Kudos Frank Ocean
Posted in Unearthed
How the Honesty of One Man Could Challenge and Change the Opinions of Millions
Note: This article is in response to this post Frank Ocean put on his Tumblr earlier this week, where he allegedly "came out"
I’m not black and I’m not a sociologist, but I don’t think I need to be either of those things to say that American pop culture has created a very rigid set of expectations for black males in this country. In many ways, at the root of these expectations are a very select set of individuals who often find themselves most in the public eye and most responsible for shaping public opinion of their brethren; hip-hop and R&B artists. As unfair as it may be, there is most definitely a huge chunk of American society that will forever see a young black man and think he must be just like Eazy-E or Ice Cube (but, you know, like NWA Ice Cube, not “Are We There Yet?” Ice Cube). The worlds of hip-hop and R&B have been dominated by the heterosexual black male, and the ideals of manhood these artists generally embody have become the ideals of manhood that so much of American male youth, black or white, aspires to. Whether much of society sees these examples and thusly expects the black male to be gangster or materialistic or chauvinistic or self-centered, the one thing they don’t expect is that he is homosexual.
I am not gay, but if I were I’d find it pretty easy to imagine that I would view the world of mainstream hip-hop and R&B as an outsider. I mean, you’ve seen the “Big Pimpin’” music video, right? Rap has always been about machismo; many of hip-hop history’s great feuds amount to little more than dick measuring contests, many rappers go to great lengths to assure us that they fuck an abundance of hot bitches, and many rappers do anything and everything they can to align themselves with the ruthless, power-hungry ideals of their culture’s established definition of manhood. Artists don’t have to buy into that scene, though, and while hip-hop in particular has never completely lacked those who don’t, I honestly can’t think of any hugely successful mainstream rapper who hasn’t. For my money A Tribe Called Quest is hands down the greatest rap group of all time and they thought all that pseudo-machismo posturing was silly way back in the early Nineties, but I wouldn’t quite call them hugely popular or commercially successful. Common has made it clear he respects women, but that hasn’t prevented him from objectifying them. The simple fact of the matter is that to be a mainstream success as a rapper or R&B artist it’s a damn near necessity to be overtly and obnoxiously heterosexual.
Well guess what? Frank Ocean isn’t. He’s gay. What’s most unique about this story is the fact that Frank is already an established star in his own right as an artist and within the world of hip-hop in particular as a featured guest. This is a member of Odd Future, the single hottest hip-hop outfit on planet Earth, and one of the most ruthless to boot. This is the guy that was featured on more tracks on Watch the Throne than anybody except Jay-Z and Kanye West. Watch the Throne, the most monumental album of its generation, the pairing of the two biggest stars in hip-hop, the two men who survived their culture’s trials and tests of manliness and emerged as THE alpha dogs. So what does it mean now that we know the artist they hand-picked to croon alongside them is gay? Does it change things? Does it invalidate Jay and Kanye’s claim to the throne? Does it undermine their alpha dog status? In a word, no. Why should it? If learning that Frank Ocean is gay changes any of your opinions other than whether or not you think you have a shot at going out with him then you need to seriously reevaluate your world view. So many people already knew about Frank Ocean, but now all of those people will be informed of this singular new piece of information about him. Will it change the way his fans see him? I hope it won’t, but I know that it shouldn’t.
As I write this, I naturally find myself listening to Frank’s excellent debut album nostalgia, ULTRA. When I hear a track like “Songs 4 Women,” I can’t help but wonder if Frank was all too aware of what he was expected to be as a black male R&B artist. In the piece he wrote which led to the revelation of his sexuality, Frank admits, as many gay men have, to having relationships with women in his youth. So, within that context, it’s easy to believe “Songs 4 Women,” is nothing but genuine, and far be it for me to assume anything about a guy I have never met, much less gotten to know. That said I can only imagine that since rising to fame the man, still just 24 years of age by the way, has felt a tremendous pressure to be a certain type of person, in particular a person who pulls a lot of women. How do you decide between being yourself and being the person people expect you to be? Especially when being the person people expect you to be could very well dictate the success of your career? I don’t think Frank Ocean ever went to any great lengths to portray himself as someone he wasn’t, but with his recent admission he has now assured himself that he’ll never have to worry about being anyone other than who he wants to be.
So kudos to Frank Ocean; I know he probably wasn’t trying to do anything other than be honest, but to be perfectly honest myself, I can’t think of a more important cultural moment in music in quite some time. With one honest admission, a single man has challenged an entire culture’s preconceptions of who he should be and given hope to the countless kids out there who have admired that culture but perhaps never felt like a part of it. There are a lot of people out there, I am sure, who liked Frank Ocean and now irrationally feel like they shouldn’t any longer. I hope those people think about what’s happening. I hope they don’t let senseless bigotry cloud their judgment. I hope they realize that Frank Ocean’s music is the same music it was a couple of days ago. I hope they realize Frank Ocean is still the same man he was a couple of days ago. More than anything else, though, I hope they realize that if they like Frank Ocean, and Frank Ocean is gay, maybe they don’t need to worry about whether or not someone is gay when they are deciding whether or not they like them.