscent of Donna Summers’ “Bad Girls”:

“Well you might call me a queer / Well you might call me a freak / But when you’re looking for pleasure / It’s me you want to meet.”

Of f the top of my head (and after an exhaustive search online), I can’t quite ascertain who did the vocal on that track — sounds like it might be Robert Owens but I don’t really know for sure. Regardless, it’s a refreshingly gay anthem, considering that most overtly gay house songs don’t have any actual reference to homosexuality in the way that overtly hetero anthems do.

The only thing that keeps this from being the absolutely superb compilation it could be, given the superb track listing, is the sub-par mixing by King D. The promotional material makes a point of announcing that the mix was recorded live on two turntables — which is actually something, in this age of Pro Tools and computer effects. But the problem is, this is nowhere near a professional quality mix. Doing a competent mix CD shouldn’t be that hard — my wife does it all the time — but the fact that it seems to be done so rarely is discouraging. If it’s a choice between an honestly mixed CD and a competently mixed CD, I’ll pick the competently mixed CD every day. That’s a shame, because if it had beem presented better, this would be a classic mix.