New gay club nights bring hip-hop out of the dark, into the bright lights

Hip-hop has a difficult relationship with gay culture – could a raft of new club nights fix that? Lemma Shehadi reports

With its macho posturing and aggressive lyrics, mainstream hip-hop has rarely been welcoming of homosexuality, whether it was the lyrics of Eminem in the early 2000s or past public proclamations by the likes of 50 Cent, The Game and others.

But there are signs that homophobia in rap may at last be going out of fashion, with two, new, gay hip-hop club nights launching in London next month. The events – which claim to be the UK's first pure hip-hop gay nights for several years – come as the urban music scene has been forced to readdress its attitude to homosexuality after acclaimed US songwriter Frank Ocean revealed that his first love was a man. The broadly positive response to Ocean's announcement earlier this year – rapper Jay-Z praised the "beauty and fearlessness" of his coming-out letter – has been seen as a watershed in a campaign to rid rap music of prejudice.

It's a Hard Cock Life, (HCL) – a pun on Jay-Z's hit "It's a Hard Knock Life" – opens in Dalston, east London, on 2 November. That comes just a day after the nearby relaunch of Pac Man, which originally opened in 2001 as the first gay club night to explicitly state it was playing hip-hop; it closed in 2006.

Pac Man's organiser, Q-Boy, the first openly gay UK rapper, said there were signs that hip-hop was returning to its radical roots: "When hip-hop started in the Seventies, it was political and creative, it served as a platform for black men in New York who weren't given a voice.

"In 1994 major companies bought all the independent labels, and started pushing gangsta rap. This became the mainstream, commercial form of rap you saw on MTV. All the earlier positivism was replaced by this very negative, very hostile form of gangsta rap."

It was this hostile tone that gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell confronted in 2001 when he helped lead protests against Eminem's first UK shows. "Hip-hop was caught in a homophobic time warp which damaged the brand and turned off a lot of fans," Tatchell says. "Frank Ocean's coming out and his renunciation of his homophobic past burst open hip-hop's closet door, making way for more neutral or gay-positive lyrics."

Q-Boy and HCL organiser Josh Cole believe that their nights are filling a growing gap in the market, as attitudes to towards rap change within the gay community, and vice versa.

But some argue that there remains a hostility towards the gay community within hip-hop circles. Tatchell believes that "the emergence of gay hip-hop clubs is a reaction to hostility from the hip-hop mainstream. Many gay hip-hop fans have felt unwelcome and unsafe at gigs".