Frank Ocean effect: What happens when a hip hop artist confesses same sex love?
By Lisa Respers France
Frank Ocean performs at the 2012 Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival at The Empire Polo in Indio, California
“Today is a big day for hip hop.”
When music impresario Russell Simmons penned those words and posted them Wednesday, he was not referring to a new album dropping or the debut of an exciting artist. He was talking about a male artist’s admission that his first love was a man.
“I am profoundly moved by the courage and honesty of Frank Ocean,” Simmons wrote on the site Global Grind. “Your decision to go public about your sexual orientation gives hope and light to so many young people still living in fear.”
Ocean, an up-and-coming R&B singer, recently posted on his Tumblr that the summer he was 19 years old he fell in love with a man.
“We spent that summer, and the summer after, together,” Ocean wrote. “Every day almost. And on the days we were together, time would glide. Most of the day I’d see him, and his smile.
“Sleep I would often share with him,” Ocean continued. “By the time I realized I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless. There was no escaping, no negotiating to the women I had been with, the ones I cared for and thought I was in love with.”
The revelation is significant given that it is unheard of in hip hop for male performers to admit to anything other than hardcore heterosexuality and all of the bravado that comes along with many female conquests.
And Ocean is a member of the hip hop collective Odd Future, whose co-founder, Tyler the Creator, has been accused in the past of being homophobic and taken to task for his use of a gay slur in his lyrics. (According to online music magazine NME, Tyler the Creator used a derogatory term for gays or a variation of that term more than 200 times on his album “Goblin.”)
But the rapper showed his support of Ocean via Twitter on Wednesday. He along with Simmons — who as the co-founder of Def Jam Records and brother of Run DMC member Joseph Simmons is considered one of the founders of hip hop — are not the only ones who hailed the singer for his openness.
Writer Dream Hampton wrote on Jay-Z’s site Life & Times: “You shared one of the most intimate things that ever happened to you — falling in love with someone who wasn’t brave enough to love you back. Your relieving yourself of your secret is as much about wanting to honestly connect as it is about exhibition. We are all made better by your decision to share publicly.”
Hampton noted that Ocean made his declaration the same week as the high-profile coming out of CNN reporter Anderson Cooper. And she touches on the accusations of homophobia that have long plagued hip hop, which has also taken shots for its misogyny.
“You’re a Black man in America whose star is on the rise, working in hip-hop and soul, where gender constructs are cartoonishly fixed,” Hampton wrote.
Terrance Dean, author of the 2008 book “Hiding in Hip-Hop: On the Downlow in the Entertainment Industry from Music to Hollywood,” penned an open letter regarding Ocean.
“I actually have been awaiting the day, counting down the hours and minutes as to when one of my friends, or past lovers, would be brave enough to come forward and make a public announcement (My inhale continues to expand),” Dean said. “But, it wasn’t one of them. No. It was someone younger. Much braver. An artist who isn’t hindered by the old relics of Hip Hop, or the entertainment school of, ‘Don’t you come out or it will ruin your career,’ and the record label politics.”
So is hip hop ready to be more inclusive of LGBTs?
It’s a question that is now being hotly debated.
The Los Angles Times called Ocean’s reveal “undoubtedly the glass ceiling moment for music. Especially black music, which has long been in desperate need of a voice like Ocean’s to break the layers of homophobia. ”
In it’s article “5 Things That Will Come Out of Frank Ocean’s Coming Out” the site All Hip Hop predicted that “Hip-Hop will be forced to cool off on the homophobia. The fact is, Hip-Hop has had gay people in it for a very, very long time. That is a fact and far truer than people care to admit. But, somehow, unlike the rest of the world, the Urban Music world has been slow to accept homosexuality.”
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