Frank Ocean's sexuality challenges hip-hop
Posted July 16, 2012
R&B singer/songwriter Frank Ocean seems to be bucking long-held assumptions that you can't come out in hip-hop.
Two weeks after Ocean acknowledged having unrequited feelings for another man in an open letter on his Tumblr account, he's finding both critical and commercial success with his major-label debut album, Channel Orange.
The album soared to No. 1 on iTunes when it was made available digitally seven days ahead of today's official release date and is projected to open as high as No. 2 on Billboard's album chart, selling 120,000 copies. That figure would more than double pre-release expectations.
Ocean hasn't said he's gay or bisexual, but his revelation has drawn praise from Russell Simmons, Beyoncé, Busta Rhymes and Adele. Reviewers have focused on the high quality of the music, which makes it clear on several songs that his love interest is a man.
"It's important to look at Frank Ocean's very honest letter about love as an extension of some monumental shift in the black community," says GLAAD spokesman Daryl Hannah. "You have President Obama's support of (same-sex) marriage. You have the NAACP's support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender members. You have celebrities' support of the gay community."
Ocean, 24, who has written songs for Justin Bieber, Brandy and John Legend, was featured prominently on Jay-Z and Kanye West's 2011 Watch the Throne collaboration. The New Orleans native is part of the rap collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, which has been criticized for its homophobic lyrics. (Odd Future leader Tyler, The Creator tweeted support for his friend.)
Though Ocean's step is revolutionary, Vibe editor Jermaine Hall doesn't anticipate a wave of artists suddenly coming out. He says even heterosexual rappers face accusations of being soft. "I can point to Drake as an example. He's a straight guy who expresses his emotions and he's perceived as being weak."
Kevin Ross of RadioFacts.com says it remains to be seen whether Ocean can gain traction with traditionally conservative urban radio programmers. "Things are certainly better than they were, say, 15 years ago, but they don't want anything that may upset advertisers," Ross says.
The album already has had a positive effect on a segment of hip-hop fans, Hannah says.
"Never before have the countless (gay) youth who consume this type of music had someone who understands what they're going through."
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