Jason Howard Green

Jason Howard Green

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Frank Ocean: Game Changer

Frank Ocean's debut studio album arrived is the midst of a whirlwind of controversy and conversation.  An accomplished artist as a member of the hip hop collective Odd Future, and having already witnessed a successful mixtape release with Nostalgia, Ultra, Ocean's debut solo project was already eagerly awaited by many within the hip hop community.  But when Ocean penned a letter on his blog confessing his love for another man when he was 19 years old just before the release of his CD, many wondered why? And all wondered what will this mean for his album.  This was a rather bold move for a hip hop artist when this is a genre notorious for homophobia and not taking kindly to anything considered less than manly.

No one knew what consequences were in store for the artist who comes out immediately before the release of his CD.  As it turns out, with great risk comes great reward.  Leaders in the hip hop community rallied in support of Frank Ocean. Beyonce and Jay Z publicly backed Ocean's decision to come out. Tyler The Creator took to Twitter to announce his support. And the Godfather of Hip Hop Russell Simmons would state, "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 will we be? How inclusive are we? Your decision to go public about your sexual orientation gives hope and light to so many young people still living in fear."

Let's recognize this for what it is.  This is a cultural shift for the hip hop community.  This is transformative for a community all about hyper-masculinity and one that was harsh to any signs that reflect "weakness" in men.  Hip hop leaders applauding Ocean for coming out gave permission to members throughout the community to be okay with it.  And this was/is a big deal.

Channel Orange sold tremendously  well upon its release in 2012 and would go on to reach number 2 on the Billboard charts.  We would see three singles released from the album including my favorite "Thinking About You" plus "Pyramid" and "Sweet Life."  Frank Ocean was suddenly in high demand.  He was on magazine covers, he was being interviewed by virtually everyone, and he would even be performing at the Grammys the following year.

His influence on hip hop community has been momumental and oddly enough it was not for his music, although the music is great too.  I don't want people to think that Ocean is the first artist in hip hop to come out.  There is a community of hip hop artists that were already out before Frank Ocean would pen that letter.  Rappers like Tim'm West, Tori Fixx, Caushun were already making out.  But I likes to keep it real and hip hop was not embracing most of these artists.  These artists managed to have some level of success in their circles but none of them were what I would call "mainstream" artists.  Ocean was the first big name to come out, but he was not the first.

And if we want to continue to keep it real, some would argue that some others of out mainstream hip hop artist are also living in the closet, they just chose to remain closeted because of the negative impact that coming out could have on their careers.  In the revealing memoir by Terrance Dean, Hiding in Hip Hop, although names are never mention; Dean discusses several hugely successful and incredibly popular hip hop artists that are gay but will not publicly disclose the truth about their sexual identity.

Ocean decided to come out not knowing what it would mean to his CD or to his career.  It was a very brazen move but it fared very well for the young man.  He changed hip hop and he influenced a lot of young people.  For that I say kudos.

Please check out his video for the song Novacane below . . . 

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