Ask Fan Landers: Should I Stay in the Closet For the Sake of My Rap Career?
Are you a musician? Is your group having issues? Ask Fan Landers! Critic Jessica Hopper has played in and managed bands, toured internationally, booked shows, produced records, worked as a publicist, and is the author of The Girls' Guide to Rocking, a how-to for teen ladies. She is here to help you stop doing it wrong. Send your problems to her -- confidentiality is assured, unless you want to use your drama as a ticket to Internet microfame.
This isn't just a music question, but I hope that's OK. Since about a year ago I've been the hypeman for an better known MC. Not famous, but people know us in our region. He's gay, I'm bi. Neither of us are out really and I didn't know he was till we got on tour together. He's older and farther along getting established, he's got mixtapes. I do stuff on my own but people have been knowing me mostly since I joined with him. I know if we both came out people would think we are together and have "the gay MC" or "______'s gay hypeman" or with my name always overshadowed by him. At the same time, I am not about to be telling him not to. What do I do?
As a straight woman, I can't sit here and be like, "Everyone come out! It'll be cool! Don't sweat it!" because I don't know your city, life and scene and don't know what it would mean for you to be out. I really wish this didn't have to be a big deal for either you or your MC friend and I hope you both can soon be in situations or communities where your coming out is supported. I have real hope that Frank Ocean coming out (and Syd the Kid, Lady Sov, Latifah, et. al) presages an era.
Continuing to work with him once he is out is going to invariably put you at the frontline for queer visibility in hip-hop, even as a regional act. His coming out will very likely bring more attention to your and his work. Whatever he might lose in terms of close-minded fans (good riddance), he will quickly make up in gay fan base and those who are interested in supporting an out rapper, and by extension, his hypeman. So there is that.
The music press can be especially reductive about people's identities; not wanting to be labeled or having your sexuality dominate the conversation about your music is what keeps some musicians and MCs (at least the ones I know) in the closet. You may be overshadowed by you friend's news -- at least until you go solo and do something bigger or better.
If your collaborator isn't planning on issuing a press release/posting on Tumblr about it, and is simply planning on living his life in the open, you may not see any impact on your career at all or it might take a while to see a tangible effect. If you respect him -- which it sounds like you do, otherwise you would have just bolted -- and working with him is helping you foster a career and develop your skills, continue to work with him, regardless of what he chooses. It's an opportunity for you to work and get a name. The circumstances and music community in which you find yourself may change with his coming out, which could proffer different choices and professional opportunities. I would hang tight and see what comes out of it.