Let’s be Frank: Ocean is Remaking R&B
July was quite a month for singer and songwriter Frank Ocean. He appeared on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” for his first ever television performance. He surprised fans by rushing his latest, ultra-hyped new album Channel Orange, releasing it a week before it’s original date. Oh, and he posted a letter to his Tumblr detailing his first true love experience – with a man.
Let’s rewind slightly. Following a listening party for his new album, attendees noted that several songs addressed love interests as male. The Odd Future crooner later posted two long paragraphs that stopped short of a “gay” or “bisexual” self label, but did reveal a beautiful, poetic story of the first time he fell in love.
Beginning with a declaration — “Whoever you are, whatever you are…I’m starting to think we’re a lot alike.” He then proceeds to tell of his first romance at 19, with a male friend. In a rather reserved manner, Ocean confesses to his former love and muse. ”Some things never are. And we were. I won’t forget you. I won’t forget the summer. I’ll remember who I was when I met you.”
From Beyonce and Jay-Z to Odd Future ring leader Tyler the Creator and Russell Simmons, this New Orleans native has received mostly praise and support from his industry peers. There’s always someone who has different ideas, as West Coast rap veteran Xzibit revealed in a negative Twitter post, seemingly aimed towards Ocean. Whether a long time Ocean lover or someone googling his name for the first time, Ocean’s recent emergence has definitely piqued interest in his music and career.
“I hope that Frank Ocean doesn’t become ‘the gay singer’,” Jamilah Lemieux expressed at Ebony.com. “It would be criminally unfair for him to wear that label as so many of his peers are sleeping with and loving same gendered persons, while selling images of hyper-heterosexuality.” While urban artists like Prince flirted along the lines of masculine verses feminine, very few in the genre embrace anything other than heterosexuality. She stated many are still in “the closet with the glass door,” living lives they don’t reveal, but overly conceal, in their music.
In his first in-depth interview since the headlines, Ocean speaks to The Guardian concerning all the attention he’s received in the past weeks. While he doesn’t feel deserving for any credit in bravery, he’s glad to have been received in the way he has.
“A lot of people have said [it was 'courageous'] since that news came out. I suppose a percentage of that act was because of altruism; because I was thinking of how I wished at 13 or 14 there was somebody I looked up to who would have said something like that, who would have been transparent in that way,” he said. “But there’s another side of it that’s just about my own sanity and my ability to feel like I’m living a life where I’m not just successful on paper, but sure that I’m happy when I wake up in the morning, and not with this freakin’ boulder on my chest.”
It seems this rising artist is content to simply feel free, not really believing this revelation was any different from things he’s already done. His decision to give away his Nostalgia, Ultra debut for free, proves he’s actively goes against the grain by doing what he feels he should.
“People are just afraid of things too much. Afraid of things that don’t necessarily merit fear. Me putting Nostalgia out…what’s physically going to happen?” he said. “Me saying what I said on my Tumblr last week? Sure, evil exists, extremism exists. Somebody could commit a hate crime and hurt me. But they could do the same just because I’m black. They could do the same just because I’m American. Do you just not go outside your house? Do you not drive your car because of the statistics? How else are you limiting your life for fear?”
You could say risk is second nature to Ocean. Driving from Louisiana, broke and uncertain, to give his L.A. dreams a shot was certainly risky. Releasing his debut mixtipe via Tumblr, for free, was a risk. Speaking out about who he is was a risk. Now this talented young artist stands before us- not as a label, not as a sterotype, not as a pioneer… but as a man with a voice, just wanting us to listen.
A recent NYC transplant, I'm a writer, dancer, foodie, clothing lover, and sriracha supporter. Having lived in RVA for seven years, I completely adore the River City, and still spend as many days as I can rock-laying on the James. A self proclaimed "vintage voyeur," I think the arts scene of any city can reveal so much... not only about our past, but also our modern day, and where we need to go from here.
Many hate us and wish we didn’t exist.June 21, 2016
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