Before last Tuesday, Frank Ocean was one of the most unique forces in popular music.
Before last Tuesday, the Def Jam artist was an unclassifiable wunderkind, projecting impeccable R&B cool on his own, DIY releases (primarily 2011's 'nostalgia, ULTRA.' mixtape) while hanging with controversial rap crew Odd Future and labouring behind the curtain on tracks for mainstream poppets Brandy and Justin Beiber. Tracks like 'Novacane' and 'Swim Good', and his hook on Kanye West and Jay-Z's 'No Church In The Wild', had made him one of the hottest commodities in the game. The wait for debut album 'channel ORANGE' was unbearable.
After last Tuesday? All of that is still true. In most senses, nothing has changed. In another, very real, way, the hip hop landscape might have been changed irrevocably by Frank Ocean's announcement that he is bisexual. “Whoever you are, wherever you are,” he wrote in an open letter posted to his Tumblr account that was originally intended to run in the 'channel ORANGE' liner notes, “I'm starting to think we're a lot alike. Human beings spinning on blackness. All wanting to be seen, touched, heard, paid attention to.”
The letter goes on to detail his first love, who he reveals to have been a man. “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. And on the days we were together, time would glide. Most of the day I’d see him, and his smile. “Sleep I would often share with him,” Ocean continues. “By the time I realised I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless. There was no escaping, no negotiating to the women I had been with, the ones I cared for and thought I was in love with.”
The letter is a heartfelt piece of writing on par with Ocean's finest lyrics, as he confides that it took the object of his affections three years to confess his own feelings, and that by releasing this story into the wild, he doesn't “have any secrets I need kept anymore... I feel like a free man”.
It should go without saying that in 2012, this isn't really a big deal. It shouldn't be considered a major 'revelation'. And yet, it is, because even though Ocean doesn't fit neatly into either the R&B or hip hop camp, there's no denying he's the only artist at his level with ties to either genre to have made such an admission. How those communities react to Ocean will tell us an awful lot about them, and so far, it's telling us something good. “My big brother finally fucking did that,” tweeted Odd Future leader Tyler, The Creator. “Proud of that nigga 'cause I know that shit is difficult or whatever.”
“Proud of Frank,” chimed in Odd Future phenom Earl Sweatshirt. It's worth noting here that Frank Ocean isn't the crew's first LGBT member, either – Syd tha Kid is a lesbian, though she doesn't have Ocean's profile.
“When I emailed Jay-Z my open letter to @frank_ocean,” tweeted Dream Hampton, co-author of Jay-Z's book, 'Decoded', “he put it on his site in minutes. That’s love.”
“Whatever that man does in his personal space is that man’s choice and that man’s business,” Busta Rhymes told MTV. “I am an extremely huge fan of Frank Ocean. His music is impeccable to me, and as far as I’m concerned, I respect the dude completely.”
“I don’t think [Frank's] music sales or the level of support his music obtains should be judged based on his sexual preference," rapper Trina told TMZ. "If he’s happy and comfortable with his sexuality then so be it. I feel his decision to come forward was bold and honest. It’s his life. Let him enjoy and live it. I wish him much success and happiness.”
“I am profoundly moved by the courage and honesty of Frank Ocean,” hip hop mogul Russell Simmons wrote on his GlobalGrind website. “Your decision to go public about your sexual orientation gives hope and light to so many young people still living in fear. These types of secrets should not matter anymore, but we know they do, and because of that I decided to write this short statement of support for one of the greatest new artists we have.
“His gifts are undeniable. His talent, enormous. His bravery, incredible. His actions this morning will uplift our consciousness and allow us to become better people. Every single one of us is born with peace and tranquility in our heart. Frank just found his. Frank, we thank you. We support you. We love you.”
The last words, of course, should go to Ocean. “I'm not a victim,” he tweeted on Saturday. “I'm grown. Life’s way harder for a lot of people. I still love everyone of ya’ll. No condescension.”
‘channel ORANGE’ comes out on Monday July 16.