Five questions with author Dr. Lauron Kehrer

Posted by Sara Volmering on

Imagine the climax of a film without weeping strings and booming percussion to ratchet up the tension and prick our eyes with tears. Or a couple’s first dance without a song. Or sitting on hold in silence.

Music flows through many moments in life. It’s also a critical component in many cultures, which makes the study of how music works and what it means so important.

We recently chatted with author and musicologist Dr. Lauron Kehrer about their research and new book, “Queer Voices in Hip Hop: Cultures, Communities, and Contemporary Performance.”

Dr. Lauron Kehrer will give a book talk at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 31, in Waldo Library.

Register for the book talk

Read more about Dr. Kehrer’s research in the interview below.

Q&A with Dr. Lauron Kehrer

How would you describe musicology to someone outside of the field?

Musicology, at its most basic level, is the analytical and research-based (rather than applied) study of music. Musicologists are interested in understanding how music works as well as the historical, social, political, and cultural contexts and implications of all kinds of music.

Traditionally, musicologists use methodologies aligned with the humanities, such as close reading of scores and texts and archival work, while ethnomusicologists tend to use methodologies focused on ethnography. I use methodologies from both fields.

What inspired you to write “Queer Voices in Hip Hop?”

I was inspired while doing research for an earlier project on women’s music and queer women’s communities. While doing fieldwork at the now-defunct Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in the early 2000s, I was really taken by the performers at the dedicated hip hop day stages, in large part because growing up I had always been told hip hop is inherently misogynistic and homophobic. How could that be true when hip hop was everywhere and here were queer women making this music for largely queer audiences? So, I sought to understand other ways that queerness is embedded not only in contemporary hip hop but also at the genre’s very foundations.

How did you approach your research into this topic?

I approached it as both an insider and an outsider. I am an insider as a queer, gender non-conforming person seeking cultural expressions and music that reflects my experiences. I’m also an outsider as a white scholar working on a Black music genre, and my approach was to be aware of my status as a guest in this genre and while being aware of my whiteness, de-center it as best as I could. In my scholarship on Black music, I privilege frameworks and examples by Black queer and trans scholars and artists and pay particular attention to the intersections of race, gender, and sexuality.

Did any of your discoveries surprise you?

When I first started this work almost ten years ago, I was surprised to discover just how many openly queer and trans rappers and hip hop musicians there were and how far back we can trace queer and trans involvement in hip hop. The only reason this was surprising is because it countered the narratives that I had always been told about the genre. That it is inherently homophobic, and that each queer artist working in the genre was either closeted or was working largely in isolation from other queer musicians.

Realizing that this was a false narrative compelled me to frame my book around the idea that queer rappers are not anomalies, and that they are connected not only to hip hop from its beginnings but also to longer lineages of Black queer music-making practices.

What’s one thing you’d like people attending your talk to take away?

Queer and trans artists in hip hop are not anomalies nor are they new. They have been crucial to hip hop from its earliest stages and are connected to longer lineages of Black queer music-making practices.