Freedom Song: The High Risk and High Reward of Frank Ocean
Frank Ocean is a great writer. This much has been evident since he re-emerged onto the scene as Frank Ocean (he was signed as an artistÂ at Def Jam under his birth name Christopher Lonnie Breaux some yearsÂ to up-and-coming producerÂ Christopher “Tricky” Stewart of The-Dream fame), and dropped Nostalgia, Ultra. That album took him out of the Odd Future realm and placed him square into the consciousness of millions of people and new fans everywhere. Nostalgia is a great album and was intentioned to be his Def Jam debut. Def Jam dropped the ball.
Anyway, recently, Frank dropped via his tumblr a “Thank You” that he wrote from an airplane in December of 2011. In it, he explaned a tale about unrequited love; a love that couldn’t be…or at least not at the time of its birth. He spoke of a love that took time and agony and confusion and a love that required the help of his family and friends to see him through. He wrote a letter that anybody with a pulse and a past could relate to. It just so happened that this love of his was a man. Amazingly, he managed to write a letter that spoke to his sexuality (or at least bi-sexuality) and what most people probably took from the letter is his humanity. That is no easy feat. A Black man and artist managed to make being gay an afterthought. That is sheer brilliance in execution.
And I only wonder if it worked because he’s not Usher or Maxwell or somebody with a huge profile. For the most part, Frank Ocean’s star is rising. He was the clear shining star in Odd Future and finagled his “mixtape” into writing spots for Beyonce and credits and appearances on Kanye and Jay’s Watch The Throne. He’s a songwriter at his core but one with aspirations of mainstream solo star success. And the truth is, while I’m not a big fan (though “We All Try” has stayed in rotation in my iTunes since it dropped), I recognize the voice, the talent, and the rising star that he is.
So I admittedly found it odd that somebody with “so much to lose” would make such an admission and so publicly. There’s no mincing of his words and the manner in which he dropped the “news” leaves nothing to be misconstrued. Honestly, I’m happy for him. My guess is that like for many an individual with an alternative lifestyle (forgive me for using that term, seriously) the burden of pretending to be who you aren’t, especially in a field as filled with machismo as Black music had to be daunting. But he lept, landed, and is freer for it. I applaud that courage. Still, I wonder how accepting people will be of this admission. Maybe he had to. I read a review of his Channel Orange album and in it the writer noted that he had several songs where he directly mentioned a “him” where a “her” would normally go. So perhaps he released the liner notes (the “Thank You” is his liner nots for the album) as a means of blunting the unexpected when people listen to the album and start attempting to connect the dots. He did the dirty work for us all by speaking truth to the doubts and questions that would arise.
Back to the music industry for a second. Imagine if you found out that Teddy Pendergrass was gay. Or say, Bobby Brown, somebody who’s music is 100 percentÂ informed by conquest. I realize that Frank Ocean is neither of those artists. His music isn’t driven by his virility or masculinity. People have long suspected Johnny Gill of being gay and his biggest songs are clear-cut man-on-woman love songs. But would you feel lied to if you found out definitively? I’m curious about that. Frank definitely has songs where he’s talking about falling for or sexing up some woman. And that is still very possible and maybe even likely. But it seems like a significant number of women take issue with bi-sexual men. As open as many of us swear to be, there are still certain taboos we are nowhere near comfortable with. And given that Frank’s largest audience will likely be women, I do wonder if his letter may cause some to lose interest in him.
We already know how homophobic so many of us men can be. Stupid as this is about to sound, my guess is that very few men want to listen to “the gay dude”. Of course, this could all be for naught. Maybe it doesn’t matter at all. And no, it shouldn’t. But when has what should happen ever stopped what will happen?
On the flipside, I can see him gaining a slew of new fans because of this as well. Though they may come from quarters we wouldn’t usually associate with Black music. Basically, Lady Gaga fans. By the way, I don’t really think who your fans are matters. But Frank’s largely been associated with the Black circuit because of his alliances. Maybe now he’ll find fans who are looking for more openness and freedom to be who they are. Which isn’t a bad thing. At all. There’s something empowering about somebody who can relate to your struggle (oddly enough, his struggle had nothing to do with orientation, it was with the frustration of love – like I said, he brilliantly handled this).
So I suppose Frank’s letter is high risk, high reward. Maybe. Even as I write this, I’m not sure I believe that he would really feel any true negative repercussions. It seems like most women, his intended audience, think nearly every singer is gay nowadays anyway, so a formal admission is just a formality and to be applauded for not playing with anybody’s emotions, I suppose.
And again, if you couldn’t relate to his letter on a personal level there’s a good chance you’ve died inside already.
And at the end of the day, good music is supposed to elicit emotion and take you somewhere. If that’s what happens, does it truly matter the orientation of its creator?
But does it?
What do you think? DoÂ you think his admission will have any affect on his career?
Talk to me. Petey.
-VSB P aka THE ARSONIST aka MR. NOT A FAN, BUT RESPECT THE MAN aka GIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIRL HE A 3
By the way, I wasn’t going to write a post today, but I figured that I should write about this.
ONE MORE DAY!!! For all those folks in the DMV, make sure you RSVP for FREE ENTRYÂ to REMINISCE happening this Saturday, July 7, 2012, at Liv Nightclub (corner of 11th and U Streets, NW) in DC tomorrow night! It’s the hottest 90s party in the city AND our DJs birthday so you know we’re going all in!!!! We’re also celebrating the one-year anniversary of Urban Cusp!! You never know who might stop through. Plus, there’s an open bar from 930-1030 and no dress code. Come party with VSB P and get your boogie on. We party hard! RSVP here—–>http://reminiscedc.eventbrite.com
Last but not least, go peep The Champ’s latest piece at Ebony.com, entitled, “An Obit for the Obitless”. Also, peep Panama’s latest post over at Guyspeak, “The Notebook and 5 Other Movies That Might End Your Marriage”.