Facebook became overrun with closed readings of the lyrics in his songs (is he talking about men or women?!?) and sensationalized speculation (is he gay or bisexual?!?). Gays across the country, who had never even heard of Frank Ocean, let alone his music, before seeing his name, chiseled jaw line and the words “gay” pasted across a Huffington Post headline, clamored to preorder his new CD, Channel Orange, on Amazon.com and set their DVR’s eagerly anticipating his first appearance post “coming out” on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
In just a matter of minutes Ocean became a gay icon, the first openly gay hip-hop artist in history.
Technically Ocean’s vibrato on Orange, and debut mixtape Nostalgia, falls under New Wave R&B, but his background lies with the hip-hop collective Odd Future, led by the newly notorious Tyler, The Creator – who recently won an MTV Video Music Award amidst controversy, as he spits some of the most homophobic lyrics in modern hip-hop.
Ocean has yet to actually discuss his sexuality in any public manner, beyond the liner notes of Orange, yet we can’t stop talking about him. After his “announcement,” most were saying “Anderson who?” and many claimed this a changing tide in hip-hop, the last of the overtly homophobic frontiers, much like pro sports.
But why is Ocean so special? Many have speculated that his coming out was simply a publicity move to ensure high sales for Orange, saying he’d been out within the industry for years. Others are calling him the Harvey Milk of hip-hop.
But regardless of what’s being said, the truth is Ocean did change the game. Hip-hop moguls Russell Simmons and Jay-Z have come out in support of Ocean’s decisions to go public and the backlash has surprisingly been slim. Orange has been critically lauded across the board and debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, despite speculation that homophobia would hurt sales.
And though Ocean may be the first celebrity of his kind, many have been paving the way for such an event. Many who have been living their truth while navigating the sometimes-treacherous waters of the hip-hop underground.
Deep Dickollective, Katastrophe, Tori Fixx and God-Des & She. No, these aren’t porn names; they’re some of the artists featured in “Pick Up the Mic,” a critically acclaimed documentary about the underground LGBT hip-hop movement otherwise known originally as homo-hop. The film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 2005 at the height of homo-hop’s heyday.
The homo-hop movement saw it’s beginning during the early 2000s when many of the names mentioned above started the PeaceOUT World Homo Hop Festival in California. The festival ran annually from 2001 to 2007 and saw spin-offs in New York City, Atlanta and even London. Unfortunately, the collective homo-hop community dissipated with the popularity of its founding artists.
But today the underground rap movement is being flooded with a resurgence of homo-hop artists, but this time they’re operating in a more modern realm, as simply rappers who happen to be gay. It’s become more about the hook than the movement.
“Frank Ocean was progress, but it’s small progress, hip-hop is still very stuck in its ways,” said Jasmine “Yung Snazz” Lyons, an up-and-coming hip hop presence in Detroit. “It has to start with the upbringing of these artists. I don’t think, at this point, [Ocean’s coming out] is going to change anything right now.”
Originally a poet, Snazz has been performing professionally for four years now, just putting out her first full-length project, “Summertime in Detroit” in July. According to Snazz, most of her fans are heterosexual, and she’s never faced discrimination because of her sexuality.
“Ever since I figured out who I was I’ve been out,” she said. “And I’ve been lucky to be one of those few LGBT artists who haven’t been held back because of it.”
Up in New York City, Harlem-bred Richard “Loco Ninja” Ruperto feels a major change in hip-hop is closer than most think.
“Just based on people I’ve talked to in the industry, the feeling is not if it’s going to happen, it’s when and who,” said Ninja who’s been slowly climbing the hip-hop ladder himself for several years. He released his third mixtape, “So Close But So Far,” also in July. His original claim to fame comes from an appearance on The Tyra Banks Show during its heyday in 2008, which led to several MTV reality show appearances and a featured spot in the PBS doc “Out In America.”
“I’m proud of [Frank Ocean],” said Ninja, winner of Best Mixtape (Flame On) and Best Video (“I’m in Love” ft Lumidee and Carmen Barretta) at the 2011 Out Hip Hop Awards. “People felt it was a publicity stunt, but truthfully everything today is a publicity stunt, but I don’t care. With him being young and black, it was something different. He’s made history for our community.”
Ninja, who’s worked with top charting singer Lumidee and Lisa D’Amato (America’s Next Top Model) with plans to put out a project soon helmed by Somaya Reece (Love & Hip Hop), thinks a mainstream gay rapper could happen in our lifetime, but it’s about the buy-in from the major labels, which definitely aren’t on board.
“I think it’s always going to be an issue until myself or someone is signed to a major label,” he said “It’s still an issue in every scenario, even when I want to buy studio time somewhere just to record, I’ve been turned down because I’m gay. They think recording an openly gay artist is a waste of time.”
Terrence “TTGotIt” Wilson from the Chicago rap duo Freak Boiz agrees. “I don’t think the world is ever going to be ‘ready’ per se, we’re going to have to make them ready. “[Ocean] was a big deal for fans, but not for the industry. He was already out in the industry. Now it’s time for executives to start recognizing that gay artists do exist in the public eye.”
The Freaky Boiz exploded onto the scene just last year, after several viral YouTube videos garnered them national attention; rife with comparisons to Nicki Minaj. Now, after a summer for touring Pride festivals across the country, they’ve released their first original song and music video with “Bounce.”
Pierre “P-Weezy” Phipps, Freaky Boiz’s other half, thinks their modern sound could put them over the top. “A big executive needs to give people like us a chance. Once that happens nothing will stop us.”
“Hip-hop is a masculine sport and a lot of people say we’re going to ‘soften the game,’ but with all the support we’re getting from big names like Jay-Z and Russell Simmons, it’s just a matter of time,” Ninja said. “I think Lil Wayne could even be the first to bring on a gay artist. He brought on Nicki Minaj and I know he sees that LGBT people are buying her albums.”
Go online to find out more about the artists featured in this article. Yung Snazz: YungSnazz.bandcamp.com, Freaky Boiz: Facebook.com/FreakyBoiz and Loco Ninja: TheLocoWorld.com
~from Outlook Columbus