How Censoring “No Homo” Will Help Hip-Hop
Listening to Hot 99.5 yesterday, I was interested to hear the radio station bleep out the latest trend in hip-hop homophobia: "no homo." "No homo," for the uninitiated, is a little piece of wordplay which works to neutralize any potentially "gay" interpretations of a rapper's lyrics. For a full review of the term, check out Bryan Safi's informative piece, above.
Recently, Hot 99.5 washed the term out of Kanye West's contribution to Jay-Z's "Run This Town." In the track, Kanye employs the phrase in order to insist that he does not regularly engage in gay orgies. "It's crazy how you can go from being Joe Blow," Kanye says. "To everybody on your dick—no homo."
Generally, radio censorship only inspires listeners to imagine the offensive term in their head. In the case of "no homo," however, bleeping may also serve a valuable and unintentionally hilarious function!
Apparently, bleeping out "no homo" has become pretty standard for radio stations. Recently, a poster on the IGN hip-hop message boards voiced his concern with no-no-homo radio programmers: "They bleeped out 'No homo'. What's that all about?" he writes. "No homo meaning, no gay intended. Why is that so wrong?
The IGN message board was an interesting place to raise the issue. At IGN, working "no homo" into a comment can cause a poster to be banned—unless the post is employing "no homo" in order to discuss "no homo" from a critical lens. This poster's critique amounted to an outright denial that "no homo" is a homophobic phrase. "Surely, stating that he doesn't mean anything gay by the line doesn't equate to anti-gay," he writes. "I think gays are over-protected. I really do. . . . I was banned for saying 'no homo' and I felt it was petty."
Another commenter concurs: "No homo," he writes, is "blanked out b/c it sounds Anti Gay even if the word isnt the true meaning."
Of course, the straight guy who types "no homo" with impunity isn't the best person to argue that "no homo" is unoffensive to gays. According to another IGN poster, "no homo" is "pretty wrong, kinda like saying i could go for a watermelon, 'no negro.'"
However, some more impartial "no homo" scholars have argued against the pure homophobia of the phrase. Kanye West, Slate's Jonah Weiner notes, has crusaded against homophobia in hip-hop when he's not telling everyone he's "no homo." Weiner goes on to argue that there may be a progressive lining to the term's anti-gay slur. "No homo" is "progress," Weiner writes, as it allows rappers to "smuggle in a fuller, less hamstrung notion of masculinity":
No homo . . . allows, implicitly, that rap is a place where gayness can in fact be expressed by the guy on the mic, not just scorned in others. In the very act of trying to "purify" an utterance of any gayness, after all, the no homo tag must contaminate it first—it's both a denial and a flashing neon arrow. This isn't to suggest that saying no homo is a radical act, but there's an appealing sense in which the phrase refuses to function as tidily as some of its boosters might like.
According to Weiner, the homophobia of "no homo" is somewhat mediated by the term's ability to incorporate traditionally "gay" or "feminine" sentiments into hip-hop's fold. The popularity of the phrase itself has even encouraged rappers to heighten the homoeroticism of their lyrics—in order to use "no homo" more. Weiner writes, "Often, no homo appears not just as a disclaimer but as a punch line, a See what I did there? that flaunts one's cleverness."
The radio censorship of the term poses a problem for rappers who have amped up their gay euphemisms in the name of "no homo." Writes one IGN commenter, "If they censor it, and someone hasn't heard it uncensored, doesn't that completely ruin the meaning?" In other words, when radio stations censor "no homo" following a rapper's intentionally homoerotic verse, won't that make rappers sound kind of, well, gay?
If the point of "no homo" is truly, as Weiner argues, to slowly make hip-hop less heteronormative, censoring "no homo" can only speed up the term's intended progress. Why not encourage rappers to express alternate interpretations of masculinity without an easily deconstructed verbal safety net? As for the commentators who profess that "no homo" truly has no relation to homophobia—if they're really OK with being gay, this form of censorship shouldn't chap their asses too much—no "no homo" necessary.