Hip hop; a culture whose audience finds it quintessential that their favourite artists “keep it real” one hundred percent of the time, but why is it when someone finally does many fail to appreciate the sincerity? Words by @SheriMeibach
Although there has been a surprisingly huge positive response to Frank’s Ocean’s coming out letter posted via his tumblr, it is apparent through the negative tweets posted by some users, as well as the countless cruel comments found on music blogs, that we
in hip hop as a society have a long way to go when it comes to the embracement of same sex love.
Let’s back track a little. For those of you who aren’t too familiar with Frank Ocean, he's singer and songwriter signed to Def Jam, well renowned for writing for artists such as Beyoncé Knowles and Justin Bieber. Recently over the past few months, Ocean has been heavily promoting his own upcoming debut album, Channel Orange, [RWD were at the recent playback of course]. After many received a taste of his music with the release of his mixtape, Nostalgia-Ultra last year, there has been long anticipation from fans for a release of an official album. The appeal? Frank’s ability to transcend between different genres, while maintaining his R&B roots, as well as being able to portray complex and nostalgic themes through his lyrics. As much as that musical offering gave off a certain air of mystery, so did the person behind the work of art for many.
Any fan or follower of the man born Christopher Breaux knows that he seems to be untouchable when it comes to his personal life. Previous to this story, the singer/ songwriter seemed to only leave bits and pieces of himself scattered amongst the Internet through cryptic tweets, blog posts, and vague lyrics. Even during intimate one-on-one interviews the artist always seemed to remain reserved.
Frank never appeared to give himself fully. However, it wasn’t until the rumours of the Nostalgia-Ultra artist’s possible bisexuality, started when talk of songs being released on Channel Orange replaced words such as “her” with “him” instead, did Frank decide it was time to speak out.
On America’s Independence Day, 4 July, Ocean decided it would be appropriate that he liberate himself. At approximately 1am EST, he posted a heartfelt open letter expressing the power of love and how it knows no bounds in regards to gender, via his preferred social network, tumblr. A letter written back on 27 December, 2011, recollecting the summer he first fell in love, not with a woman but with a man at the age of 19.
Frank Ocean’s Open Letter:
Whoever you are, wherever you are, I’m beginning to think we’re a lot alike. Human beings spinning on blackness. All wanting to be seen, touched, heard, paid attention to. My loved ones are everything to me here. In the last year or 3 I’ve screamed at my creator. Screamed at clouds in the sky. For some explanation. Mercy maybe. For peace of mind to rain like manna somehow. 4 summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together. Everyday almost. And on the days we were together, time would glide. Most of the day I’d see him, and his smile. I’d hear his conversation and his silence … until it was time to sleep. Sleep I would often share with him. By the time I realised I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless. There was no escaping, no negotiation with the feeling. No choice. It was my first love, it changed my life.
Back then, my mind would wander to the women I had been with, the ones I cared for and thought I was in love with. I reminisced about the sentimental songs I enjoyed when I was a teenager …the ones I played when I experienced a girlfriend for the first time. I realised they were written in a language I did not yet speak. I realised too much, too quickly. Imagine being thrown from a plane. I wasn’t in a plane though. I was in a Nissan Maxima, the same car I packed up with bags and drove to Los Angeles in. I sat there and told my friend how I felt. I wept as the words left my mouth. I grieved for them, knowing I could never take them back for myself. He patted my back. He said kind things. He did his best. But he wouldn’t admit the same. He had to go back inside soon. It was late and his girlfriend was waiting for him upstairs. He wouldn’t tell me the truth about his feelings for me for another 3 years. I felt like I’d only imagined reciprocity for years. Now imagine being thrown from a cliff. No, I wasn’t on a cliff. I was still in my car telling myself it was gonna be fine and to take deep breaths. I took the breaths and carried on. I kept up a peculiar friendship with him because I couldn’t imagine keeping up my life without him. I struggled to master myself and my emotions. I wasn’t always successful.
The dance went on … I kept the rhythm for several summers after. It’s winter now. I’m typing this on a plane back to Los Angeles from New Orleans. I flew home for another marred Christmas. I have a window seat. It’s December 27, 2011. By now I’ve written two albums, this being the second. I wrote to keep myself busy and sane. I wanted to create worlds that were rosier than mine. I tried to channel overwhelming emotions. I’m surprised at how far all of it has taken me. Before writing this I’d told some people my story. I’m sure these people kept me alive; kept me sane … sincerely, these are the folks I wanna thank from the floor of my heart. Everyone of you knows who you are … great humans, probably angels. I don’t know what happens now, and that’s alrite. I don’t have any secrets I need kept anymore. There’s probably some small shit still, but you know what I mean. I was never alone, as much as I felt like it … as much as I still do sometimes. I never was. I don’t think I ever could be. Thanks. To my first love. I’m grateful for you. Grateful that even though it wasn’t what I hoped for and even though it was never enough, it was. Some things never are … and we were. I won’t forget you. I won’t forget the summer. I’ll remember who I was when I met you. I’ll remember who you were and how we’ve both changed and stayed the same. I’ve never had more respect for life and living than I have right now. Maybe it takes a near death experience to feel alive. Thanks. To my mother, you raised me strong. I know I’m only brave because you were first … so thank you. All of you. For everything good. I feel like a free man. If I listen closely … I can hear the sky falling too.
