Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Frankly homey, We ain't even Tripping

              How Hip-Hop Has Seemingly Accepted Frank Ocean's Sexuality Without Much Noise

Last week was a rather important one for the gay community. 

Well, that is probably absurd and unfair on the larger gay community, who are currently fighting savage battles against social and legal stigmatizations: it was probably only really important to those among us who still pride themselves in having strong ‘gaydar”’ and get their kicks from correctly guessing which public figure is going to come out of the closet next. I am referring, of course, to the public announcement of their homosexuality by two celebrities, if you will.

Earlier in the week, it had been revealed that CNN News Anchor Anderson Cooper had bluntly declared ‘Fact is: I’m Gay” in an e-mail to Andrew Sullivan of the Daily Beast. Oh, how the ladies wept! The general reaction, however, seemed more blasé than it has been in the past. Sentiments fell between the “Oh, I knew that: I thought he was out already!” and “Well, I didn’t know, but who cares?”; both which are a fantastic testimony to the gradual progress towards acceptance.

Before that dust had settled, issues regarding another celebrity’s sexuality hit the blogosphere harder than a kitten-in-a-tutu meme. This time,  rising R’n’ B singer Frank Ocean of the Hip-Hop/R N B ensemble Odd Future released an open letter on the social networking site Tumblr, explaining his sexuality and his first love being a male he met four years ago.

Granted, Frank is no Anderson. He is a virtual infant to fame that even several people within the Hip-Hop and R ‘n’ B community are only now getting to know his name. Anderson’s mainstream experience, charisma, and renowned mastery of his job would also make him just about immune from any possible backlash for ‘coming out’. At the risk of trivializing his plight, Anderson Cooper’s reputation and legacy are ‘safe’ at this stage, regardless of his sexual orientation.

On the other hand, Frank resonates strongly with adolescents, and the fact that he is one of two or so artists to feature on Hip Hop Icons Jay-Z and Kanye West’s collaborative hit album Watch the Throne last year proves that the community has definitely taken notice of his talent and presence.  However, he definitely has not been battle-tested by the notoriously homophobic R’n’B/Hip-Hop community: all he has a couple of hit songs to his name.

Notoriously homophobic, you ask? Now, I understand that comes across as a bit harsh, but what we have is a spade; let’s call it that. We’re talking about one of the last industries where the word ‘fag’ makes its rounds regularly, where (up until now), no one has come out, where Lil Wayne is forever maligned for perking his virtual stepdad on the lips, where ‘homo thugs’ is still the insult of choice: you get the picture. The Hip-Hop industry, although continually diversifying, is still very much synonymous with the black community. Thus, it should be no surprise that an industry growing out of a community where recent figures show that more than half the population does not support gay marriage would also lean in the same way direction.

All the odds would have pointed at young Frank’s decision as spelling the end of his fledgling career.
As fate would have it, however, the reaction from the fans and other artists has been surprisingly accepting. Hip Hop personalities, from Jay-Z and Beyonce, Russell Simmons to Lil Scrappy, Trina and Busta Rhymes have applauded Frank’s decision to come out, and at the very least allowed it to be. The most important endorsement, probably, has been from his fellow Odd Future members, who have previously come under fire for their apparently homophobic lyrics. Granted, several rappers have not spoken up either. In this case, however, we can assume that their silence is akin to an abstinent vote which, coupled with the positive of those who have spoken, still favors Ocean's coming out.

So, what do we attribute Hip-Hop’s almost immediate acceptance of Frank’s sexuality to? I’ll draw on two main factors that I believe have played into the favorable reception.

1)    The evolution of Hip-Hop
As a genre and culture, Hip-Hop is a far-cry from the gritty lyricism and ‘gangsta’ image that was once synonymous with it. Whether it was NWA screaming out “F**k the Police” or Tupac and Biggie losing their lives over industry beef that manifested itself in East/West Coast animosity, the game has definitely seen its rougher days. For a while, it exclusively told the story of the inner-cities from which it was born. Granted, there were still the likes of Vanilla Ice, but their position was understandably a diversion from the hard-core material.

