“Yo, is this nigga really a faggot?”
With dilated pupils and bloodshot eyeballs (that had more to do with my recent 5th of Jack Daniels consumption than anything) I tried to process the information I had just come across 15 seconds ago while reading the cleverly worded facebook post included above. Frank Ocean, the in-house crooner for OFWGKTABCDEFGHIJK, was coming out as a bi-sexual.
I first heard the news, I didn’t think too much about the possible ramifications this announcement that Ocean was taking his talents to the other side (pause) would bring about. I didn’t think about the cyberspace world briefly imploding, how to delete all my previous Frank Ocean songs off my laptop, or even think ‘bout you. No no no no, all I really thought about was what I was going to wear as I failed my Physics exam the next morning.
I’m not exactly sure of the specific parameters that come along with coming out if one is bisexual rather than completely homosexual. Does it mean that one foot comes out while the other remains in the closet? I guess that part of the discussion is pretty irrelevant. I am sure of one thing however. This is big news, and aside from the obvious outcomes (Ocean will remain a trending topic for weeks to come, rappers will substitute the phrase no homo for no Frank Ocean, etc), there is a less clear future up ahead for the artist, and the genre as a whole.
The enduring image of the macho, dominant rapper has faded immensely in recent years. Just ask Big Ghostface, the awesomely frank blog personality, most famous for his annual “10 Softest Niggas In The Game” lists. It’s difficult to argue with Ghostface’s choices, partly due to the fact that he backs all of his inclusions with keen insight. For instance, the following is just a snippet of his summation of Tyga, the 3rd softest nigga in the game for 2011: “This nigga looks like a transgender Vietnamese prostitute that got abducted by aliens n was cloned but never really finished the process of turnin hisself into a actual human n shit so he came out lookin like he do…but he still part alien n only kinda human lookin now namsayin.”
Sifting through the list (whilst laughing my ass off of course), it’s not difficult to recognize that things done changed since the early 90’s, word to Biggie. Many hip hop fans point to the increasing commercialization of the genre as the reason, which culminated in the 90’s with the infamous, shiny-suit Bad Boy records era. Ever since Mase and Puff popped crystal in horrendous looking epileptic-igniting suits, we have been forced to contend with myriad suspect-ness: Rappers kissing each other, rappers cross dressing, rappers literally crying about being dumped from record labels, rappers wearing skinny jeans and pink-mink jackets, and that’s just off the top of my head. And as I finished that sentence, I am just reminded of the recent multi-million dollar “beef” between Chris Brown and Drake over Rihanna.
But Frank Ocean’s love crimes are much worse in the eyes of the culture. Despite the occasional fruity line, or fruity youtube video (I’m looking at you Buddens), Hip Hoppers instinctually have known since the genre’s birth that homosexuality is not welcome by any stretch of imagination (pause). In her Newsweek article, “Outing Hip-Hop,” Jessica Bennett explains the motives for the homophobic culture that dominates the genre: “Being gay is considered soft, sissy—a putdown that’s won emcee battles for years. So when artists like Eminem and Jay-Z—and even so-called socially conscious rappers like Common—throw out insults like “fag” and “bitch,” it’s the ultimate threat to a man’s masculinity.”
The problem with hip-hop and hip-hop culture is that the subject is notoriously shied away from. Historically, although hip-hop is a relatively new genre of music, hip-homoism has never been close to the forefront of conversation as far as intellectual discussion goes. A lot of that changed in 2008, and I’m not sure whether for better or worse. During this time, amid much controversy, former MTV staff member Terrence Dean released a scathing book entitled Hiding in Hip-Hop: On the Down Low in the Entertainment Industry. Despite the fact that Dean never mentions names, the memoir talks about the secret life of some of hip-hop’s most popular stars; a secret life that includes all male sex orgies and gay clubs. According to Dean: “Men who have secret love affairs have separate homes and apartments, and separate phones strictly for their romantic flings. No one ever suspects a thing, and they go to great lengths to keep it that way.”
Afterthe book became a bestseller, the infamous “no homo” line became a staple of every rappers repertoire. No longer could a person say anything whatsoever that could be misconstrued as gay, without attaching a convenient “no homo” after the alleged homo shit was uttered. The phrase is like a get-out-of-jail-free card, and I can attest to the fact that many rappers felt free to say some wildly gay shit, under the guise of “no homo.”
In 1976, the rocket man, better known as Elton John, came down to Earth and admitted to Rolling Stone magazine, and the rest of the world, that he was bisexual. I managed to unearth the original 1976 article in seconds flat (thank God for the Internet). The article is fascinating for a number of different reasons. While attempting to unearth the secrets of John’s private romantic life, interviewer Cliff Jahr stumbles on much more interesting territory:
Elton: I don’t know what I want to be exactly. I’m just going through a stage where any sign of affection would be welcome on a sexual level. I’d rather fall in love with a woman eventually because I think a woman probably lasts much longer than a man. But I really don’t know. I’ve never talked about this before. Ha, ha. But I’m not going to turn off the tape. I haven’t met anybody that I would like to settle down with — of either sex.
Jahr: You’re bisexual?
