On America’s Independence Day, Frank Ocean finally got free. He took to his personal Tumblr to clear up the chatter started by an UK journalist’s speculations that songs on his album referenced the pronoun “he” as it relates to love. He wrote a beautiful note, originally intended for the liner notes of his major label debut channel ORANGE, that candidly and masterfully told the story of his first love—a man—who was too afraid to love him back. The shockwaves from this announcement were immediate; thankfully, instead of enduring a tidal wave of negativity, an outpouring of support flooded onto social networks from fans and celebrities (such as Jay-Z, Beyonce, 50 Cent and Rita Ora) alike. His courageous admission was the first time a young, black male R&B singer had openly admitted to loving someone of the same sex.
Given the troubled history that hip-hop, and the community that creates it, has had with homophobia, many are asking whether or not Frank’s revelation points to the genre’s growing acceptance of homosexuality, bisexuality and, ultimately, individuality.
Well, in the decades before Frank Ocean became a rising star, hip-hop prided itself on hyper-masculinity, and proving one’s manhood, which unfortunately meant disassociating yourself from anything that could be perceived as “gay.” To wit, calling a rapper “gay” was the worst insult you could hurl their way. Even as the culture-at-large became more PC, this stance did not change much in the hip-hop community; petty catchphrases like “no homo” are still used to this day as to tell the world “Hey, I’m not gay. And saying no homo puts me in the clear.” Literally countless rappers have used offensive homophobic slurs in their lyrics, hence the attention being paid to Frank Ocean’s confession.
No one could’ve predicted the massive support Frank Ocean ended up receiving from the hip-hop community. As an R&B artist (not hip-hop artist as he is oftentimes conveniently labeled), his transparency had the potential to end his budding career. Ten years ago, it almost certainly would have. Luckily for Frank, people and the genre are headed in the direction of progression. But I wouldn’t jump the gun to proclaim it’s a new day that left behind the rotten stench of homophobia in rap.
Accepting Frank is one thing. It’s quite another to talk about how homosexuality is/was/will be addressed by rappers in the future. Supporting the channel ORANGE singer does not mean that the F word —the six letter one, not the four— will not be used in rap records. It also doesn’t mean that mindsets have completely changed. If artists publicly root for Frank, but covertly wouldn’t have a close gay friend because of fear of turning gay (as if there’s a such thing), or still say no homo, or still rap lyrics laced with derogatory remarks about gay people, then is the acceptance really a facade?
Hip-hop as a genre has changed; hip-hop as a culture has changed too. In an interview with MTV.com, Juicy magazine Editor-in-Chief Paula T. Renfroe said, “Hip-hop also has grown, society as a whole has grown and that’s the beauty of hip-hop, it reflects our culture and our society.” The fact that there is room for a male singer to sing about loving another man without backlash is an example of a huge stride both genres—R&B and hip-hop—have made.
Maybe Ocean’s bravery is huge step toward the right direction, or perhaps behind closed doors (which is likely) the hip-hop community’s feelings toward the LGBTQ community doesn’t mirror the hurtful ugly slurs. Whether hip-hop is forever changed by such a historic moment is unknown. But it is worth the question: Where do we go from here?