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

The kiss in Murs’s “Animal Style” video.

Though the declarations of support for Ocean by 50 Cent and Jay-Z were a milestone in hip-hop, Utley notes, “Frank Ocean is an R&B singer. Let’s be clear, hip-hop hasn’t had its first openly gay artist. No rapper has come out. Honestly, we don’t know what the support will be for an openly gay rapper because one has not come out.”

The distinction is quite significant for music industry watchers, including Utley, who feels R&B is a more open environment for LGBT musicians. R&B artists Rahsaan Patterson, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Donnie had already publicly acknowledged being LGBT, and each was with a major record label when they did so. Donnie was signed to Giant Step Records and Motown Records when he publicly disclosed that he was gay, in 2007, and he was the first male to do so. The velvet-voiced R&B singer-songwriter has worked with India.Arie and recorded and released two albums, The Colored Section and The Daily News.

“There was nothing said about my sexuality with Giant Step,” Donnie says. “When they signed me they already knew. They signed me because of my art and felt it could sell.” From Giant Step, Donnie was signed over to Motown Records, and the discussion of his sexuality wasn’t brought up there either. “I figured Motown already knew about my sexuality because when The Colored Section was released I wasn’t on television or in videos acting like I was in love with a woman or singing to women. It was nothing for me to say in an interview I was gay. It was just like I was saying I was black. Besides, if you got gaydar, you can see I was gay. So why hide?”

Donnie grew up in a very strict religious family, which practiced the Hebrew Pentecostal faith. He attended the same church as singer Marvin Gaye. Donnie says he struggled with his sexuality as a young boy because the pastor of his church would single him out and speak to him in code via the sermons. “My mother made me go into his office and tell him that if whoremongers can play the instruments, then sissies can sing.”

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