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The Hip Hop Brand Is Evolving to Keep Pace With Cultural Changes

September 21st, 2013

How Hip Hop Has Embraced a New Generation That Is Mostly Pro-Gay
Last week, famous radio DJ Mister Cee of HOT 97 in New York came out as gay on air to Ebro Darden the program director, turning what many assumed would be his disgraceful resignation into a personal victory and a watershed moment for the genre. “The truth will set you free,” he said.

As a branding expert and a life-long Hip Hop fan, I also can relate because like Mister Cee—I am also gay. Mister Cee’s ‘Truth’ touched me powerfully on multiple fronts: as a professional, as a music fan and a proud gay single father raising a beautiful baby girl.

Any brand, even “Brand Hip Hop,” must express the inherent truth. When this happens, brands not only last—they thrive and become relevant. The brand of Hip Hop—which itself was revolutionary—is now undergoing an evolution, which will continue to keep the entire genre highly relevant well into the future. There is no doubt that Hip Hop’s power is reinforced by the authenticity of its co-creators and the ever-changing and vibrant tapestry of music that has quite literally covered the world.

It is no secret that Hip Hop culture has been notoriously homophobic, much to the dismay of many. When we learned about about Mister Cee, I started thinking about how Gay culture and Hip Hop music would influence each other. It became obvious that this is happening, and right now.

In the beginning, Hip Hop was born from protest in the Bronx, and these young men and women were able to speak openly and in depth about the realities of their own experiences in urban life. As the genre evolved, Hip Hop artists rendered an iconic hyper-masculine image as the ambassador of Hip Hop. Brilliant and savvy businessmen like 50 Cent created a worldwide audience for their persona that was also commercially palatable.

Just like Hip Hop, the “Gay Brand” so to speak, was born decades ago from the same repressed desire for self-expression. And just like Hip Hop is enjoyed in every corner of the world today, a rapidly increasing number of people from all over the world embrace and support those who are Gay.

Though there is still evidence of homophobia in Hip Hop, it is clear that worldwide, the new generations are almost entirely pro-gay. Hyper-masculinity is being replaced by humanity as celebrities connected to Hip Hop are using their influence to shun homophobia. For instance, T-Pain recently tweeted against his peers who did not want work with him because he had a gay assistant.

Frank Ocean, a celebrity R&B singer who came out as gay, received public support from Russell Simmons and Jay Z. The hyper-masculine brand positioning appears to be no longer in fashion.

So how are what I term ‘Brand Hip Hop’ and ‘Brand Gay’ coming together? And what exactly will the result be? Well, Snoop Lion (formerly Snoop Dog) has one answer that makes sense. In an interview recently, he said that people are learning how to live and get along more and accept people for whom they are and not bash them because they are different.

Hip Hop is evolving as a culture that tolerates and does not discriminate—a new, highly relevant and powerful brand position for the world. As a gay single father, I experience daily that Brand Gay is also evolving to encompass all that we are as human beings—that we are just as complex and capable as everyone else.

Fascinating to watch two powerful and distinct Brands—born on the fringes of society in a desire for expression for change—soften and blend into the mainstream. This co-influence will certainly widen the market for Hip Hop music, and help even more people accept those who identify as gay. Macklemore, a celebrity Hip Hop artist, is leading the way with his award-winning song, ‘Same Love’ that speaks against homophobia. He is a real pioneer, expressing the ever evolving and newly joined Brands of both Hip Hop and Gay.

With the vast reach of Hip Hop, the fact that Brand Gay is now included is a demonstration of Hip Hop’s vibrant and immutable power worldwide for many years to come.

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