Frank Ocean's Independence Day: R&B crooner comes out; hip-hop community reacts

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Soulful edge coupled with hip-hop sensibility; Frank Ocean has done what few R&B singers can, in that he straddles the line and appeals to women without alienating men. Since last year’s breakthrough Nostalgia, Ultra, the crooner (and affiliate of rap’s motley crew Odd Future) has skyrocketed to collaborating with the likes of Jay-Z and Kanye West. He’s your favorite rapper’s favorite singer. Now, the man who reminisced about “the model broad with the Hollywood smile” in “Novacane” and lusted over a gorgeous stripper in “Pyramids” has come out and revealed a same-sex relationship he had as a teenager.

Frank posted the heartfelt confessional on his Tumblr early this morning in which he chronicles falling in love with another man. “Whoever you are, wherever you are..I’m starting to think we’re a lot alike,” the singer writes. The letter, entitled “thank you’s” details how feelings entangled as the other boy had a girlfriend. “He wouldn’t tell me the truth about his feelings for me for another 3 years,” Frank bemoans and then adds, “I couldn’t imagine keeping up my life without him.”

Ironically, this sadness was manifested in music; Frank created hypersexual, romantic verses because he “wanted to create worlds that were rosier” as a way of escapism. The poetic note ends with a feeling of manumission, as Frank no longer has to hide his secret. “I don’t’ have any secrets I need kept anymore…Thanks to my first love. I’m grateful for you. Grateful that even though it wasn’t what I hoped for and even though it was never enough, it was. Some things never are. And we were. I won’t forget you.” He thanks those who knew about his hidden feelings as well as his mother and closes, “I feel like a free man.”

“thank yous” follows a week of rumors in which Frank’s sexuality has been called into question. According to a post (that was first taken down and later amended) on the blog This Is Max, Ocean’s upcoming Channel Orange album contains lyrics that exemplify his bisexuality. Frank’s Tumblr outpouring was a direct response to this. “anyhow, what i’m about to post is for anyone who cares to read. it was intended to fill the thank you’s section in my album credits, but with all the rumors going round.. i figured it’d be good to clarify..” he counters in a post dubbed “BasedGod Was Right” (A reference to heterosexual rapper Lil B who named his album I’m Gay (I’m Happy) in 2011).

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Hip-hop is notorious for its homophobic ethos or the equally popular, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” mantra and has been largely mum thus far on Frank. This could be chalked up to genuine surprise or simply the fact that it’s difficult to craft a proper P.R.-friendly response over a national holiday.

Some celebrities though have been quick to laud Frank’s honesty and see this as a turning point in acceptance in hip-hop. frank ocean is very important for the growth of humanity” tweeted Pittsburgh rapper Mac Miller while Hot 97 radio personality Miss Info shared, “As part of a hiphop collective, #frankocean has made a historic courageous move that’ll outlive any closeminded backlash.”

Saturday Night Live castmember Jay Pharoah encouraged fans to focus on the quality of the music and not on Ocean’s personal penchant, tweeting, “Frank Ocean is a great singer, nothing else should matter.” Meanwhile rapper Killer Mike cited the widely believed rumor that R&B legend Luther Vandross was secretly gay. “Really no big deal the Best R&B guy ever to me was Gay. #LongLiveLutherV!!!”

Tyler the Creator, head of the Odd Future collective and someone known to spout homophobic epithets (e.g. “I’m stabbing any blogging fa**ot hipster with a Pitchfork”), exuded the kind of uncomfortable support expected of him. “My Big Brother Finally F**king Did That. Proud Of That Ni**a Cause I Know That Shit Is Difficult Or Whatever. Anyway. Im A Toilet,” tweeted Tyler. He then added the jab of sorts, “AY B*TCHES, IMA START SINGING SO LIKE, ALL OF FRANKS B*TCHES CAN YOU COME OVER HERE AND LIKE HOLLA AT YA BOY.”

Comedian Lil Duval asked, “sooooo @frank_ocean are u gon be serenading men on stage? I just wanna know so I know when to go to the bathroom at yo show.” Joking or otherwise, Duval’s point is well taken, as this is the first time in memory that a male hip-hop artist has openly identified with having bisexual feelings. At the Coachella music festival this year, Frank performed the song “Forrest Gump” in which he sings about loving a boy, “You run my mind, boy. Running on my mind, boy.” At the time, this love ode was assumed to be from the perspective of a woman and no foul was called, but does that change now?

Perhaps the biggest question is how Frank’s newfound candor will permeate into his music and what that means for the bottom line. This could very well eradicate his audience and prove career suicide. But in an arena where keeping it real still has some semblance of merit, this emotional release could garner him a more universal fan base and in the vein of say, Lady Gaga or Nicki Minaj, catalyze Frank Ocean into a pop culture icon.

Sonya Krishnamurthy is a pop culture critic and host of MTV’s Hip Hop POV. Follow her at @SowmyaK or on TheSowmyaLife.