Frank Ocean ‘comes out’ with release of new album

Frank Ocean performs new track ‘Bad Religion’ on America’s Jimmy Fallon Show © Getty Images

R&B star Frank Ocean has made history by coming out as bisexual. Now, his new album is being released. Will his honesty change a musical genre notorious for its homophobia?

Everything started with a pronoun. When R&B star Frank Ocean previewed his new album Orange Channel in June, bloggers noticed a few of its emotionally charged tracks were addressed not to a she, but a he.

Immediately, the internet was awash with rumours. Ocean decided to put the record straight.

In a heartfelt post on his Tumblr blog, he described a long summer when, at the age of 19, he fell hopelessly in love with a male friend. He discusses tearfully confessing his feelings – and being rejected. ‘It was my first love,’ he writes. ‘It changed my life.’

Words like ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual’ do not appear in the post, but the way Ocean has been shaped by his sexuality is clear. In any circumstance, the honesty would have been impressive. But what is really remarkable is that Ocean has come out in hip-hop – a world notorious for its homophobia.

When Ocean moved to LA from New Orleans in 2005, hatred towards gay people was a dominant theme in rap music, along with violence, power and women. Stars like Eminem and even Odd Future, – the hip-hop collective Ocean joined in 2009 – are renowned for gay-bashing lyrics. Given this hostile background, it is unsurprising that a male star in hip-hop or R&B has never been openly gay.

As music fans react to the revelations about Ocean’s sexuality, some of this hatred has been unsettlingly visible. But largely, the reception has been overwhelmingly positive. Huge industry names, including Beyoncé, Jay-Z and Odd Future’s Tyler, the Creator expressed their support.

Some people think the warm reception is an indication of a shift that has been happening already. It seems fitting that Ocean sang with Kanye West and Jay-Z on the Watch the Throne collaboration: both have spoken out against homophobia in rap, along with upcoming artists like Lil’ B and A$AP Rocky.

But how is the attention affecting Ocean himself? ‘I don’t have secrets I need to keep anymore,’ was his personal assessment. And it seems to have had a positive impact on his career, too. Yesterday, Orange Channel was released online to huge international attention and gushing reviews.

Out of the closet

For some fans, this provokes suspicion. They suggest the revelations may have been a cynical ploy, aimed at attracting more attention to Ocean’s new album. In the world of music, they say, it is record sales that matter – not sexuality.

Most, however, say his brave move deserves support and respect. Music, after all, is closely connected with personal life, and, by coming out, he has challenged harmful prejudices that hold back not just gay people, but hip-hop itself. He has given hope to millions struggling to come to terms with their sexuality.

You Decide

  1. Will Frank Ocean’s revelation spell the end for homophobia in rap music?
  2. Visible, respected homosexual role models make a big difference to beating prejudice against gay people. Do gay celebrities have a duty to help others by coming out?

Activities

  1. Compose a rap about something you once found difficult or painful to talk about.
  2. Research an individual who broke convention by going public with their sexuality. Write a short profile of them.

Some People Say...

“Sexuality is nothing to do with music.”

What do you think?

Q & A

So he’s really the first hip-hop star to come out?
It’s true. Although some people challenge the idea that Ocean is strictly in the world of hip-hop. Although he’s a big name in Odd Future, as a singer he falls more clearly into the R&B bracket. Some artists, like Public Enemy’s Chuck D, have suggested it would be more significant if a gangster rapper freely admitted to being gay.
Does this just apply to rap?
Absolutely not. Professional sports like football and rugby have a similar problem – a staggeringly tiny number of players are openly gay. And this week, too, American war correspondent Anderson Cooper also attracted praise for coming out. For him, it was important to set an example by showing he was proud of his sexuality. ‘There is value,’ he said, ‘In standing up and being counted.’

Word Watch

Tumblr
Tumblr is a popular blogging site, that lets users upload and create their own blogs. Today, it hosts over 60 million different users.
New Orleans
Frank Ocean moved out of New Orleans in 2005, when the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Fully 80% of the city was flooded in the disaster; over 1,500 people were killed, and many more left the city. Today, it has come a long way in recovering, and regaining its status as a vibrant melting pot of different cultures and musical influences.
Odd Future
Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA) is a hip-hop collective from Los Angeles. It has provoked a great deal of controversy for offensive lyrics that refer to extreme violence and hatred.
Lil B
Californian rapper Lil B (aka ‘The Based God’) rose to fame almost purely online. He is a curious figure compared to other artists: lots of his work parodies the conventions of hip-hop, yet critics are divided as to whether his music is the work of a brilliant genius or something rather different. Although he is straight, he recently released an album called I’m Gay (I’m Happy).

Subjects

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