Frank Ocean, solo rapper and member of Odd Future, has announced that he is either bisexual or gay. I’m saying that this is definitely what he is saying, unlike the NME who are almost sitting on the fence with the line ‘suggesting that he is gay or bisexual’ as if it’s so shocking. But actually, even though it wouldn’t be shocking normally, Ocean’s opening up is a huge step for urban music.
Ocean opened up on his Tumblr blog instead of posting the news on the sleevenotes to his upcoming album Channel Orange, saying that he his first love was a man when he was 19. His post, which is pretty tender and heartfelt, shows that Ocean is hopefully paving the way for other hip-hop stars to embrace homosexuality and bisexuality in a genre of music that has otherwise been dominated by homophobia, gangster attitudes and macho misogyny. Being highly ‘masculine’ and having control over women (usually in a sexual way) is the dominant image of gangster rap, and homosexuality has been frowned upon by that community for years (and that’s putting it nicely).
Of course, this announcement doesn’t necessarily mean that a whole host of rappers will be announcing their sexuality in the same way (although that would be amazing if Ocean has set a precedent and then the last taboo of urban music would finally be broken forever). But music and sexuality has always had something of an odd relationship and Ocean is not your regular rap star anyway: after all, he has his own way of making music and has told Def Jam where to stick it (despite collaborating with Jay-Z and Kanye West on their Watch the Throne album).
If Usher, or Kanye had come out as well then it would help to break down that wall even more – rap music cannot be the bastion of purely heterosexual people, after all. But absolutely nothing should be taken away from what Frank Ocean has done in this act, and the courage it must have taken for him to announce it knowing the prejudice that surrounds this issue. He may not change the attitudes of the ‘old guard’ of rap music, perhaps stuck in their old ways, but for a generation of rising rap stars listening to Ocean and being inspired, he might just be giving hope to those who think they have to hide their sexuality and who they are. For that he deserves a huge amount of respect.