Sexuality: Frank Ocean's coming out marks a sea change for hip-hop

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

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

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."

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

    A Very British Coup, part two

    New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

    Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
    What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

    What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

    Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
    Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

    Are you a 50-center?

    Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
    The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

    Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

    The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
    Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

    Hollywood's new diet trends

    Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
    6 best recipe files

    6 best recipe files

    Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
    Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

    Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

    Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Atwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works