Researched Analysis by Ben (WRTG 3020 – Fall 2010)
The Fashionable (but “No Homo”) Man: Masculinity and Sexuality in Hip Hop Sub-Culture
Many linguistic phrases delineate identities into categories of race, class and gender. These pop-cultural linguistic memes are part of a discourse revealing how modern notions of gender and sex have emerged. The phrase “no homo” is one of the more popular recent memes that communicates a burgeoning masculine identity crisis in a time where sexual identity and preference is at some points ambiguous and challenging to define. The phrase has become popular not just in the realm of hip-hop, where it originated, but also in print media and the modern lexicon. This is a response to the perception among certain male demographics that current means of self-expression, through music, fashion, or personal affinities, have become to similar to traditional representations of homosexuality or femininity. These similarities lead to misinterpretation of imagery, purpose and meaning in the form of fashion and, in the case of music and hip-hop, song lyrics that at points exude notions traditionally associated with homoeroticism and feminism.
The creation of the meme “no homo” reflexively attempts to assert the artist’s or person’s true intent while performing a display of identity that can be perceived as sexually ambiguous. More than that however, “No homo” represents an attempt at self-identification through homophobic tendencies that is a way of regaining the labels and image of heterosexuality and masculinity while performing acts that have traditionally flouted these designations.
In the Pink Coat: Fashion and Reclamation
Gender dynamics can be viewed through many different pre-conceived notions of the ideal form. Notions of sexual preference and gender can be ascertained through fashion and presentation. The “way we dress […] is a ritual of gender behavior” and “guide to perception” of the ‘users’ identity (Jhally). Male fashion today is very diverse and thus can communicate myriad different and often confusing notions of sexuality. Even color alone can be enough to raise suspicion of the true gender identity of a pop culture artist. The artist Cam’ron’s trademark is wearing a puffy pink coat. Although this could be an innocent enough mark of identity, it was highly scrutinized in the ultra-masculine world of hip-hop and seen as a girlish affectation. This notion of course is nothing new, and as early as the 1920’s “pink became the universal color of girls, the hue of the feminine, the antithesis of blue” (Brown).
With modern culture and expression abutting traditional modes of perception, Cam’ron coined the now popular phrase “No homo” and released an album of the same name. Using this kind of agency and notoriety instantly propelled the popularity of the term, especially in relation to ‘reclaiming’ fashion that may have once been seen as too feminine. The ‘no homo’ caveat, popularized by Cam’ron and his pink coat, is now a common notation in modern print and online media as well. In this picture shown in Maxim we see the rapper, Swizz Beats bedecked in a beaten leather vest with no undershirt. The caption notes the similarities between the rapper’s outfit and the costume of the biker in the Village People, but prefaces with a cautionary “no-homo”, lest the readers’ assumptions about the two be conflated. Another picture shows Kanye West dressed in high, if not avant-garde fashion. The editor of the blog where it appeared again felt it necessary to include the caveat that this post was –no homo-.
Thus ‘no homo’, coined by Cam’ron, has filled a niche with males looking to be expressive in ways that may compromise the artists self –esteem in relation to the masculinity or heterosexuality of his appearance. Fashion is not the only realm that no homo attempts to reclaim masculinity, in pop rap music too it is now seen as a necessity.
The Lyrical Genesis of No Homo
This crisis in masculine identity is borne out not just when rappers or males wear feminine clothing or dress in a ‘metrosexual’ fashion, but also when they alight themselves to overtly homosexual acts described vividly during the course of a song. West raps “its crazy how everyone can be on you’re dick-no homo” in his song “Run This Town Tonight” featuring Rhianna and Jay-z. The songs more telegraphed instances of resistance to homosexual connotation penetrated even the mainstream media, appearing on CNN and warranting a full article about the phenomena in the online magazine Slate. Rap as a genre is often stigmatized by violent and sexist lyrics. These are also often hyper-masculine, and represent the rapper in a dominant position of power. Often lyrics representative of life in the inner city “elevates everyday banalities to critical tests of black manhood” (Pinn). Because this idealized notion of manhood is such a critical subtext to many rap lyrics, it is also critical that elements of this idealized performance of gender is not confused in any way for weakness, femininity or homosexual preference.
