The Meaning of Frank Ocean

When the up-and-coming musician came out, he drew praise from celebrities and his hip-hop collaborators, and revived the question of whether gays have a place in the industry.

BY Terrance Dean

September 14 2012 4:20 AM ET

Tyler the Creator (left) and Ocean dance onstage during a performance at the 2012 Coachella music festival in April.


Before long music celebrities including Russell Simmons, Solange Knowles, 50 Cent, Jay-Z, and Beyoncé began tweeting and posting messages of support for Ocean. Even Odd Future member Tyler the Creator, who’s well-known for his use of the word “faggot,” tweeted how proud he was of his brother and friend. It seemed as if the hip-hop industry, which has notoriously been a closed boys’ club that shuns and ostracizes gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people, had experienced a change of heart. Hadn’t Jay-Z, a towering figure in hip-hop, just recently announced his support of marriage equality, following a message of support by President Obama? Jay-Z had seemingly just given Ocean a pass and ushered him into the boys’ club. And not from afar: Ocean had written and performed on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s hip-hop album Watch the Throne.

“I’m surprised that a lot of young gay people flocked to him, like he was doing something big,” says gay rapper Deadlee. “My first reaction was like he didn’t do anything. It didn’t seem to me like it was that big of a deal. But then I did research and discovered he was a part of Odd Future, and Tyler the Creator, who is always saying ‘faggot this’ and ‘faggot that.’ I was like, Whoa! This dude [Ocean] never checked him. Maybe they knew the whole time, and they were taking the word back and not tripping on it.”

The words “gay” and “faggot” have been a mainstay in hip-hop since its inception. In Grandmaster Flash’s 1982 song “The Message,” a portrayal of inner-city life, we are introduced to a down-low man hiding his secret:

Now you’re unemployed, all non-void Walking ’round like you’re Pretty Boy Floyd / Turned stickup kid, look what you’ve done did  / Got sent upstate for an eight-year bid / Now your manhood is took and you’re a may tag / Spend the next two years as a undercover fag

The hyperbolic masculinity of rappers, lyrically slaying homosexuals and degrading LGBTs, continued as the culture of hip-hop evolved from party anthems to aggressive gangster thug styles by performers including 50 Cent, DMX, Busta Rhymes, and Eminem. As men boasted about their cars, bling, and hard lifestyle, women and LGBTs bore the brunt of hip-hop’s lashings.

Reggie Osse, describing homophobia in hip-hop, says, “I had a conversation with rapper Lil B last year. We were talking about the changing values thematically and what these new rappers are doing. However, the old-guard rappers are like Republicans and want things to stay the same. Whereas hip-hop is changing, and many who are born in this culture are taking it to another place. There are some old-school cats who want to keep rap conservative. Some of my friends who are in hip-hop are very adamant that there is no place for gays. They begin quoting the Bible, and they are coming from an antiquated way of thinking.”

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