Gay at the Heights of Hip Hop

In the tradition of E. Lynn Harris, an author from Detroit explores African-American homosexuality

etroit native Terrance Dean, who burst onto the literary scene with his memoir “Hiding in Hip-Hop,” returns with his first fiction effort, “Mogul” (Atria Books, $15). Set in the glamorous world of the music industry, “Mogul” tells the story of Aaron “Big A.T.” Tremble, a major hip hop producer and record label owner who doesn’t want the public to know he has sex with men. This modern day roman à clef will keep readers guessing about its real-life inspirations.

As June is both Black Music Month and Gay and Lesbian Pride Month, “Mogul” has the potential to spark needed conversations about a range of serious issues concerning women, gender, sexuality and ownership of Black culture and music. Dean recently spoke with B.L.A.C. about his new book.

The main character, Big A.T., is a man who is gay, but is unable to come out because he fears the repercussions both professionally and personally. What is the major message [of your book]?

First and foremost, writers are here to entertain and give people food for thought. Books should expose people to something that they may not have been exposed to or aware of. I wanted to bring forth a dialogue that is certainly missing in the Black and Brown communities around sex, sexuality and homophobia. Why is it difficult for someone of color to come out and why do so many men and women continue to hide and feel fearful?

Do you feel that the novel is an indictment of homophobia in hip hop or in the community or both?

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I think that hip hop is a reflection of the community. I think more men who are hiding should come forward, especially celebrities, because it would help so many people to understand and to have respect and dialogue. Because we are fearful of the unknown, so much miscommunication exists surrounding homosexuality in the Black community. This prevents people from coming out. This fear cripples us as a community. Because of our lack of honest discussion around sex and sexuality, we have disproportionate rates of HIV/AIDS, STDs and teen pregnancy. Why are we afraid to talk about sex and sexuality?

What I found particularly fascinating about the book was the way in which it highlighted the compromises of all kinds that individuals had to make to be successful in the music industry.

Absolutely right. I really wanted to show the reader that someone may be a mainstream artist or celebrity or producer, but that there are still consequences, repercussions, things that prevent that artist from doing what he or she desires.

Do you feel that the kind of homophobia experienced by the main character in the Black community and in corporate America affects the kind of music produced and marketed?

Very much so. We see it all the time within the community and in corporate America. Art imitates life. But it’s also about what’s popular at the time. Whatever is popular at the moment, the music industry wants to capitalize on that. We need to raise the consciousness of music, raise the consciousness of hip hop, but we can’t do that unless the fans allow the artist to be raised into their own consciousness. Room needs to be made in mainstream hip hop for more diverse artists to come forward.

Do you think there will ever be an out hip hop artist? Is the community ready for that?

Unfortunately, we haven’t seen a formula for an openly gay hip hop artist and the industry is not going to spend the money to develop someone where there is no proven formula. We have to change the image and the dialog around what a rapper is and that’s going to take some time and a lot of education. A lot of artists who are already out there, if they were to come out, they may lose some fans. But because they have already built a solid fan base, those who love their music will continue to support them.

So you think that someone who is already established could come out?

Yes, someone very brave, because you can’t deny that person as an artist. You love them. You bought and supported their music. What can you say about them now other than the fact that he sleeps with men or she sleeps with women?

A lot of your fans are women. Anything you want to say about the women characters in your book?

I really wanted to show female characters, particularly Kenya and Tracy, in powerful positions. And it was important to me to show women who were supportive of the main character, to show the dynamic of these relationships. A lot of times there is this myth that Black gay men do not like women or do not like Black women. I wanted to dispel that myth.

I also wanted to show, with as much honesty as I could, the relationship that Big A.T. has with his girlfriend and the kinds of betrayal and pain that she would have felt learning that she was in a relationship with a man who was not entirely honest with her about his sexuality. I wanted to show all of those dynamics in the hopes that women readers could see themselves in and identify with these characters.

Terrence Dean’s “Mogul” Book Signing
7 p.m.
June 24
Barnes and Noble
3120 Fairlane Dr., Allen Park
313-271-0688

XAVIER LIVERMON IS AN ASSISTANT PROFESSOR IN THE DEPARTMENT OF AFRICANA STUDIES AT WAYNE STATE UNIVERSITY.

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