Today, however, Hip-Hop is a lot tamer sport.  The biggest artists right now aren’t necessarily ‘products of the gutter’, so to speak: the list of the game’s most prominent players include; a Cum-laudae college graduate (J Cole), a Canadian former teen drama star (Drake), and a long list of college educated, preppy dressing, middle income-raised individuals that might even include the likes of Kanye West. To be fair, the gritty edge and lyricism still exists: that’s a Hip-Hop narrative that can and will never die. We see it in the likes of Meek Mill, Jeezy and many others.

So what does this mean for homophobia in the Hip-Hop community? The game is no longer as one-track minded as it has been in the past. The story of the culture is now being told from several angles, thus making it more open. There was a time when ‘white boys’, former law-enforcers, and college graduates could not lay claim to being the best in the game; that times is past. So when Frank Ocean (and whoever will come out after him) steps out of the closet; he’ll be judged on the quality of his music and the one requirement that has never changed in Hip-Hop: ‘keeping it real’.

2)    Societal Shift
Oh, there is still a long way to go. Don’t let a presidential change of mind, and Brokeback Mountain’s popularity fool you for once. Still a lot of land to be tilled.

That said, it is safe to say that huge steps have been taken to bring about a legal and social paradigm shift in regards to sexual orientation. Images of church goers embracing members of the LGBT community that have made the internet rounds lately go to show how even sectors of the community that have been steadfastly and ideologically opposed to homosexuality are beginning to ‘live and let live.’ Independent as it may be, Hip-Hop culture does not exist in a bubble. The forces that drive society will eventually get to it too. The shifting discourse on sexual orientation is evidence.

Frank Ocean and others can rest easier (even if just a little easier) knowing that acceptance in the Hip-Hop community has taken some strides.

                                                                 Frank Ocean: Thinking About You

“Do you, and keep the music coming” B.S Mavima


Anonymous said...

Any culture that's still struggling with homophobia is obviously behind any culture that isn't.

I have been a hip-hop artist, just as I've been a punk-rock artist, before growing up to be a post punk artist, and finally a rock artist.

Race oriented differences are not what they once were.

They are no longer honest and human mistakes that change as we grow wiser.

One of the most awful racists operating right now is Bill maher...because he's not a racist. he's a smart pot-smoking liberal you know you can count if he says anything that sounds know it isn't...because it's Bill maher. You may even feel like its okay for you to repeat what he said...and you will.

Bill Maher went out of his way to associate Black people with dog-fighting among other things during the last few years. The media did a great job themselves with the Michael Vick story.

I would rather have seen Michael Vick shot on camera than be associated weith anyone who would defend him, and I certainly don't want to be associated with any culture that embraces dog fighting.

This is how HATE is created.

I'm half African American. My caucasian features were certainly more prominent when I had long hair, so I was never aware of racial seperation until the last five years.

This celebration, of Hip-hop fans not minding that someone is just as embarassing to me as a story that examines the connection between Black Americans and Homo-phobia.

If you repsect that other people are inherently expect them not to be homo-phobic. People who end up being homo-phobic tend to not be respected.

My point is that this issue deserves no attention whatsoever.

It is not a big deal that this artist is gay.

It's also not a big deal that no one complained.

by the end of George Bush's people were not recognised as Americans in this country...and I mean socially.

It got worse. This became accepted by everyone including black people...and now there are 2 Americas.

I'm an American. I'm 50 percent caucasian. I'm 50 percent black. The black America is something I want nothing to do with...because I'm a complete human being and I'll die before I'll let anyone make me feel that way.

I don't beleive in the one drop rule because no who does has ever been able to stand up to me.

This topic is embarassing, because intelligent people should have no trouble understanding homo-sexuality in 2012, no matter what assinine religious traditions remain to protect narrow-mindedness and stupidity.

To celebrate the fact that homo-phobia didn't prevent another post apocalyptic rap star from surfacing, BECAUSE you associate the fab base with homo-phobia is a mistake.

