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By Casey Arasa

 

Rapper Music Bear Tony Banks describes himself as a gay, black man with the fun of Missy Elliot, the swag of LL Cool J and the dance moves of Heavy D.

Born in Brooklyn in the early 80’s, he grew up during the golden era of hip-hop. Early on in his musical journey, Music Bear dreamed of being a vocalist. He sang in church and wrote R&B songs and poetry. As he matured, he found himself gravitating towards hip-hop.DSC4617

Despite the misogyny and homophobia that exists in hip-hop, he believes that at its core, hip-hop is love. He calls it soulful, empowering, fun, beautiful and caring. It’s the music industry that prizes money and cars and labels women as hoes that he blames. “Hate is a learned behavior. No one is born homophobic but when hip-hop artists spread that message to millions of people, it catches on and after being around for a few decades, it’s hard to break away from.”

“However, not impossible,” he adds. Music Bear is hoping to inspire change in the culture by staying true to who he is as a gay man and an artist. In his upcoming album, “Yes Homo,” he tackles issues like love, lust, partying, the state of hip-hop and police brutality. It’s meant to be a full depiction of what it means to be a black, gay, male, hip-hop artist in 2017.

His first single, “Static,” is out now. We spoke to him from his New York home.

What is like to be gay and black today?
To be black and gay in hip-hop today is as hard as it was in the 80’s, but things are changing. The next generation won’t care so much about who you sleep with. The young kids in the hip-hop community today are making superstars out of gender-bending artists and it’s very exciting. Everyone has a story to tell. I’m telling mine and I’m just so glad someone is listening.

Have you experienced racism in the gay community?
You can’t escape racism in 2017. It’s just easier to be more bold about it hiding behind a keyboard like in the gay apps. I’ve been called the N-word, Monkey, and more, and I’ve seen screen grabs of others conversations. It still occurs in the bars too. We have to continue to bring these issues and discussions to light in order to grow as a community of minorities.

Why is it important for you to address topics like police brutality in your music?
I talk about police brutality in my song, ‘Run’, featuring LGBT artists EarthTone and JwlB. I wrote that song at a time when there were many cases pending and lots of cops getting off. Black Lives Matter marches were in progress and I had to get my feelings out. It’s a really powerful house track that is getting great buzz in the UK. Coming soon to the US.

The first song from your upcoming Yes Homo is “Static”. What inspired the track?
I know too many people who stay in relationships that aren’t healthy. I was one of them a few years ago, but my ex and I are good now. When it comes to ‘Static,’ the writing of this track started, oddly enough, as a freestyle one very early morning while I was still half sleep. And I just kept writing as if someone I loved was doing me and themselves wrong and enough was enough. It was time to break free. It touches a lot of people and I am proud of that. Hopefully it helps someone.

Why did you decide to make it the first track off Yes Homo?
When I recorded the track, it felt right. It sat well with me and I felt that it was something people needed to hear as a national introduction to me finding myself as an artist. So far, so good.

Why did you name the album Yes Homo? Is it because people are surprised to learn you are, in fact, gay?

In hip-hop culture, it’s become normal to say, “No Homo” after saying something that may seem of a homosexual nature. Almost as a cover to boost ones masculinity. “Damn that test was hard…No Homo”. “I like that shirt…No Homo”. As if being gay is a bad thing. So I’m saying, “Yes Homo”. “Yes” to all things perceived as gay. “Yes” to loving who the hell you want. “Yes” to living your life. “Yes” to being free.

You’re not a stereotypical homo in that you don’t drink and you’re not into drama. Has that made it difficult for you to ingratiate yourself within the community?
I don’t believe that there is a stereotypical homo. That’s an image pushed by media that we know to be very one sided. We are all different and that’s what makes us a rich community of diverse people. But no, I don’t drink often and I’m not into drama. That would be me if I were straight too, but because the gay media often likes to push a certain image of what’s acceptable in the gay community, I do have to work harder to be accepted for my talents. You don’t see a lot of people like me in magazines and on TV. In those times I remind myself that my music is for everyone so I bring it to everyone from all walks of life. That’s the joy of being an artist.

You advise gay men to try something different every once in a while. Break from monotony. Cut the static. What new things are you trying this summer?
I’m working on becoming a DJ as well as a recording artist. Why not, right? The reason I say to try something different every once in a while is I want people who listen to my music and watch my videos to not be afraid to shake things up. You might just enjoy it! In fact, I know you will.

To learn more, visit https://www.musicbearonline.com. See Static at at https://youtu.be/af5besDFXHM

Follow on Facebook @ MusicBearTonyBanks/, Instagram @ musicbeartonyb/ and Twitter @ musicbeartonyb.

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