In the News…

by Cate

One of hip hop’s young Turks comes out of the closet.

While most of the American public was celebrating the country’s independence yesterday, Frank Ocean–member of Los Angeles hip hop collective, Odd Future–quietly stepped out of the closet. Ocean’s first full-length solo album Channel Orange is due for release on July 17th and to promote the album, the singer has been in the UK to meet with the British music press. Rumors concerning Ocean’s sexuality have been swirling since earlier this week when journalists confronted him over his use of male pronouns in songs which appeared to address his romantic past. Ocean’s answers were elusive but whispers about his sexuality persisted.

Rather than digging his heels into the ground and side-stepping discussions of his personal life, Frank took to his personal Tumblr page and wrote:

4 summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together. Everyday almost. And on the days we were together, time would glide. Most of the day I’d see him, and his smile. I’d hear his conversation and his silence … until it was time to sleep. Sleep I would often share with him. By the time I realized I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless. There was no escaping, no negotiating with the feeling. No choice. It was my first love, it changed my life. Back then, my mind would wander to the women I had been with, the ones I cared for and thought I was in love with. I reminisced about the sentimental songs I enjoyed as a teenager.. The ones I played when I experienced a girlfriend for the first time. I realized they were written in a language I did not speak yet. I realized too much, too quickly. Imagine being thrown from a plane. I wasn’t in a plane though. I was in a Nissan Maxima, the same one I packed up with bags and drove to Los Angeles in.

I sat there and told my friend how I felt. I wept as the words left my mouth. I grieved for them, knowing I could never take them back for myself. He patted my back. He said kind things. He did his best, but he wouldn’t admit the same. He had to go back inside soon. It was late and his girlfriend was waiting for him upstairs. He wouldn’t tell me the truth about his feelings for me for another 3 years. I felt like I’d only imagined reciprocity for years. Now imagine being thrown from a cliff. No, I wasn’t on a cliff, I was still in my car telling myself it was gonna be fine and to take deep breaths. I took the breaths and carried on. I kept up a peculiar friendship with him because I couldn’t imagine keeping up my life without him. I struggled to master myself and my emotions. I wasn’t always successful.

One could cynically argue that Frank Ocean’s disclosure of his bisexuality (or homosexuality–the labeling is still unclear) was a carefully timed stunt to drum up publicity for his forthcoming album but I disagree with this position. Or at the very least, I believe it to be irrelevant. Over the past few years, we have seen huge leaps forward for gay rights and gay visibility in American society but even today, hip hop remains one of the last bastions of deeply-entrenched homophobia. Artists like 50 Cent and Eminem have long histories of running their mouths off with anti-gay rhetoric and even Frank Ocean’s Odd Future bandmate Tyler the Creature has come under fire for his apparent fondness for the word “faggot.” As Brad Wete, writing on this topic for Complex notes, “folks are still using phrases like “Pause” and “No homo” to distance themselves from any statement that could even be perceived as leaning toward homosexuality.”

Sure, Jay-Z (no stranger to anti-gay lyrics himself) recently came out in favor of gay marriage but the hip hop world still has a long way to go before it is an environment hospitable to straight and gay artists alike.1 Gay and lesbian rappers and R&B singers are continually ghettoized within the confines of LGBT hip hop subcultures, while other suspected queer artists steadfastly deny their sexual orientation, despite obvious evidence to the contrary. A few hip hop/R&B stars have alluded to their bisexuality but more often than not, their sexual orientation is used as a marketing ploy–a kink to ensnare male audience members or solidify a reputation as a “bad girl.” While it’s great that bisexuality is gaining visibility, it is simultaneously dangerously regressive to use it as a taboo to be exploited for notoriety.

The truth of the matter is that we do not have any openly gay or bisexual figures in the hip hop community with high degrees of visibility. Given his high profile contributions to last year’s much-loved Jay-Z/Kanye collaboration, Watch the Throne, Ocean may just be the first. His album has received a groundswell of positive buzz and the reactions by hip hop’s luminaries to his revelation have been astoundingly supportive.

1. An aside: I will very rarely use this blog for political purposes, unless the topic at hand makes it utterly impossible to separate the musical element from the political one. With that in mind, I want to be very clear that this problem is not unique to the hip hop or black communities. Despite protestations to the contrary, the fact of the matter is that the entertainment world is extremely conservative in both the political and non-political connotations of the word. At the end of the day, the music industry will do whatever it believes (and whatever expensive focus groups and industry calculations predict) will sell. Right now, openly gay hip hop artists are untested and as such, the economic–as well as cultural–incentives to remain in the closet are strong. In light of this acknowledgment, it should be regarded as doubly admirable when someone like Ocean bucks the standard and comes out publicly.

Source: Frank Ocean’s Tumblr