I had Public Enemy, Tribe Called Quest,Ice T, De La Soul, Gang Starr, Young ICE CUBE, NWA...It was part of youth culture, indistinguishable from Lollapalooza, Red-hop Chili-peppers, Nirvana, Jane's addiction, The pixies...then there were people like the beastie boys etc.

We were building a much better world before everything turned into this. Homo-phobia was dead when I was 19 years old. It's tragic to me, that there's even a question about this.

I felt the same way when Harold Ford was criticised for dating White Women. HE APPEARS TO BE AT LEAST 50 PERCENT CAUCASIAN HIMSELF!!!!!! IT'S 2012!!! HE'S BI-RACIAL!!!! IF he were with a black would STILL BE INTER-RACIAL!!!

People were not always so stupid. The early years of my young adult-hood were magical...because we were becoming better people.

I was just as pissed at "Ellen." (awful fiuckin sit-com)


Shingi Mavima said...

Thank you for your response, and you make some excellent points here.
Here is the part that troubles me a bit
"If you repsect that other people are inherently expect them not to be homo-phobic. People who end up being homo-phobic tend to not be respected.

My point is that this issue deserves no attention whatsoever.

It is not a big deal that this artist is gay.

It's also not a big deal that no one complained."

That is in an ideal world. The truth is, inherent intelligence or not, our society tends to be prejudiced-granted each era directs that prejudice in an ever-changing direction. Contrary to your claim, there have been homophobic people who have been able to maintain their respect in many communities. Do politicians who are anti-gay marriage still command a large following? Are there religious groups that are steadfastly against homosexuality? Are there states that still vote to limit gay rights? These groups are made up of people; from whence respect comes. So when you say 'tend not to be respected', that's wrong: because, clearly, if they have a following/membership- a lot of people respect em (for better or worse)
. That you and your community are enlightened enough to recognize the absurdity of homophobia is a great thing, but it would be a mistake to assume that it's all-round 'not a big deal'. It is ground-breaking.
Consider this example.People of color can lead- there have been plenty great leaders of color in history. For anyone to think they can't is ignorant. Does that take away from the iconic status of Barack Obama is the first non-white President? Of course not. Anytime we can pinpoint a shifting of the guard away from long-held prejudices, we ought to celebrate a victory over ignorance

Anonymous said...

I was actually laughing to myself about a response I posted to one of your articles about Africa and colonization. I was swept up in the vision I was trying to create and lost track of the details. When you reffered to meant Africa.

I don't know what the hell I meant...except that People are being manipulated, molded and situated by outside forces. I said "we" in refference to the human race. I felt i'd made a similar mistake here...for just a moment...but no.

My problem is speficity. I once had a teacher who told me that "in general" was the enemy of Art. I'll learn ...I swear.

What I should have said was: Homo-phobes tend to not be respected by educated, decent, civilized human beings.

I can't imagine wanting to know anyone who doesn't fit that description, so its easy for me to imagine that they don't matter.

They don't.

If everyone understood that ideal world as well as I would not look like such a fantasy.

I am terribley alone. I can tell you that there's nothing in this world BUT people, and that we're all connected. We are wrong to treat the world that I imagine as a fantasy. We should treat it as a work in progress.

Would you honestly be bothered in the least by an insult from someone ignorant enough to be homo-phobic in 2012? Would your best friend? Would your classmates? Would anyone you know even care? Picture the people who ARE homo-phobic. Imagine who they are and what they look like. What does everyone who feels that way have in common?

These people are getting it wrong. They won't even register as people until they change...and sometimes they can. The population of my ideal world increases whenever that happens.

Certain beleifs..such as nazism for example...can fairly be considered wrong. all prejudice is wrong. By the time an individual can see beyond prejudice, the become part of the world. evil as an abtract concept,is a powerful thing and it definately exists.

It's also inferior to anything that actually matters.

It is out of respect for African Americans that I expect them to see beyond homo-phobia just as easily as the politically correct white liberals I grew up with.

Celebrating the sucess of a gay rapper, who over-came the universal prejudice of homophobia..and shook up a genre that was not exactly known for its sensitivity is another matter.

That was my point. I'm not celebrating...because I don't expect any less.

Mr. mavima, I have no community.

I am the last of my kind.