Anderson Cooper and Frank Ocean both made public revelations about their sexuality in the past week … but Ocean’s could become the much more significant announcement.
Ocean is the phenomenally-talented voice behind last year’s critically acclaimed mix tape Nostalgia, ULTRA. On early Tuesday, the 24-year-old singer/songwriter announced that his first love was another man in a bittersweet and emotional Tumblr post. This came after an advance review of Ocean’s soon-to-be-released new album Channel Orange noted that some of the love songs were addressed to “he” as opposed to “she.” Ocean’s post apparently was to be included in Channel Orange’s liner notes. The new album drops on July 17.
Cooper’s announcement on Monday came after years of living in the proverbial “glass closet.” But the low-key post and tweet from Ocean—part of the alternative hip hop collective Odd Future and featured on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Watch the Throne” album—was unexpected.
Ocean is a rising star in hip-hop— where perceptions of Black masculinity are dominated by hyper-sexuality, thug swagger and a deep homophobia. Neither hip-hop nor R&B has ever boasted an openly gay or bisexual mainstream male star.
“Black audiences have been conditioned to understand Black gay men in only two ways: either on the “down low” or as the flamboyant queens on so-called ‘reality’ television,” cultural critic and hip-hop scholar Seth E. Davis told EBONY. Davis is a doctoral student and instructor at Syracuse University, and has researched Black identity and sexuality in popular culture. “Ocean tells the story of his first ‘love.’ Black people tend to focus on the sexual part of same-sex relationships. Now we’re talking about a relationship.”
“Ocean’s announcement is a game-changer ,” DJ Baker, the host of the popular gay-themed, hip-hop internet radio show The Da-Doo Dirty Show told EBONY. “He’s Black and a successful young man on the rise in hip-hop. He’s written for Beyoncé and is working with Brandy on her new album.”
“It’s also important ‘how’ he came out,” added Baker. “There wasn’t any interview or any speculation with Ocean. He came out of his own free will. That’s the significance.”
Others echo those sentiments, including Soultracks.com Music Editor L. Michael Gipson. “Generally when artists come out, it’s after they have become successful or to get ahead of a story that is already out there. But there hasn’t been any speculation about Frank Ocean’s sexuality as there was about many others, such as Luther Vandross,” Gipson told EBONY.
Although independent R&B artists such as Donnie and Rahsaan Patterson have been out of the closet, this is the first time that a Black male artist of Ocean’s stature has gone on the record to confirm same-sex attractions.
“We probably haven’t seen a Black male artist do this since Sylvester,” Gipson added, referring to the iconic and late openly gay disco legend that died of AIDS-related complications in 1988.
Also: Ocean is not wealthy and cannot benefit from the privilege afforded to White men—gay or straight. “It’s not difficult for famous White men to come out of the closet,” actor, model and singer Darryl Stephens told EBONY.
Darryl Stephens was the lead character in Noah’s Arc—the first television series to focus on Black gay characters—and the hit independent film Noah’s Arc: Jumping the Broom. “It’s amazing that Anderson Cooper, or Neil Patrick Harris came out. But they came out with secure jobs. Frank Ocean’s album has not been released. And he’s a Black man,” added Stephens. “That trumps Anderson Cooper’s announcement on so many levels.”
Odd Future is lead by Tyler Gregory Okonma bka “Tyler, the Creator”—the MTV Music Award-winning rapper and producer who has been criticized for anti-gay lyrics. Tyler quickly tweeted his support to Ocean: “My big brother finally f_____g did that. Proud of that nigga cause I know that shit is difficult.”
Hip hop icon, entertainment mogul and gay ally Russell Simmons applauded the move. “Today is a big day for hip-hop,” Simmons wrote at Global Grind. “I am profoundly moved by the courage and honesty of Frank Ocean.”
Odd Future already boasts openly lesbian Syd the Kid as a member—although her lyrics and image are somewhat problematic, notes EBONY.com News and Lifestyle Editor Jamilah Lemieux. “She seems to have the same issues with women and misogyny as Tyler. Syd can be heard crooning about women like most rappers do—as objects of desire to be dismissed and used.”
Will rap and hip-hop ever be ready for a successful openly gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender artist? The question has been asked repeatedly ever since Jay-Z and other leading hip-hop artists came out for equal marriage—and explored recently at EBONY—but said nothing about hip-hop’s entrenched homophobia. DJ Baker and others in the gay hip-hop movement are cautiously optimistic after Frank Ocean’s announcement. “I’m interested in seeing the reaction of rappers, especially the bigger names like Jay-Z. I hope some of the bigger names will come forward and say it’s okay. “
Rod McCullom has written and produced for ABC News and NBC, and his writing has appeared in EBONY, The Advocate, Out.com, NPR and many others. Check out his award winning site Rod 2.0. Follow him on Twitter: @RodMcCullom.