At only 24, Frank Ocean has co-written songs for Beyonce and Bieber, sang with Kanye and Jay-Z on Watch The Throne, contributed to hip hop collective Odd Future, and just last year gained massive popularity on his critically-acclaimed solo collection “Nostalgia, Ultra”. This year, Ocean has even more to be proud of. Just a few days ago, the enormously talented R&B singer digitally released his first LP, “Channel Orange,” which is receiving well-deserved hype. Besides his musical success, Ocean has also been making news recently for calling attention to his sexual orientation. On July 4th, the singer bravely posted a letter on his tumblr page explaining his first love, which happened to be with a man when he was 19.
The announcement has been a topic of conversation lately, especially concerning homophobia in hip-hop culture. Ocean has already received support from stars like Beyonce, Jay-Z, and Busta Rhymes. Russell Simmons even commented on Global Grind, writing “Today is a big day for hip-hop. It is a day that will define who we really are. How compassionate will we be? How loving can we be? How inclusive are we?” Simmons’ comments allude to the fact that the hip-hop music scene has never been the most tolerant of environments, especially while many songs continue to be rife with homophobic and misogynistic lyrics. Tyler the Creator, one of Ocean’s friends and co-collaborator of Odd Future, has been known for anti-gay remarks in his own music. Being one of the first black men in rap music to come out, Ocean has given a voice to the gay/bisexual black population in music and throughout the country.
A few tracks on Ocean’s new album speak to this relationship he wrote about on his website. In “Bad Religion,” Ocean talks about an unrequited love, singing, “I can never make him love me”. The song goes on, “It’s a bad religion/To be in love with someone/Who could never love you”. On the ending track, “Forrest Gump,” Ocean sings about a boy who’s been on his mind. “I know you wouldn’t hurt a beetle/But you’re so buff and strong/I’m nervous Forrest”. Ann Powers, NPR music critic, commented on Ocean’s coming out letter, saying, “For explicitly homoerotic lyrics, it is uncharted territory. Lyrics that talk about love between men are not a part of mainstream R&B in the contemporary moment. This is really interesting in that way. It is a big deal.”
Besides the topic of Ocean’s sexual orientation, the album as a whole shines on its own. His soulful voice, combined with Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye-esque melodies, and simplistic instrumentation create a collection of smooth songs reminiscent of a Southern Californian lifestyle, which Ocean has been living since his move from New Orleans to L.A. in 2005. The singer’s catchy hooks and revealing lyrics are clearly working in favor of the album’s success. Only three days after its release, Ocean’s debut holds the number one spot on iTunes and is garnering much acclaim from critics.
Frank Ocean very clearly has massive musical talent, and his openness about his sexuality is refreshing and revolutionary in a musical genre like hip-hop. Coming out has apparently been life changing for the artist, who, in his July 4th letter, wrote, “I don’t have any secrets I need kept anymore… I feel like a free man. If I listen closely…I can hear the sky falling too.” Ocean’s courage is a step in the right direction to eliminate prejudices in the entertainment industry and will hopefully bring hope to those who feel silenced.