Frank Ocean’s revelation last week of his protean sexuality has resulted in one of the strangest career whorls in modern pop music.
In case you’ve been keeping to your Unabomber-style shack this past week, Frank Ocean—R&B singer and least-crazy member of weirdo-rap collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All—posted a missive to his Tumblr in which he detailed a sexual relationship he had with a man at the age of 19. Ocean refrained from calling himself “gay” or “bisexual,” instead caging the entire message in artful ambiguity, but no matter how lightly you drop the news, revealing homosexual tendencies once you’ve entered the higher echelons of the hip-hop world constitutes “news” of the biggest sort.
In the blizzard of coverage that followed Ocean’s revelation, several bystanders speculated that the timing of the announcement meant it could be nothing more than a publicity stunt. However, a bit of digging reveals that Ocean’s hand was forced by the blog This Is Max, which codified the free-floating mist of rumors that had collected around Ocean into a single, solid accusation. With the hip-hop world still ostensibly inimical to homosexuality (and the Odd Future/Ocean’s teenaged demographic cagey to the extreme on the subject) it seems unlikely that Def Jam’s marketing department would have cooked up Ocean’s admission with mercenary aforethought. In a genre where heavy hitters such as 50 Cent still express open discomfort with the existence of homosexual men, using the admission of a same-sex romance as a marketing scheme just seems too liable to backfire, even if its effects have proven impossibly positive in retrospect.
Even though the past week saw the release of a mixtape from 50 Cent, a continued marketing push for Nas’s forthcoming Life Is Good, and the release of a fifth LP from Chris Brown, all eyes fixated squarely on Frank Ocean. Suddenly, Ocean, until now a moderately well known constituent of a rap collective that is nothing if not an acquired taste, has become the preeminent subject of every music-centric blog on two continents.
So titanic was the groundswell of buzz that Def Jam elected to push the release date of Ocean’s debut album (Channel Orange) up a week, allowing it to coincide with his network TV debut on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
It’s hard to tell which forms the worthier cause for excitement: that hip-hop fans and artists have almost universally supported Ocean after his pronouncement, or that what was going to be a fantastic album with a minor marketing push turned overnight into a fantastic album with ubiquitous media penetration.
And about that album…
Especially in the wake of Chris Brown’s lackluster Fortune, Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange serves as a welcome reminder of how modern R&B can go toe-to-toe with any other genre in terms of its capacities for innovation and thematic scope. Stream the album here; head to iTunes for the genuine article.
Whether the result of marketing chicanery or propitious timing, Ocean’s sudden success offers a cause for celebration as it guarantees a continued outpouring of attention for a remarkable R&B talent.