After denying ongoing rumors that he solicits trans prostitutes for sexual acts, an audio recording of one of those encounters was posted on the web in an effort to “out” Mister Cee, a popular DJ personality with a decades-long career at New York’s Hot 97 FM. One day after his resignation from the station, his boss Ebro compelled him to stay in place. During an on-air interview, Mister Cee was given the opportunity to share all and “come clean.”
Thoughtful discussion on this topic has focused on how prostitution as an illegal activity has been used to avoid dialogue about Mister Cee’s sexual identity, the shaming associated with engaging trans women, and the policing of masculinity. But I was personally fascinated with the on-air dialogue that took place between Mister Cee and Ebro, as it was a powerful, emotional display of brotherly love in the hyper-masculine, homophobic world of hip-hop.
Mister Cee’s role in shaping hip-hop has been paramount. Using his own music mixing skills and one of the nation’s most preeminent hip-hop radio stations as a platform, he is often credited for helping to launch the careers of rappers Big Daddy Kane and Notorious B.I.G. This is why his announcement of resignation earlier this week mattered so much; it would have been a major loss to the culture.
Mister Cee’s public “confession” and the subsequent HOT 97 support complicates hip-hop’s often one-sided understanding of manhood. Here was a moment in which a black man spoke openly about the challenges he faces in being comfortable in his own skin and cried as he did it. “I’m tired of trying to do something or be something that I am not,” Mister Cee said as his voice choked repeatedly. There to console him and encourage his vulnerability was – another man. Together, they addressed how haunting self-denial can be, particularly in communities of color where fear of rejection and alienation are ever-present. Mister Cee’s Caribbean ancestry adds another layer of complexity, as the two discussed.
While all the time reminding Mister Cee that his status as a hip-hop legend was solidified, Ebro pushed for honesty and transparency. It was then that we began to hear some of the reasons that keep men like Mister Cee in denial and compel them to live a lie. Stating that his family was his primary concern, he spoke about his role as a patriarch and fearing that he would lose financial sustainability. Street credibility and maintaining a “tough guy” image were also concerns for him.
Public therapeutic moments involving hip-hop icons are much more common today than in years past due to the popularity of reality television shows. Rapper DMX, for example, cried as he spoke of being a motherless child on an episode of VH1‘s “Couples Therapy” and reflected anger management issues on Iyanla Vanzant’s “Fix My Life” as he sought to reunite with his oldest son Xavier. But these moments often consist of a male rapper and a female listening ear. This public therapy session was different; it pushed against social norm.
Towards the end of Mister Cee and Ebro’s on-air conversation, DJ Funkmaster Flex joined the discussion and expressed that his concern for his comrade was so immense that he had lost sleep the night before. As he has done in times past, he was once again there to support his friend.
By inviting Mister Cee to withdraw his resignation and reminding him that hip-hop culture has evolved in the twenty years that he has been on the air, Ebro wanted to make it clear that more space was at the table. He was saying, essentially, that the cypher now included more people than in decades past.
It was powerful for safe space to have been created on a hip-hop platform for a man to share his fears, cry and be embraced by other men. The conversation was messy and reflected so much of the work still left to be done in our society, but it was a big moment in hip-hop because it pushed for something greater than acceptance. It pushed for freedom.
And that is exactly what hip-hop needs – freedom. Freedom to be more authentic and vulnerable.