Sexuality: Frank Ocean's coming out marks a sea change for hip-hop
The singer-songwriter is a member of a group scorned for its use of homophobic lyrics. His announcement yesterday promises a brighter future for the genre
Tim Walker is The Independent’s Los Angeles correspondent, covering entertainment and other concerns from the West Coast of the US. He was previously a features writer and the editor of the paper’s diary column. His first novel, Completion, is being published in January 2014.
Thursday 05 July 2012
In a 2005 interview with MTV, Kanye West claimed, "Everyone in hip-hop discriminates against gay people… I wanna just tell my friends, 'Yo, stop it.'" The genre's troubled relationship with homosexuality was challenged again yesterday, when 24-year-old singer-songwriter Frank Ocean published an emotional open letter on his Tumblr blog, detailing a past relationship with a man, whom he described as his "first love". In a post suggesting that he is gay or bisexual, Ocean wrote: "Four summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together. Everyday almost… By the time I realised I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless. There was no escaping, no negotiating with the feeling. No choice. It was my first love. It changed my life."
Ocean, whose real name is Christopher Breaux, originally planned to publish the letter in the sleevenotes to his debut album, Channel Orange, due for release on 17 July. Early reviews of it reveal that many of its lyrics also refer to a male love interest. The R&B singer posted his letter after rumours about the subject matter of the songs began to circulate online.
Though not technically a hip-hop artist, Ocean is very much a member of the hip-hop community as a West collaborator, and an affiliate of the US hip-hop collective, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All. Ocean's fellow OFWGKTA member Syd Tha Kid is a lesbian. Last year, however, the group's appearance at New Zealand's Big Day Out festival was cancelled after complaints about the homophobic and misogynist content of their lyrics. Frontman Tyler, The Creator, was criticised for his repeated use of "faggot"; he defended himself at the time, claiming, "I'm not homophobic, I just think 'faggot' hits and hurts people". Yesterday, Tyler tweeted his support for Ocean: "My Big Brother Finally Fucking Did That. Proud Of That Nigga Cause I Know That Shit Is Difficult Or Whatever. Anyway. Im A Toilet."
Much has changed since 2000, when Eminem rapped "Hate fags? The answer's 'yes'." Terrance Dean, a former MTV executive, is the author of Hiding in Hip-Hop, a 2008 memoir of the the hip-hop industry's thriving, secret gay subculture. A star of Ocean's stature coming out is great,Dean says. "Artists are now unafraid to be who they really are. It makes a bold statement not only for Frank, but for the LGBT community as a whole. Everybody's been waiting so long for the day when somebody like Frank comes out, so it's a victory for all of us. Attitudes in hip-hop have totally changed since my book was published. It's not the same industry it was 10 years ago. It's not the industry it was two years ago."
On Monday, the CNN reporter and anchor Anderson Cooper also published an open letter acknowledging that he is gay. Last month, punk musician Laura Jane Grace, previously Tom Gabel, went public about her transgenderism, and met with widespread support. But it's even more important for gay people to be visible in less tolerant communities like hip-hop, says Peter Tatchell, the veteran British LGBT rights campaigner:
"Given the traditionally macho, homophobic nature of much hip-hop music, this is quite a milestone. He's sending a very positive, affirmative message that challenges the prejudice of many hip-hop fans. I hope the generous, sympathetic response that Frank has received will embolden other hip-hop stars to also come out."
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant