Why the Odd Future singer's revelation is a historic moment for the hip-hop generation.
Frank Ocean heard the whispers. On Monday (July 2) the singer faced allegations of being gay after a UK journalist questioned Frank’s choice of pronouns on songs from his forthcoming debut album Channel Orange. Words like “him” were used in places where we’re used to hearing “her.”
Inquiries made to Ocean’s publicists for any sort of statement or clarification from the 24-year-old singer-songwriter went unanswered. The rumors could have been dismissed as just that, rumors. Then Frank spoke. Just after midnight, an hour into July 4—America’s day to celebrate independence—Ocean freed himself, finally.
In the first of two notes posted on his Tumblr page, Ocean starts out by saying that his full message—one that would confirm all the speculation—was originally supposed to be unveiled when Channel Orange drops on July 17.
Neither hip-hop nor R&B has ever boasted an openly gay star. Not to mention that this is the first time a Black male artist of his stature has sung on record to the same sex. If what’s been reported holds true upon album release, Ocean will be the author of gay love songs.
“This was intended to fill the Thank You’s section in my album credits,” he wrote. “But with all the rumors going ‘round… I figured it’d be good to clarify.”
What followed was a heavy, heartfelt open letter for all who care to know. Yes, Frank Ocean is bisexual, if not gay. He tells the story of meeting his first true love, a man, at 19. “It changed my life,” he says. He found that his thoughts would “wander to the women I had been with, the ones I cared for and thought I was in love with."
He writes that his relationship even affected the way he heard music: "I reminisced about the sentimental songs I enjoyed when I was a teenager… The ones I played when I experienced a girlfriend for the first time. I realized they were written in a language I did not yet speak.”
Ocean’s letter recounts the sadness felt sitting in his Nissan Maxima and revealing his feelings to his “friend,” only to find that those feelings were not returned. “He had to go back inside soon,” Frank explains, revealing that his partner was also hiding. “It was late and his girlfriend was waiting for him upstairs.” (It’s worth noting that Frank’s Orange album wraps with an outro with someone audibly leaving a car, splashing through the rain to their home, locking the door behind him and heading upstairs.)
“He wouldn’t tell me the truth about his feelings for me for another 3 years,” Ocean continues in his letter. “I felt like I’d only imagined reciprocity for years.“ He closes by thanking the people who have helped keep his spirits up as he wrestled with his sexuality and whether to reveal it. Today, he says, “I feel like a free man.”
Frank’s letter is miserable and empowering all at once—the stuff Oscar-winning dramas are made of. But this is real life. And Frank is a burgeoning star in a musical genre that is arguably the most immature when it comes to progressive thinking and acceptance of the gay and lesbian community. Neither hip-hop nor R&B has ever boasted an openly gay star. Not to mention that this is the first time a Black male artist of his stature has sung on record to the same sex. If what’s been reported holds true upon album release, Ocean will be the author of gay love songs.
It would be a cheap oversimplification to say Channel Orange is all about his male partner and their relationship from summers back. There are other stories featured on the set. But, as Frank said days ago, it certainly was inspired by him. “Orange reminds me of the summer I first fell in love,” he wrote. “Awww...”
Frank’s confession would be courageous even if he weren’t famous. Add to that the fact that the future of his career as an entertainer depends on how his audience perceives him, and this move is beyond bold. David Bowie came out in a 1972 Melody Maker interview, but later called it "the biggest mistake I ever made". Ellen DeGeneres’ popular sitcom took a ratings hit when she came out in 1997. It wasn’t until several years into their careers that pop icons like Queen’s Freddie Mercury, George Michael and Elton John were comfortable enough to come out of the closet. R&B’s Luther Vandross lived and died without addressing all the allegations that he was gay—and there have been others.