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NEW YORK — A few minutes before 4 a.m. on March 30, police approached a car parked near West and Watts Streets in Greenwich Village, 10 blocks from radio station Hot 97’s offices on Hudson Street. Inside the car, Mister Cee, a legend in the hip-hop world; an associate executive producer behind Notorious B.I.G.’s debut album “Ready to Die,” and host of Hot 97.1’s “Throwback at Noon” hour, was receiving oral sex from a 20-year-old male, according to a police report filed that night.
Gayness and hip-hop music are like stone and flint, so the news took off. It also came at a time when fascination with black homophobia and sexuality is once again under the spotlight. Fresh scholarship shows that Malcolm X had his own gay past, while Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant is facing a $100,000 fine from the NBA for calling referee Bennie Adams a “faggot.”
Over the weekend after Mister Cee’s arrest, the news spread on the Internet like it can only on the Web. The fact that Mister Cee’s companion was dressed in drag that night only made writing blog headlines easier. By the following Monday morning, the story was in the tabloids (“‘Hot DJ caught with pants down,” howled The New York Post) and, inevitably, on radio.
Charlamagne Tha God, a host for the Breakfast Club at Power 105, Hot 97’s archrival, which is slightly behind in the ratings, half-heartedly told listeners that “prejudice is whack.” Then he went straight to work. He asked his DJ to play Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out” on loop. “Get a room, you nasty old man,” he said. He wondered if he should start calling Mister Cee Misses Cee.
“What do the gays say?” he asked. “‘Let’s keep it cute?’ ‘Let’s keep it cute out there!’”
The Breakfast Club welcomed calls about Mister Cee, and each caller offered his or her own flavors of homophobia. One listener talked about how hip-hop music was ruined for him whenever he wondered if there were gays behind it, while another caller said she thought Mister Cee was part of a larger industry-wide conspiracy. “If it’s run by gay men, they’re gonna pull in their little gay boyfriends,” the second caller, Monique, said. “The industry is controlled by the gays, so I think a lot more will be coming out soon.”
One of Charlamagne’s partners on the Breakfast Club, Angela Yee, underscored the idea that there are gays secretly lurking everywhere, impregnated with virus. “These guys that are in the closet and they then mess with us,” she said, “it puts everybody in danger. That’s it, just be out there.”
Later in the show, Charlamagne looked back at the morning’s broadcast. “I learned a lot about people,” he waxed, “And I think that we have a long way to go as a society until you guys start embracing others who are different from you. Prejudice is whack,” he said again. He reminded listeners that it was the 43rd anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, and asked them to carry the spirit of his work with them through the day.
With the Power 105 Breakfast Club done for the day, the gauntlet was thrown. Everyone at Mister Cee’s home radio station Hot 97 was put in the most awkward position: Do they come out and defend their longtime host, or do they avoid alienating listeners by disavowing their DJ?
“You want to come to the defense of someone who you like and you have a lot of respect for,” said one Hot 97 source. “That was a feeling a lot of people had, just noticing who was talking s--t, noticing who was making jokes that didn’t seem fair.”
So began one of New York’s strangest, most heated pitched media battles, which raged for several days on two of the city’s hottest radio stations.