Frank Ocean’s brave decision in the macho world of urban music
In the über-macho and hetero-centric world of urban music, particularly in hip-hop, coming out as gay or bisexual isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence. So Frank Ocean’s decision to publish a heartfelt open letter on his Tumblr site this week revealing that his first love was in fact a man has significant implications.
A member of the divisive hip-hop collective Odd Future, the R&B singer has taken the step at an extremely significant period of his relatively new career. Whilst regarded as incredibly talented and edgy as a vocalist, writer and producer, having received unanimous acclaim from his peers, tastemakers and music enthusiasts alike, Ocean is yet to release his debut album proper.
And while he has worked with the likes of Kanye West and Beyonce and came second on the BBC’s influential Sound Of 2012 list, the 24-year-old has not yet fully cemented his place as a musician universally recognised in the public eye. Therefore such a direct and unusual move carries even more potential risk to an artist in many ways still in the launching process of their career.
However on the morning of the 4 July, a post appeared on Ocean’s blog that was initially intended to be included in the sleeve of his forthcoming album. It said:
“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. Sleep I would often share with him. By the time I realised 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.”
Ocean went on to reveal the unrequited nature of the love, and that he had kept in touch with the man “because I couldn’t imagine keeping up my life without him. I struggled to master myself and my emotions. I wasn’t always successful.”
He then concluded: “To my first love, I’m grateful for you. Grateful that even though it wasn’t what I hoped for and even though it was never enough, it was.”
While there have been examples of continued homophobia across the web in response, the prevailing reaction has been overwhelmingly positive, hailing Ocean’s decision as a landmark for black music, making him “the first star of the hip-hop generation to come out of the closet”.
As well as these implications, the public response to the letter symbolises to me the sense that there is a growing need for genuine truth in today’s world, particularly where so much is constructed by the media.
That rather than being perceived as weak or something to be afraid of, exhibiting vulnerability and uncensored candidness, particularly for a man, is something that takes incredible courage and strength.
And it’s this unapologetic authenticity that really connects I think, because it’s coming from the heart. It’s not aimed at the part of you that aspires to be something you’re not, and thinks you should be.
So as well as undoubtedly serving as a hugely significant socio-political statement, I think on a human level, that is what makes Frank Ocean’s letter a particularly powerful and humble gesture of unity: its honesty.Tagged in: BBC’s influential Sound Of 2012, frank ocean, gay, hip hop, homophobia, music, Odd Future, rap, sexuality, tumblr
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