What Frank Ocean coming out means for urban artists

When up-and-coming R&B star Frank Ocean released an open letter to his first love via his Tumblr, some people wondered whether this was a joke à la Lil’ B. For decades we have wondered what the world would look like the day an urban music artist came out of the closet. And with last week’s revelation, the picture seemed pretty uninspired: Currently America is broke, stuck in a couple of wars, our politicians couldn’t be more polarized, and Tom Cruise is going through his third divorce.

While the world is as much ready as it isn’t to have an openly queer R&B singer-songwriter who has already collaborated with the likes of Jay-Z, Kanye West and Beyoncé — never mind his affiliation with the skateboarding punk rock hip-hop collective known as Odd Future — the buzz seems to be on the elephant in the industry. There are other gays living in the closet (glass or otherwise) who equate being honest about their identity with career suicide because of the conservative culture that surrounds hip-hop. Especially for men.

Frank has exhibited a strong sense of independence for as along as we have known him. He released his mix tape for free while signed to Def Jam out of frustration at having his nascent career all but shelved indefinitely. His rebellion against the four-on-the-floor model of songwriting that dominates the charts is a snub to current industry practices. And his choice to be more emotionally expressive and sincere while still toting his Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All status has been a pleasurable paradox for those interested. The Golf Wangers, as we have come to know them, are heavy on irony and shock value and drop the “F” bomb almost as often as they do the “N” word. This is a pretty good time to note that Odd Future’s DJ Syd Tha Kyd is an open lesbian and where they embrace the aggressive energy of the slurs, it seems to come with very little of the prejudice usually associated with it.

So now we’re left with a buzz rumbling as to whether or not Frank’s decision to come out is a special one-off within the black male artist camp or if this is the beginning of a new era. Personally I foresee a run of openly queer artists. They’re already here, just closeted. The youth are propelling culture forward quicker than we expect, as they always do. Maybe it’s actually because he comes from such a classically homophobic world as hip-hop that he chose to make his brave confession. History has shown that the tighter the grip a community has over its people, the more citizens begin to slip through its fingers. Frank Ocean may be the first drop in a huge swell.