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 5:20 AM ET

Jay-Z, one of the many artists to voice support for Ocean, performs onstage.

“I’m an advocate for those in my family and those who I am close to, and I am an advocate for the homosexual community,” says rapper Murs, a member of the hip-hop groups Living Legends, Felt, and the 3 Melancholy Gypsies. He is also part of a punk fusion band, the Invincibles, out of Jacksonville, Fla., and is prepping for the release of his new album, This Generation, with fellow rapper Fashawn.

Murs recently released a shocking music video for his single “Animal Style.” Both the single and video feature a young man as he struggles with his sexual orientation, and portray the conflict he feels as he begins to date another man. Murs plays his boyfriend. In the video, the two men share a kiss. He explains that he spoke with his wife prior to making the video, and she fully supported him and the concept.

Murs faced significant opposition in making the song. “I wanted to do this song for five years, and for five years producers did not want to touch the song,” he says. “They didn’t want to be associated with the subject matter. However, those same producers are now calling me and supporting me and saying they are proud of me.”

Murs says he did the video and song to let his gay friends, associates, and fellow rappers know that he was aware of their being closeted and that he still cared for them. “I wanted to give them their moment and let them know that the door is open and I am going to take a stance for them,” Murs says. “And I think with artists like Jay-Z, Frank Ocean, and myself, homophobia in hip-hop will disappear.

“Teenagers are killing themselves,” he continues. “We have to stop this because people are losing their lives and getting beat to death. It makes me extremely sad. I can’t watch children die.”

While gay men and lesbians in hip-hop have often been pressured to stay closeted so as not to invite public, family, and personal shame, for many artists being openly gay was considered career suicide. Many performers are still strongly encouraged by agents, managers, and label executives to not be out—or even identify as one of the letters in the LGBT acronym.

“No one will support you if they know you’re gay,” Tim’m West says. “The notion in the black community [is that] coming out is a social death, and you might as well die. For white artists, such as George Michael, Melissa Etheridge, k.d. lang, and Elton John, their record sales did not plummet, nor did their careers suffer. It’s only within the black community.”

Ocean has largely refused to do interviews on this subject, and even in his interview in the British newspaper The Guardian, he doesn’t address the issue of labels.  

 “A lot of people were giving Frank Ocean props and saying that he was letting everyone come into his world, as opposed to coming out,” Deadlee says. “In his letter he never used the word ‘gay,’ and this guy is getting more props for not even using the word or even identifying in his letter. I’m gay and I’m not afraid to use the word. I hope that Frank Ocean comes to the point of not being afraid to use the ‘gay’ word.”

Though he doesn’t give his sexual orientation a label in the letter, Ocean does describe relationships with women. “Frank Ocean never said he was gay or bisexual, he just said he was in love with a man,” says Ebony Utley, an assistant professor in communication studies at California State University, Long Beach. “It was others who needed to identify and label him instead of him, and allowing him to do it for himself. Let’s let the man define himself… Besides, he was wise not to say anything beyond his letter, and that’s what he needed to sell his record.”

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