Elton: There’s nothing wrong with going to bed with somebody of your own sex. I think everybody’s bisexual to a certain degree. I don’t think it’s just me. It’s not a bad thing to be.”
Jahr: You haven’t said it in print before.
Elton: Probably not. [Laughs] It’s going to be terrible with my football club. It’s so hetero, it’s unbelievable. But I mean, who cares!
I reprint this to point out the contrast between Elton in his early career with the artist we have come to know. Elton John, for me at least, has always been the consummate representation of homosexuality in the entertainment industry. In the present day, Elton has no qualms about who he is as a person, and is always one of the loudest voices to speak up when it comes to gay rights issues. However, in this interview, Elton appears to beating around the bush (pause) instead of admitting to himself, and the world, that he is in fact gay.
In 2006, Sir Elton shocked the world by collaborating with Eminem during a Grammy performance. When Eminem’s notorious MMLP hit stores, he was heavily criticized by every social activist group under the sun, but none more than the homosexual community, possibly for lines like (“Hate fags?/The answer’s yes”). What stunned me about the performance was that two artists, who are polar opposites in terms of their artistic portrayals and stances on homosexuality, were able to set aside their differences, collaborate, and put on a great performance.
Even more surprisingly, many rappers have come out in support of Frank Ocean and his struggle. Fat Joe, a product of the early 90s generation of rappers, spoke to DJ Vlad about his thoughts on the matter: “In 2011 you gotta hide that you gay?” he asked. “Be real! ‘Yo, I’m gay. What the fuck!’ If you gay, you gay. That’s your preference. Fuck it if the people don’t like it.” Additionally, the Former G-Unit/Shady/Aftermath artist The Game has spoken in favor of the cause: “I don’t have a problem with gay people,” he said. “Beyoncé shoulda said, ‘Who should run the world?’ Gays. Because they’re everywhere and rightly so.”
Even up and coming artists, who no doubt will represent the future of hip hop music and culture, have come to Ocean’s defense: ASAP Rocky, who, if you’ve listened to his debut mixtape Live.Love.ASAP, know that he cares for little else other than fashion: “I used to be homophobic, but that’s fucked up,” A$AP Rocky told the influential music site Pitchfork in October. “I had to look in the mirror and say, ‘All the designers I’m wearing are gay.”
Is homophobia commencing a very, very slow death in hip-hop culture? Writing for The Daily Beast, Chris Lee poignantly summarized the changing tides of a previously homophobic culture: “While rappers have yet to unfurl rainbow flags en masse, and casual homophobia still abounds in videos and on songs, the current groundswell of tolerance reflects not only a wider societal acceptance of homosexuality but also changes in the way many MCs fundamentally view themselves.”
Frank Ocean’s music brims with soul, originality, and all the other good adjuncts critics attach to new, talented artists. In my review of his Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape last year, I wrote that Ocean’s fresh take on R&B music made a long time dissenter (me) start to pay attention to a genre I thought mostly dead. Gay or not, Ocean has the potential to become a legend in the game based solely on his artistic merits. The question remains, however, as immature as it comes across, is to how can we enjoy listening to Ocean croon about Novacane, when we know now that the reasons for his withdrawal symptoms might be dick-related?
Sweet baby Jesus…Pause.
But good music has a way of erasing things that society would normally condemn. Does anyone remember the episode of Cribs (does anyone even remember Cribs?) where Mariah Carey was plastered beyond recognition? Of course not, because The Emancipation of Mimi was a great album. Did I really just admit that I listen to Mariah Carey?
Personally, the thought that our generation could be true difference makers in this regard is very impressive to me. The flipside is humiliating. What will kids think when they learn of all our technological advancements (“Woah man, I just read that the iPhone 7 will have a microwave in it!), and compare them with our deeply primitive views toward homosexuality? It seems that Ocean’s bold move might be a monumental step in the right direction for the homosexual community.
Or do you not think so far ahead?
I like to think of myself as a pretty progressive thinker. I have no problem purchasing scented lotions, owning the Devil Wears Prada dvd, or even listening to Coldplay. I also have no problems with homosexual people. The more guys pursuing Lenny are just less competition for Linda. Maybe it’s greed, but I apply this argument to almost every facet of life. If everyone at the party is going for cheese pizza, then that means more meat lover’s for me.
Growing up and meeting gay people for the first time, I was shocked to learn that they did not resemble the big cartoon monsters in the Space Jam movie. I learned quickly that gay people still ate people food, wore people clothing, and said stuff people would say. Aside from extremely different bedroom activities, they seemed indistinguishable from straight people. I’m sure you can imagine those differences, but if you don’t, I will elaborate: everyone knows that gay people prefer more threads in their sheet count than us straight people do. Unfortunately, these same progressive attitudes don’t always stack up under pressure (no Freddie Mercury). In all honesty, the idea of two guys getting it on is bothersome to me. But what’s even more bothersome is the thought that people should be forced to accept unfair social and legal scrutiny based solely on my discomfort. In the realm of music, it would foolish for the industry and for the fans to blackball (pause) Frank Ocean from producing art that the world will enjoy. At the expense of damaging my numbers on streetcreditreport.com, I have to state that I’m down for the cause, and I’m riding with Frank Ocean on this…
Yeah,I hear it. Pause.