Frankly speak­ing, hip-hop is as gay as any other kind of mu­sic

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

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?

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