All of these notions would undo the message meant to be conveyed through often times violent lyrics, that include references to sometimes homosexual behavior. The popular rapper Lil’ Wayne feels its necessary to put the ‘no homo’ coda on the lyrics, “money money money get a dollar and a dick […] got money out the ass no homo” in his song ambitions. In this case the phrase is inserted even with a lyrical meaning that is hard, if not impossible to parse. It seems that mentioning the words “dick” and “ass” in the same stanza is enough to warrant a no homo clarification. Thus the phrase is popular throughout the genre of rap and therefore in all pop-music as “Run This Town” reached number 2 on the Billboard hot one hundred. What began as a reassertion of “black manhood” has now become a popular linguistic tool among all men now used to clarify and reassert ones heterosexual identity. No-homo has evolved from a rap by-line to a pervasive meme in not just hip hop culture but also the broader sphere of popular culture.
(No) Homo Hominis: No Homo Outside of Hip-Hop
Words and phrases that hypocritically strain to refute any notion homosexuality are by no means limited to rap, or pop/hip-hop culture. Clumsy rejoinders ‘like I’m not gay” have been superseded however by what is possibly the most concise way of asserting one’s sexual preference. No Homo is used as a tool outside of the realms of Hip-Hop and black masculinity. The creation of the meme “no homo” also reflexively fills the niche that the modern ambiguities of media are inclined to produce. A simple Google image search of the phrase will produce pictures of shirtless men falling into what seems like three distinct categories: rappers, athletes, and hipsters.
All of these categories share one defining trait, a proclivity for male nudity. While often each seems to be using this trait as a means for different ends. Football posters demonstrate the strength or athleticism, the physical power meant as intimidation in a very violent and physical sport. Rappers seem to use the male form in much the same way. Musculature is indicative of power and strength. The hipster demographic seems to be going for something else entirely. Nihilism and irony perhaps, but there is really no definitive answer. Although these groups are somewhat disparate, a desire to maintain masculine heterosexuality is shared. And through the zeitgeist of google image tags, all of these groups are tied together. It is here that ‘no homo attempts to expand what is acceptable displays of heterosexual masculinity. The meme that was a defense of fashion and lyrics, now becomes a defense of the shirtless male, or shirtless masculine camaraderie, and takes meaning over and above what its initial purpose was. No Homo in this context is now a positive tool of reclaiming identity rather than the negative homophobic euphemism that first bolstered its popularity.
It could be argued that media in general has become hyper-sexualized and focused on the aesthetics of the human physical form. This has long been true in advertising and continues to be true in the realms of celebrity media and entertainment. Personalized web sites in the form of Facebook and myspace have brought added pressure on the individual to assert their human identity and emotions through images and text. Over sexualized imagery of men has sparked reflexive imagery and wordplay that espouses a kind of insecurity sex and gender identity. No Homo capitalizes on the insecure sexuality of male agents whose chief currency is the power of their masculine heterosexuality. It fills a niche where traditional notions of homosexual behavior and identity abut modern notions of fashion and pop-cultural presentation. The phrase has taken a life of its own, and evolved from a reassertion and clarification of an identity and become an emergent pop-cultural phrase found throughout male elements of the society. Whether a homophobic pushback, or a reclaiming of gender identity, no homo is an artifact of this culture’s attempt to reconcile the nebulous ambiguities of gender and sexuality.
Brown, Joe. “Pink is the Color That Can Make You Puke or Make You Feel Cuddly Inside.” San Francisco Chronicle. 16 Nov 2003.
Pinn, Anthony B. “’Gettin Grown’ Notes on Gangsta Rap Music and Notions of Black Manhood.” Journal of African American Studies 1.4 (2003): pp. 23-35.