Frankly speaking, hip-hop is as gay as any other kind of music
LL ROCK’N’ROLL is homosexual.” The quote can be traced back to Frank Zappa, but was only really popularised when it appeared on a Manic Street Preachers T-shirt.
Homosexuality is back in the music news this week with fast rising r’n’b star Frank Ocean talking about his sexuality. The debate around Ocean’s statement – in which he detailed how his first love was a man – is depressing in its level of ignorance.
One would think that a musical artist’s sexuality is about as relevant as their eye colour, but the language employed this week by music writers suggests we are far less evolved than we like to think.
We read about how there were “always rumours” about Ocean’s sexuality. The use of the term “rumour” is instructive as it carries connotations of “wrongdoing” and is just a wicked a use of words as the terms “suspected of” and “accused of” are in relation to homosexuality.
There has also been plenty of comment about how “brave” it is for a black man in the music industry to talk about his sexuality. The ignorant implication here is that black people (yes, all of them) have a problem with homosexuality. And all of this is coming from the so-called liberal music press.
On MTV.com (which really should know better), they write “many have been questioning whether hip-hop is ready for an openly non-heterosexual male star” and ask “how does hip-hop feel about Frank Ocean now?” The editor-in-chief of Vibe magazine, Jermaine Hall, thinks “the blogs will go at him . . . I don’t know if hip-hop is 100 per cent ready”. Hall feels the hip-hop world still has some growing up to do.
But here’s the money-shot: “Will Frank Ocean's Revelation Affect Album Sales?” (that’s MTV.com again). Such a headline implies that this whole stupid and irrelevant debate is really about whether or not the r’n’ b/hip-hop industry will take a significant financial hit because Ocean talked about his sexuality.
Yes, the music world loves “gay” – as long as it’s “tinsel and sequin gay”. It can have problems coping with “normal” gay – it just doesn’t know how to market and promote music by a gay man or woman who doesn’t want to be a tabloid cartoon version of a gay person.
Ocean is confusing for those who want their gay musician to slot easily into their narrow and rigid allocated space. He looks and talks like a geeky academic, has written for Justin Bieber and Beyoncé and has also worked with Jay-Z and Kanye West. Later this year, he goes on tour with Coldplay. What some find odd is that he’s also an on/off member of rap collective OFWGKTA (Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All) who have been criticised for hate lyrics and were dropped from a New Zealand music festival because of homophobic slurs in their music.
But when you have headlines this week that are asking if the music world is “ready” for a gay musician, you realise there is quite a problem here. And the reason being given for this potential sales damage is because “the hip-hop world is still overtly masculine”. Which doesn’t really square with the fact that plenty of gay men (both within and without the hip-hop community) are also overtly masculine.
Back to the question of is the music world “ready” for a gay black, r’n’b/hip-hop star?
In advance of the physical release of Ocean’s album channel ORANGE, it was made available on iTunes this week. At the time of writing it’s number one in Ireland, the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Denmark, Finland,
Norway . . .
Frank Ocean: is the world ready?