“4 summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too.”
Those velvet words sound an introduction to what will be a young story of unrequited love: romance found, felt, proclaimed, and not returned. A saccharine-turned-sour tale, the same sad love song we’ve heard — and sung — over and over again.
But there’s something different about this one. It was written by a famous person. A famous R&B singer. A famous R&B singer, who by affiliation, credits, and cosigns is a music industry favorite on the high rise. A famous R&B singer, whose name is Christopher Breaux. You know him as Frank.
On July 4, 2012, Frank Ocean made a revelation: he had once loved a man. Through the 24-year-old’s Tumblr page, Ocean recounted the summer he fell in love, his struggle to accept his attraction toward the same sex, and how that affair, and those thereafter, would forever be etched in his memory.
Almost instantaneously — as expected in an era where social media may drive news more than, well, news — that letter spread. It crept to the top of Google searches, like “Frank Ocean gay.” It spun homophobic spats from Twitter followers who keyed in, “gay a__ b_tch,” and “how does it feel F____T?,” while others cited his announcement as a strategic marketing ploy to sell records and support the early release of his first studio album, channel ORANGE. It garnered celebrity support from Slaugtherhouse, Jay-Z (via dream hampton), 50 Cent, and Beyoncé, while other big names (as noted in this New York Times article) have remained hush.
Publicity, controversy, support, and dismissal alike, this was historic: a man’s humble admission combated the embedded machismo, skewed gender roles, and hypermasculinity of urban music with a single post.
But is it fair to assign the burden of sexual honesty and preference in hip-hop to Ocean? Is it acceptable to define him as the artist who made being gay in rap ok?
Ocean cannot be given the title of urban music’s homosexual mascot. (Bisexual, maybe?). He is hip hop, but his music is not rap. (Notable: iTunes’ early release of Ocean’s digital album classifies it as pop). It surpasses that. As the sole singer of alternative crew Odd Future, Ocean’s music is essential easy listening, circa 2012. His falsetto and simple crescendos offer a voice for love in an urban industry where R&B music simply does not sell without being laid over a pop track or accompanied by the rap star du jour. There is no fluff or fake floss evident. Just the same vulnerability and heartfelt proclamations that we too have felt, but may not always have had the ability to convey. It’s just music — not hip-hop, not rap, not R&B, not pop — just good music to listen to.
The black music machine (and community, for that matter) is one laced with murmurs of purported homosexuality, bisexuality, and down-low culture (Terrance Dean told us so). So many in it have been accused of unexpected love affairs, yet fail to come forth to confirm the validity of any same-sex claims. It is one that views being called gay as the ultimate insult and an attack on one’s credibility. It shields sexual orientation from being a topic of open discussion because executives, artists, and fans alike align it with offsetting a career halt. It, sadly, glamorizes no snitchin’ policies, ass shots, philandering, manufactured street tales, and “reality” television shows that do little to propel the business and culture. So, it may have been safe to say that Ocean’s TextEdit file would have signaled an insult to what can falsely be described as hip-hop today. Instead, it was an ardent stance against those pseudo-mores, whether Ocean intended it to be, or not.
Bottom line: he’s a talented, self-made artist. So stop there, and just listen. In hip-hop, where hypocrisy is taboo, don’t support the alleged while dismissing the open. Don’t follow every trend your rap idols sets but ignore them when they give Ocean a nod of approval. Don’t ignore that your favorite artist may be gay, but may not want to admit it (again, turn to Terrance Dean). Don’t turn your headphones down because Ocean’s “Forrest Gump” reveals that there’s a boy who runs (or ran) his mind. After all, he still makes songs for women.