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