Friday, August 22, 2008

The Brief and Wonderous Life of No Homo

Dipset's Juelz Santana coined the ubiquitous term "No Homo" in 2003's "Santana's Town" when he proclaimed "no homo but they cocking them/Four-fos and glocks and them." 5 years later and "No Homo" is still going strong and is practically a movement onto itself (especially if you've been around teenage boys at all in the last 5 years). People have been trying to understand the "No Homo" phenomenon and now Hip-Hop blogger Jay Smooth of is weighing in on the matter. Jay recently released a new clip called "A Beginners Guide to No Homo" where he attempts to breaks down the origin and meaning of the phrase "No Homo," for those who may have been living under a rock. Check out the clip...

As always Jay Smooth is funny as hell and does an excellent job pointing out just how stupid and out of control the "No Homo" phenomenon has gotten in both hip-hop culture.

While I agree with Jay Smooth's points, I definitely think that their is more to the "No Homo" phenomenon than meets the eye. The phrase is often used to demonstrate hip-hop's rampant homophobia, and while I agree that saying "No Homo" every five seconds might qualify as homophobic, I think it is more complex than that and deserves serious scholarly interest and attention. I think it is interesting to consider the time frame when the phrase "No Homo" really gained popularity in hip hop culture. In 2003 and particularly 2004 with the release of J.L. King's On the Down Low, black men and their sexuality became subjects of national inquiry. Perhaps, "No Homo" gained momentum as a form of backlash against this inquiry. That doesn't make "No Homo" any less homophobic, but I think it gives us an appropriate context in which to consider the popularity of the phrase "No Homo" among young Black and Latino men involved in hip hop culture

Oprah and J.L. King basically set up a witch-hunt to smoke out brothers on the DL, offering paranoid girlfriends, wives, and causal observers 10 ways to spot a man on the DL. Check out J.L. King's website, breeding suspicion and fear is his bread and butter.

At the height of a cultural moment when anything could be used to prove that you're on the DL, the development of a defense mechanism like "No Homo" seemed almost inevitable. Throw in all the time, money, and marketing going into creating hypermasculine imagery, and the almost exclusively male atmosphere in hip-hop and there you have it..."No Homo."

There are actually some scholars doing interesting work on homoerotism and homosociality within hip-hop culture. I saw two excellent panel presentations at the Race, Sex, Power: New Movements in Black and Latino/a Sexuality conference at University Illinois-Chicago this past April.

Antonia Randolph, Assistant Professor of Black American Studies at University of Delaware, presented a paper entitled “Stuntin’ Like My Daddy”: Managing Homosocial Intimacy Through Speaking Homophobia In Hip-Hop Culture, that explored hip-hop culture's possessive investment in Lil Wayne and Baby's heterosexuality and (hyper)masculinity.

Randolph argued that despite evidence that might point to a homosexual relationship between rappers Lil Wayne and Baby, the hip-hop community and segments of the Black community cannot afford to cast aside these two successful young Black men from New Orleans and are actively attempting to recoup the duos heterosexuality and masculinity. What is important is not whether Baby and Lil Wayne are or are not in a sexual relationship, but the way that the hip-hop community, more so than the two rappers, are invested in protecting Baby and Lil Wayne's heterosexuality in order to deploy them as "positive" and "successful" role models of Black masculinity.

Laurence Ralph, a Ph.D. student in the department of anthropology at the University of Chicago, presented a conference paper entitled Out of the Closet, in the Club with Kells: Homophobia and Homoeroticism in Hip-hop.

Ralph's presentation explored homoerotism in R. Kelly's lyrics particularly in his song "I'm a Flirt," featuring rappers T-Pain and T.I. Ralph argued that what the song demonstates is a climate of oneupmanship and male compitition in which men are the objects of attention and women serve as the conduits for that attention. For instance, he argued that T.I.'s lyrics where he describes how and what he will do to another man's woman serves as a homoerotic moment where T.I. is inviting other men to recognize and admire his sexual prowess. T.I. is demonstrating that prowess not for the benefit of his female sexual partner but for an unknown male spectator. Many times in hip-hop's more sexualized lyrics we see that women are not the targets for those lyrics, but instead they are often directed at other men.

I think that by moving away from a position that solely critiques hip-hop for being homophobic, misogynistic and heterosexist, we can see the ways in which alternative gender norms and sexualities are performed in hip-hop. Randolph and Ralph's work make way for productive conversations and analysis of queer agency within hip-hop while also allowing us to critique the things that need critiquing.

Does anyone else know anybody who is doing interesting work on queerness, homoeroticism, or homosociality in hip-hop?

In the meantime, enjoy this clip from Boondocks, that lampoons the unspoken homoeroticism in hip-hop ...

1 comment:

Antonia Randolph said...

Thanks for the shout out. I'd love to stay in conversation with you (and ya'll out there) about how to queer the study of hip-hop.