Why “Bad Religion” Was My Song of the Year

If you would have told me a year ago that, sometime next summer, I would be seen be driving around the hood, volume up, windows down, and jamming away to a love song made by a man clearly and unambiguously speaking about his unrequited romantic love for another man, I would have done two things.

1. Ask what prompted you to make such a randomly specific prediction

2. Say that you must have been mistaken

Why? Well, out of the 1500 or so songs currently stored in my car, maybe 1460 of them are rap related (The other 40? Tracks from the Kill Bill soundtracks.), and I’m just not a “listen to R&B while riding in the whip” type of guy. Also, as much as I’d like to say that the gay thing wouldn’t have mattered because I’m enlightened and intellectual and shop at Trader Joe’s, it definitely would have.

Listening to music is a uniquely personal experience — listeners relate to musicians in a way we rarely do with other types of performers — and hearing it in a car or while rocking headphones is even more intimate. And, while I didn’t consider myself to be particularly homophobic, I would have said that this hyper-intimacy would prevent me from feeling a song I couldn’t “relate” to. Basically, a song about a man falling in love with a man wouldn’t resonate because I’ve never fallen in love with a man.

I’m sure you’ve figured out by now that “Bad Religion” — the Frank Ocean track whose use of a masculine pronoun prompted Ocean to come out and confirm that he was, in fact, referring to a man when writing it — is the song I’m referring to. (Perhaps the title of this story gave that away.)

What prompted the change from “I wouldn’t do that because I couldn’t relate” to “Not only am I listening, but I’m listening in a way to let everyone within a two block radius know exactly what I’m listening to?” “Bad Religion” is a great f*cking song. That’s it. It — as great art is supposed to do — moves, inspires, resonates, and reverberates. Feeling it wasn’t a political statement or an expression of my level of personal progression. I like it because I like it.

Read more at Ebony.com

Is Frank Ocean Gay?

As is the case with most celebrity news that has absolutely no impact on my life (and by “most celebrity news that has absolutely no impact on my life” I mean “all celebrity news“), the tone of the conversations sparked by Frank Ocean’s “coming out” have proven to be more interesting than the news itself.

For instance, a quick glance at some of the comments sections attached to the articles discussing Ocean last week shows discussions diverging into numerous sub-topics more about Frank Oceanâ„¢ than Frank Ocean. Some of these peripheral conversations were semantics-based (“Since Ocean isn’t a rapper, can he really be considered to be the first known African-American male hip-hop artist to come out?“), some dubious (“It’s interesting that this news breaks a week before his album drops“), and some questioning the story’s relevance (i.e.: “Wait. Who the hell is Frank Ocean, and why should I care about him coming out?“)

To me, though, the most interesting Ocean-related tangent has to do with how his “coming out” has been a virtual Rorschach test for our feelings about sex and sexuality. There aren’t many people who wouldn’t consider a man who has exclusively dated and slept with men for his entire adult life to be gay. But, when things aren’t as cut and dry — and, with Ocean, they’re definitely not — there seems to be more questions about appropriate labels — and the appropriateness of even having a label — than answers.

If the presence of male-on-male sex is your way of measuring whether a man is gay, how would you describe a man who claimed to have fallen in love with another man if they never actually had sex with each other? What if this man was the only man he felt this way about? Basically, what if he wasn’t into men at all but just one particular man? What if he was a teenager when this all happened?

Now, the paragraph above is obviously a not-so-veiled reference to Frank Ocean’s Tumblr post, and I’ve obviously made a few leaps with my interpretation of its content. All I (and anyone else outside of his sphere of influence) know for certain is that he stated that he fell in love with a man when he was 19. Everything else is speculation.

Yet, in Ocean’s case — and in the case of many others — our (and “our” in this case is “Black people’s”) definition of what makes a man gay seems to be amorphous, continually shifting to encompass any behavior outside of what we consider to be the hyper-hetero norm. Fell in love with a man? Gay! Not currently sleeping with multiple women? Gay! Enjoys it when a woman stimulates his anus during sex? Lives in Atlanta? Gay! Not into sports? Gay! Advocates for gay rights? Gay! Enjoyed “Dreamgirls?” Gay! Named “Tyler Perry?” Gay! Wrote a blog critiquing the criteria used to determine what’s gay? Gay!

You know, you can argue that, when it comes to men, the way we come to define “gay” and “straight” (intentionally leaving out bisexual because, well, the Council of Determining Gayness has ruled that bisexual men officially can’t and therefore don’t exist) isn’t at all dissimilar to how we define Black and White. Basically, just as one drop of Black blood makes a person Black, one “non-straight” act or thought makes a man forever gay. Is Frank Ocean in fact gay? I don’t know. I do know, though, that the presence of “one drop” might not be enough for us to make that determination.

—Damon Young (aka “The Champ”)

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 artist at Def Jam under his birth name Christopher Lonnie Breaux some years to up-and-coming producer 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 percent 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?

It shouldn’t.

But does it?

What do you think? Do you think his admission will have any affect on his career?

Talk to me. Petey.


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 ENTRY 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”.