FRANK OCEAN & BLONDE: A DISCUSSION BETWEEN BLACKS, HIP-HOP, AND HOMOPHOBIA
In 2011, the Nolstagia, Ultra mixtape hit the internet and the wide variety of people who heard it loved it. But it was the success of album, Channel Orange, that helped Frank Ocean gain the exposure and success that earned him a Grammy that year, and had us eager for a new album four years later.
But why were we so eager? What was is that made us yearn for more? What hold did Frank put on us? It was the story he told. In his Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape, we fell in love with his lyrics and melodies, but it was the unfinished story Channel, Orange told that left us unsettled and unsatisfied.
When we were introduced to Frank Ocean, he was another R&B singer with a unique voice. But unlike a lot of singers, he wrote his own music and his lyrics were stories. Stories of insecurity, strength, moving on, and infidelity. But that was all before Channel Orange. Channel Orange brought all the continuations of the previous stories but it also brought a new story: homosexuality. Homosexuality is one of the most taboo stories an artist could tell in the hip-hop world. Why is it taboo? Because hip-hop/rap is deemed as a masculine practice, and a black one to be exact. So speaking of such actions would take not only the masculinity out of hip-hop, but it would also take out it’s blackness.
What Frank Ocean did was out himself in Channel Orange, but the rest of his story had yet to be determined. He told us about why it was so taboo to be gay. The unnatural, yet pleasurable feeling of a man being with another man. He elaborates in his hit song, Thinkin’ Bout You, when he says:
Yes, of course
I remember, how could I forget?
How you feel?
You know, you were my first time
A new feel
It will never get old, not in my soul not in
my spirit, keep it alive
We’ll go down this road
‘Til it turns from color to black and white
He notes his first experience with a man. The last two lines are symbols of homosexuality through colors. “This road” is the whole battle of homosexuality versus societal norms. In terms of the colors, think of it this way, playing it safe is the “black and white” which is the norm of society. The “color” would be taking a risk and/or standing out amongst everyone else which represents homosexuality. You could also think of it in the way that when you think of homosexuality, you think of the rainbow in which you think of color. He tells us that even if he and others are condemned for their thoughts and feelings, he will continue to do it anyway.
What his new album, Blonde, proposes is unanswered questions that we had. Blonde explores his ideal boyfriend, his first encounter in a gay bar, and the passion in the lovemaking between he and his male companion. Frank Ocean has went against all odds and expressed his every emotion in the companionship between two men and has challenged hip-hip tremendously. He has called into question, can you still talk about homosexuality and still label it “hip-hop?” And for Black male audiences, can you still listen to this next level of music and still retain your masculinity?
I have come across various statuses and tweets discussing Blonde and I have witnessed a pattern of people, Black men especially, saying that they cannot relate to Frank Ocean’s new music because of it’s association with homosexuality. Would I say they are being hypercritical? Absolutely. I can’t relate to Keyshia Cole’s struggle music but do I still sing my heart out when it comes on? Like I’ve been divorced with three kids and a prenuptial agreement. Can I identify with the lyrics Miguel presented in “Pussy is Mine?” No, but it’s not about the actual lyrics. It’s about the underlying connection between two individuals that in the lyrics regardless of gender or sexuality.
So what does Blonde mean for blacks and hip-hop? It marks the end of an era where talking about sex and sexuality are now mutually inclusive. It helps to end the taboo hold on what it means to be gay in the hip-hop world. How do we help stop it? We stop labeling things and making them mutually exclusive. Men, stop questioning your manhood over a song. If you have to question it, I can promise you that you may be what you’re questioning. Ladies, stop telling these men that it’s “gay” and feminine for a man to feel. There are no gender for human emotions and stop letting people tell you otherwise.
Here’s to Blonde. An amazing album that has helped us to progress individually and as a community: as hip-hop, black, and gay.