Frank Ocean, contemplative voice of the collective Odd Future, gifted new solo artist, Watch the Throne collaborator, fell in love with a man four summers ago.
He wrote authentically and tenderly about the power of loving for the first time, an open love letter meant to be added to the liner notes of his debut album, Channel Orange, due out next week.
But facing the relentless urgency of social media, the long simmering speculation about his sexuality, his own honest lyrics and a moment that simply felt right, Ocean, 24, posted the letter on Tumblr last week, releasing his intimate admission into the ether and an urban music world still thick with homophobia, misogyny and materialism.
On a flight from his native New Orleans to Los Angeles in December, the avant-garde artist — whose music lives somewhere between hip hop and R&B, wrote “4 summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together. Every day almost. And on the days we were together, time would glide.”
With that, Ocean — who landed on the broader public radar last year with the single Novacane — became the first major hip-hop or R&B artist to publicly acknowledge a same-sex relationship, done so with a beautifully uncomplicated much-ado-about-nothing air.
And in the week since, he has been praised as a pioneer, a poignant reflection of his generation. With his simple letter, he presented himself as an alternative to the archetype, emotionally challenged b-boy.
“It wasn’t a coming-out story as much as a love story. He writes about unrequited love, like Adele and Mary J Blige did so painfully, so soulfully on 21, and My Life,” says Terrance Dean, author of the memoir Hiding In Hip Hop: On The Down Low in the Entertainment Industry From Music to Hollywood. “He showed remarkable courage and bravery, and the letter showed his humanity. It is historic because there is no major rapper or R&B singer who is openly gay or bisexual.”
Los Angeles Times music writer Gerrick D. Kennedy spoke to the power of the letter, calling it a “glass ceiling moment for music. Especially black music, which has long been in desperate need of a voice like Ocean’s to break the layers of homophobia.”
Almost immediately, celebrities from Jay-Z and Beyoncé. to Busta Rhymes and Boy George voiced support for Ocean, his music, his choices, his right to love. With each public statement, Tweet or Facebook posting, artists collectively challenged the historic intolerance within hip-hop and signaled, perhaps, social change.
“Today is a big day for hip-hop,” Russell Simmons, seminal founder of Def Jam Records, wrote on the Global Grind website. “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? I am profoundly moved by the courage and honest of Frank Ocean. Your decision to go public about your sexual orientation gives hope and light to so many people still living in fear.”
Miami rapper Trina told TMZ: “I don’t think [Frank’s] music sales or the level of support his music obtains should be judged based on his sexual preference,” she said, “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.”