The use of the phrase “no homo” in hip-hop music was analyzed recently in “Does This Purple Mink Make Me Look Gay?” by Jonah Weiner, a pop critic for Slate.com.
The phrase has been around since the 1990s and is invoked whenever a person wants to make it clear that what he or she just said was not meant to have a gay connotation, despite what it may sound like.
According to the article, a recent example of the phrase occurs in a new Jay-Z song titled “Run This Town” in which Kanye West, the featured guest on the single, utters the following: “It’s crazy how you can go from being Joe Blow to everybody on your dick—no homo.”
The author of the Slate article weaves a tale of how use of the phrase has a progressive slant, even if it may not be readily apparent to a casual observer (much like myself):
“Beyond this, there’s a sense in which no homo, rather than limiting self-expression in hip-hop, actually helps to expand it. We see this play out in the rhymes and personas of the term’s most famous practitioners. Cam’ron and the Diplomats are, ironically, among the most homoerotic MCs in rap. They wear pink and purple furs and brag regularly about how good they look … When these rappers say “no homo,” it can seem a bit like a gentleman’s agreement, nodding to the status quo while smuggling in a fuller, less hamstrung notion of masculinity. This is still a concession to homophobia, but one that enables a less rigid definition of the hip-hop self than we’ve seen before. It’s far from a coup, but, in a way, it’s progress.”
I find this assessment a stretch at best, but hopeful if even half true. I found some discussion of it online in the LGBT blogs Queerty and Band of Thebes. However, an article about it on New York magazine’s web site provided my favorite response:
“To call this progress might also be premature. After all, getting playful with gay-sounding phrases isn’t the same as winking at gays. Wordplay is what rappers do, and, in this case, they’re still doing it to explicitly call out what is “gay.” In a sense, “no homo” is just a more evolved way of calling someone a “faggot” — and evolved partly in that it’s more clever.”
Couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m glad to see this kind of discussion about LGBT-related word usage in the mainstream media—it would be nice to see more of it.