Some people might be asking themselves, ‘So what? People come out every day.’ Sure, they do and each and every individual who does is courageous in their own right. However, what is truly commendable about Ocean’s coming out is that he wrote this letter being newly in the spotlight, with the weight of an album release on his shoulders, knowing quite well what the possible negative consequences might be on his reputation in such an industry. An industry where a black male is told to show no sign of weakness and where being homosexual or having homosexual tendencies is considered to be wrongfully as such. Ocean knew releasing a letter in such a hostile and homophobic environment towards gays and bisexuals might cause his career to crumble before it even really began. No other artist ever in the history of R&B or hip hop has ever declared such openness in regards to their sexual orientation. Yes, there was Luther Vandross, another great gay R&B singer but himself never confirmed his sexual orientation and it was never revealed until long after his career. Vandross had nothing to lose, he was already established, whereas Frank Ocean, still fairly new to the game had everything to lose and more; support, record sales and even friends in the industry who had not a clue of his sexual orientation.
The response after the posting of the letter? For the most part, it was positive. Many felt Ocean’s letter was courageous, honest and full of love. Frank even gained much support from the LGBT community, stating that it’s people like him who are in the public’s eye that can make others realise that they are not alone, a point Frank Ocean clearly wanted to make.
Many might ask, what about his colleagues and fellow musicians? As many know, Ocean is a part of the group, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, simply known as ‘Odd Future’, an American west-coast hip hop collective often known to be out of the ordinary and rebellious in their nature. What about the rest of the collective in terms of this situation? Did they know all along? Were they as positive as others, especially since many know Odd Future’s front guy, Tyler the Creator, often comes off as homophobic to many?
To answer these questions, yes they knew all along and were incredibly supportive of Ocean in the end. Tyler tweeted:
My Big Brother Finally Fucking Did That. Proud Of That Nigga Cause I Know That Shit Is Difficult Or Whatever. Anyway. Im A Toilet.— Tyler, The Creator (@fucktyler) July 4, 2012
Tyler the Creator, again, often depicted as being homophobic for loosely using derogatory words often applied to homosexuals, such as “faggot”, has continued to state over the past year or two that he is in fact not homophobic. Tyler has stated in numerous amounts of interviews previous to Ocean’s coming out that he has nothing against bisexuals or gays and to him these are “just words” at the end of the day. It makes sense since there is also another openly gay member amongst the group, singing/ DJing female, Syd the Kid, who has always been welcomed with open arms by all members. Sure, Frank might be male and homosexuality might be more frowned upon than lesbianism in society as a whole, but it is apparent that he has the support of his team. It’s also interesting to see how a hip hop collective known for its derogatory words and lyrics in regards to homosexuality, now has two openly gay (or bisexual) members in their group. Hey, maybe we should believe Tyler. Maybe these are ‘just words’. Words used to desensitise their intentional meanings. To make them irrelevant so they aren’t quite hurtful anymore. Whatever people might want to believe about Tyler’s way of thinking, there is no denying that both Syd and Frank have the utmost support of Odd Future no matter what.
It was also great to see people outside of the R&B and hip hop world, people who had never even heard of Frank Ocean before 4 July, commend him on such a powerful act through words for all of the world to see. However, at the same time it was extremely hard to ignore the backlash of hateful tweets that would soon appear after his post. Tweets with comments like, “Frank Ocean is gay? I know whose music I am deleting off of my iTunes,” or “I can’t listen to Frank Ocean’s music the same way anymore.” And why not? Does the song still not sound the same as before he said he was in love with a male at one point in his life? Is love not love? At times, I think we fail to forget that music is not exclusive and does not belong to a particular group of people. In this case, love songs do not apply to only heterosexuals; it applies to love; in whatever form it may come in. All music is free in regards to the emotions it brings, it’s universal and transcends, as well as reaches all types of people. It’s one of the only things in this world that isn’t black and white. Music is one of those rare things that is not only heard but just as importantly, felt. The genre of hip hop and R&B, which seems to be yes, highly “masculinised” should not be any different. But does Frank Ocean coming out mean he is unmasculine? Does this mean that hip hop and R&B should only be considered as such? Of course not. If not, it should mean he is even more of a man than most and that he is changing the path of both genres. It takes a true man to express such heartfelt words in a world where hate and judgement runs rampant. Some of us only dream that we could come up with beautiful words or sentiments to express how we feel about another person like Frank can. If anything, we should follow Ocean’s example of how to keep it real and how to truly love another human being because it is apparent that Frank is right on the beat.
I hope many realise that at the end of the day this story is greater than Frank Ocean. It’s even greater than hip hop itself. It’s about compassion. It’s about a generation. It’s about future generations to come. It’s about how it is our personal duty as a society to continue to progress in a forward thinking direction towards acceptance. It’s about love. We just have Frank to thank for finally waking us up to realise. Thank you Frank.
“I believe that marriage isn’t between a man and woman but between love and love.” – Frank Ocean, We All Try
Words by @SheriMeibach