PeaceOut festival brings homo-hop to the world
by Kwan Booth
In the seven years since its inception, the PeaceOut festival has come a long way. When the small group of LGBT hip-hop performers and fans gathered together in Oakland's deFremery Park in 2001, no one knew that it would be the start of a global movement.
But that's exactly what happened. When the annual PeaceOut World Homo Hop Festival touches down at Oakland's 21 Grand this Saturday night, September 22, the event promises to showcase a more mature scene, one with a steady and expanding worldwide audience.
"It's important as a symbol," said Juba Kalamka, the festival's director, reflecting on the importance of the event. "There needs to be a safe space for out queer performance."
Before PeaceOut, gay artists were often made to grin and bear it as straight performers took center stage. Because of this, Kalamka said that he was initially reluctant when promoter Pete King approached him with the idea of organizing a hip-hop addition to the East Bay Pride celebration that he used to produce.
"I wasn't interested in booking some straight performer for $15,000 that gay people happened to like. Not when there are so many talented queer performers," recalled Kalamka, a founding member of Deep Dickollective.
But with the help of a network of artists and organizers, PeaceOut has grown to include companion festivals in New York, Atlanta, and London while the larger homo-hop movement has been steadily gaining strength and challenging convention.
The 2005 documentary Pick up the Mic brought queer hip-hop to audiences around the world. Web sites like http://www.Gayhiphop.com, http://www.Lesbianhiphop.com, and http://www.Phat-family.org have provided a digital meeting place for fans. And following Kalamka's lead, other promoters have begun organizing events, such as San Diego's HomoRevolution, the first touring homo-hop festival, with 10 stops throughout the Southwest.
"It's great for the exposure for artists and it allows the community to be aware" said lesbian rapper JenRo of South San Francisco. She added that as the culture grows it provides "an outlet for you to feel safe as a gay artist or an artist of color or female."
With their newfound visibility, gay hip-hoppers have begun to challenge the system and gain new respect. Los Angeles "Gayngsta rapper" Deadlee made headlines in January after calling out 50 Cent, Eminem, and DMX on homophobic lyrics. Earlier this month, Common, a hip-hop star known both for his positive lyrics and anti-gay remarks, issued an apology to the LGBT community and vowed to erase negative comments from his music.
Still, for all the advances, artists say there is still a long way to go. Getting respect and recognition is still no picnic. "The grind is harder being a queer artist," said Jen-Ro, who tours regularly and is set to release her second album, My Window, later this year.
Kalamka said that he regularly receives e-mails from young queer rappers looking for advice on breaking into the industry and while some find fan bases online, "There are a zillion out gay rappers, but not many of them have a context outside of MySpace."
But while the scene is still maturing and mainstream success remains elusive, Saturday's show – with performances by Julie Fucking Potter, NaR, Jen-Ro, Katastrophe, Deep Dickollective, DJ Blackinthelight, and Dutchboy among others – serves as further evidence that homo-hop is here to stay.
21 Grand is located at 416 25th Street in Oakland. For more information on Saturday's festival, visit http://www.peaceoutfestival.com.