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Commentary: Reception of Frank Ocean’s sexuality could speak volumes on hip-hop and R&B, society

Courtesy of MCT

“I still love Frank Ocean.”

It was the first thought I-and surely many others-had when the Odd Future crooner came out last week via his Tumblr account.

“4 summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too,” Ocean wrote. “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. By the time I realized I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless…It was my first love, it changed my life.”

Homosexual, heterosexual, bisexual, or asexual, a great artist-a great anything-is no more or less talented because of his sexual orientation.

Though, the more I think about it, the phrase “I still love Frank Ocean” bothers me.

Actually, specifically, in this context, the word “still” bothers me.

I still love him.

Still, as in synonymous for “regardless” or “nonetheless.”

Like, “You know, even though he’s bisexual and all, I still love Frank Ocean.”

That, and similar phrases, comes across as a half-hearted acceptance-a lukewarm applause of incredible courage in the face of a much larger general unease about a hip-hop and R&B artist that goes against the grain of a genre dominated by a culture of masculinity and bravado. 

While the statement “I still love Frank Ocean” is arguably meant in the most benign way imaginable in support of the artist’s lifestyle, it’s reflective of some people’s thoughts and feelings on homosexuality, even in this day and age. 

Contextually, “still” here implicates reluctantly overlooking some sort of difference or deviation from the norm-as if we’re supposed to frown upon Ocean’s bisexuality while somehow celebrating our own ability to remain tolerant and accepting.

In this sense, “still” is a qualifier, a sincere, yet timid alternative compared to the roaring ovation that’s actually warranted or screaming “GOOD FOR YOU, FRANK!”

It’s symptomatic of a society still divided over what’s, at its core, a human rights issue, and tracking how Ocean’s revelation will be received within a genre criticized for its homophobic nature could speak volumes on the state of hip-hop and R&B.

And while a number of the industry’s artists including Beyoncé, Russell Simmons, Jay-Z, and Odd Future ringleader Tyler, The Creator have thrown their support behind Ocean, it will be fascinating to see how the rest of the community reacts to his personal declaration.

Surely as intriguing will be if Ocean’s new album “channel ORANGE”  takes any commercial hit in response to his sexuality despite the record’s critical success so far. 

In a genre that’s been taken over by snapbacks, tattoos, and shallow, cliché lyrics, Ocean’s presence is-at the very least- a breath of fresh air.

While the Chris Browns of the world are, generally speaking, making mediocre songs that all start to sound all similarly awful, Ocean’s music is poetic and, at it’s core, as unique as his own voice.

Ocean’s honesty-and fearless ventures into songs about suicide, depression, drugs and heartbreak- is what separates him apart from even his strongest competitors.

Ocean is the thinking man and woman’s hero and is one of those musicians that comes along once or twice in generation that pushes a genre’s limits all while setting the bar higher and higher each time.

But any thinking man or woman should have the sense and ability to understand that while Ocean is talented as they come, he’ll surely lose some fans.

It’s a sad, but realistic expectation in a world, in a genre, that’s still socially progressing.

Music is innately personal, and it shouldn’t be surprising when some of Ocean’s fans leave him, unable to relate to his bisexual experiences-especially those who see the hip-hop and R&B industry through the lens of a Waka Flocka Flame video.

Equally as likely, though, Ocean’s most loyal fans-and perhaps those who wish to see the genre socially progress-will see the rising star’s admission of bisexuality as consistent with the sincere, raw approach that Ocean’s aimed at anything he’s ever undertaken.

“I don’t know what happens now, and that’s alrite. I don’t have any secrets I need kept anymore,” Ocean wrote, concluding his now surely infamous “coming out” post.

His guess is as good as anyone’s, I suppose.

But it’s OK, Frank. I can hear the sky falling, too. 

And, you know what? It sounds a lot like “channel ORANGE.”

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