VIDEO: Cazwell Mixes Middle-Eastern Studs And Stereotypes In “The Biscuit”
Cazwell just released the video for “The Biscuit,” his eighth (!) single off last year’s album Hard 2 B Fresh, and it features the Massachusetts-bred rapper and his backup dancers in some skimpy tanga briefs, heads covered in keffiyehs and tan-skinned, greased-up, jiggling butts on full-display. The song and video have a Middle Eastern flavor, with mizmar-sounding electronic horns provided by South African DJ Naaldekoker — the song is essentially Cazwell rapping over Naaldekoker’s track “Ek Smaak Jou.”
The video features Cazwell and his dancers gyrating in front of a green screen, images of pyramids, camels, cobras, a sphinx head and bullets flashing behind them. Cazwell wears a harness of shiny gold machine gun bullets, in addition to a number of campy headpieces. The video teeters between cultural appreciation and appropriation: its images reinforcing preconceptions of desert nomads, armed insurgents, and snake charmers while using bearded, Middle Eastern men as exotic eye-candy — all window-dressing for a song about butts and getting laid.
“We created a vibrant landscape that juxtaposes Middle-Eastern imagery with graphics that have come to be associated with internet art movements like Vaporwave and Seapunk,” says Cazwell. When asked whether he’s worried that the video might seem culturally insensitive, especially with regard to the bullets, Cazwell is blunt: “I’m almost always convinced I’m going to offend somebody with almost every video I drop. This one included, but it is never my goal.”
“This video is provocative,” says Sean Howell, the co-founder and CEO of Hornet, the gay dating app behind “The Biscuit.” He continues: “Cazwell is slapping us a bit in the face with this video. Cazwell entertains, breaks barriers, clashes stereotypes and for that, our users love him.” For Howell, the video not only reflects a cultural preconception about the Middle East, but also potentially draws attention to oppression gay and bisexual men face there.
Howell has a point; actual life for gay and bisexual Egyptian and Middle Eastern men isn’t all snake charming and belly dancing. Since 2013, there have been at least 77 LGBT people arrested by Egyptian police, a number of them reportedly located through gay and bi social apps like Grindr. In April 2015, an Egyptian court ruled that the nation had the right to block or deport any openly gay immigrants from their borders as a way to “protect public interest and religious and social values.”
Homophobia isn’t uniquely Egyptian either, as many other Middle Eastern countries lack any laws protecting the rights of gay and bisexual male couples to marry, raise children or live free from discrimination. Just last month, ISIS reportedly pushed two gay men to their deaths in an ancient Syrian city, Turkish police forces attacked marchers in a Pride parade and an ultra-orthodox Jewish fanatic stabbed six people at the Jerusalem LGBT Pride parade. More recently, a video of two men receiving homophobic abuse while holding hands in Jerusalem has gone viral.
But it’s also a mistake to reduce the experiences of gay and bi Middle Eastern men to these violent instances. Israel and Egypt both have a lively gay tourist scene, gay and bisexual social apps like Hornet continue to thrive among large followings in the Middle East, and recently openly gay Egyptian actor Omar Sharif Jr. discussed homosexuality in an a historic, first-of-its-kind interview on Egyptian television.
Meanwhile, the canon of biscuit-themed songs is more extensive thank you might think, with entries from Portishead (“Biscuit”), The White Stripes (“Ball and Biscuit”) and most recently Kacey Musgraves (“Biscuits“). And in case it wasn’t clear, the biscuit in Cazwell’s song refers both to the glistening butts in his video and to the “friendly” hazing ritual in which a group of boys jerk off on top of a biscuit (or cookie, or cracker). The rotten egg that finishes last has to eat the biscuit in front of everyone else. For an idea of the game’s cultural context, it’s the same game that Limp Bizkit probably named itself after.
(additional reporting by Daniel Villarreal)