OUT AND PROUD: Rising star Dean Atta (PIC CREDIT: Naomi Woddis)
HIP HOP may have embraced white rappers like Eminem and the over-sexed Barbie doll that is Nicki Minaj but there’s still an empty void in the section marked ‘gay rapper’.
It was this controversial topic that formed the basis of BBC radio documentary No Homo: Hip Hop’s Last Taboo which aired last week.
The show featured openly-gay British spoken word poet Dean Atta as he tried to break the mould recording a track produced by the Artful Dodger.
Atta is no stranger to controversy. His poem Young, Black and Gay was posted on Grime Daily – the epicenter of the British rap scene – opening himself up to a community infamous for its homophobia.
Atta said: “If you search the word ‘gay’ on Grime Daily the only thing you get is me, so I am standing out here alone. The presenter, Georgia Lewis-Anderson, was looking for a gay rapper to help with her dissertation and I was the only name thrown her way and I am not a rapper. She asked if I would be up for doing the show and trying some rapping and I agreed. It was a challenge, something I had thought about, but never acted upon for all the reasons highlighted in the documentary. Hip hop is very macho, often misogynistic and even the most conscious of rappers throw in the N-word or negative references to women or being gay.
“So the documentary was far bigger than me. It was about an entire culture and asking why is it taking so long for there to be a gay rapper or if it will ever happen at all. If it has inspired someone, educated people or got the public talking then I think it’s done it’s job. Big up 1Xtra and the BBC. That’s taxpayer’s money well spent, I’d say.”
The 26-year-old, from north London, came out aged 15, and later went on to become the African Caribbean Society president at Sussex University.
Atta said: “It showed steps can be made and that you’ve got to give people credit – not every black person is homophobic.
“I think the truth is no one cares as long as you’re not rubbing it in their faces. People care more about whether you are good at what you do, if you’re a good person or a good friend.”
The young poet has won the respect of critics who have compared him to spoken word legend Gil Scott Heron. He won a Spirit of London Award in 2009 and soon after winning this accolade, the Damilola Taylor Trust who organize the awards show asked him to be creative director of the glitzy event.
Atta’s work is also in hot demand by prestigious institutions like Tate Britain. And in between conducting drama and poetry workshops he has found time to write and direct Queen Pokou, a play celebrating women on stage at The Albany later this month.
“I am not going out there looking for fans. I just want allies to stand next to me to push out positive messages” he said.
“That’s another reason why hip hop has never appealed to me because I don’t want to boast about being the greatest and have people scream my name. But if people like what I do knowing everything about me then, please, call yourself a fan,” said Atta.
He added: “Being compared to Gil Scott Heron is enormous especially after his death. He was an inspiration to many poets for being so fearless, someone who was never afraid to be political. It makes me humble because I don’t think I have earned that comparison yet, but I will just keep going on and being true to myself.”