Stop the press: A mainstream, black, male artist in hip-hop revealed his first love was with a man. Only weeks before the release of Frank Ocean's debut solo album on Def Jam, Channel Orange, he opened up about his sexuality via Tumblr. A huge risk for the member of the edgy hip-hop group Odd Future -- admitting you are anything but heterosexual and ultra-masculine in hip-hop normally equates career suicide, which is what makes the 24-year-old's admission so powerful -- his honesty is more important than the album sales.
Only an hour into Independence Day, Ocean posted: "Four summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together. Every day almost, and on the day we were together, time would glide. Most of the day I'd see him, and his smile. By the time I realized I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless." He described a deep love that forever changed him, staying with the singer-songwriter for years. Ocean added, "I don't have secrets I need kept anymore... I feel like a free man."
The glory of Ocean's "coming out," is that he never used the words "gay" or "bisexual." The New Orleans native only described love between two people. His choice of language was paramount: Sexual orientation must be acknowledged beyond the labels and above the groin. For many in the LGBT community, our understanding of sexual identity was not the first time we had sex, but the first time we experienced a heart-shaking kiss, the first time we waited all day for a phone call from that special person or the first time we fell in love. In possibly the best written "coming out" statement in social media, Frank Ocean eloquently expressed the staying power and beauty of love.
Ocean's freedom is a watershed moment that even he may not realize. It is not as if there weren't or aren't any gays in R&B or hip-hop. You can be a child molester or abuse women in the sex-filled genre of music and still maintain an award-winning career. But, gay? That has always been the kiss of death. Luther Vandross: The king of modern R&B was forced into a life of secrecy, fearing he would lose his fan-base and career if he stated the obvious. The insanely talented Tevin Campbell: The sole reason why he wasn't the star he should've become was because of the persistent -- and hard to deny -- gay rumors. The endless and hypocritical gay men in the gospel music industry, damning the LGBT community to the hell, yet living in their own internal hell of paranoia and fiery insecurities. Think of how many great talents the public never got to know simply because of their sexuality.
Male artists in R&B and hip-hop use masculinity as their number one marketing tool. For some in the black community, masculinity and gay are an impossible pairing. Everyone from Johnny Gill to Q-Tip to Diddy to Ne-Yo fought off gay rumors -- often times with disgust, whining about the accusations as if someone called them an infidel, terrorist or murderer. Most of them are in fear of a dip in record sales or grappling with their own homophobia. As I've proclaimed for years: The first person, especially black male, to come out in mainstream hip-hop or R&B will make history, garner a firestorm of media attention (the kind of publicity you can't pay for) and stamped as "groundbreaking." In the last 10 years, when did a performer lose their career because they came out? Neil Patrick Harris, Wanda Sykes, Ricky Martin -- coming out gave them a professional resurgence. Frank Ocean is in the history books and if there is anything the LGBT community has proved, their support can make a star -- for example: Lady Gaga.
Why is this news? Because sadly, even today, being gay is still a revolutionary act. Ocean's "coming out" is plastered on every site from Gawker to BET to TMZ. No man before him has been anything but proudly hetero in this genre of music, especially on a major label. We are not post homophobia and being LGBT, black, male and in hip-hop is an unheard of identity. It's a new dawn and a long overdue day for hip-hop.
Mark my words: Frank Ocean admitting his sexual fluidity will not ruin his career. There will be a reward for his honesty. Living in his truth will make the doors swing open like they never did before. More people know his name than they did before Independence Day. Sure, the walk will not be easy. Ocean will be thrown into the spotlight for all things gay and hip-hop. He will be pigeonholed as the gay songwriter; it's a heavy burden and all eyes will be watching. Nonetheless, in the way of Elton John, Frank Ocean possesses the talent to dismiss the box of sexual orientation. He isn't a standard, oversexed R&B-pop dud. Ocean is armed with a ferocious voice, introspective lyrics and a mature musicality that I haven't heard from a young artist since early Luther Vandross. His admission reminds me of my favorite quote from the late, great James Baldwin, "You have to go the way your blood beats." Congrats to Frank Ocean for going the way his blood beats and making a courageous step.
Clay Cane is New York-based writer. You can follow him on Twitter.
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