LOS ANGELES — Frank Ocean’s Def Jam debut, “Channel Orange,” isn’t due for two weeks, but the album has had Twitter abuzz for days.
As the Odd Future crooner previewed the highly anticipated disc for press, attention shifted to his sexuality after one blogger’s brief mention that when he sings about love on a number of tracks he uses “him” as opposed to “her.”
It was that quick line that has dominated the blogosphere.
What was fascinating about the rampant speculation about Ocean isn’t that it spread so quickly (much of this week’s headlines have centered on Anderson Cooper confirming his sexual orientation), but rather how many blogs haphazardly drafted their own analysis, most of them without having heard the album.
Now we know for sure: Tuesday evening Ocean took to his Tumblr to address the spreading headlines. In a preface post, he wrote that he would be posting what was originally meant to appear in the liner notes for “Channel Orange.” He made clear that he lived the lyrics in his songs, which he sings with such an intense passion, urgency and plainness. This was his story.
“With all the rumors going round.. i figured it’d be good to clarify..,” he wrote.
In the letter — actually a screenshot of a note document — he describes the first time he fell in love with a man and how the relationship progressed. He bluntly stated, “I don’t know what happens now, and that’s alrite. I don’t have any secrets I need kept anymore.”
“4 summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together. Everyday almost. And on the days we were together, time would glide,” Ocean wrote in part of the letter. “Most of the day I’d see him, and his smile. I’d hear his conversation and his silence ... until it was time to sleep. Sleep I would often share with him. By the time I realized I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless ...”
The straightforward letter is undoubtedly the glass-ceiling moment for music. Especially black music, which has long been in desperate need of a voice like Ocean’s to break the layers of homophobia. There are plenty of reasons this moment has so much weight. Too many for any single article to explore.
Ocean has never talked at length about his personal life, leaving his music and its often-complex narratives to drive the conversation. But in a culture where the gossip increasingly and frustratingly outweighs the music, Ocean’s casual and candid approach to addressing his personal life, and revealing his personal truth of having loved a man, will be seen as groundbreaking.
There was no cover story, no anonymous sources or PR-orchestrated announcement (though this is not to demean those celebrities who have taken those approaches to this issue). Sure this will be seen as his “coming out” but it should be noted he doesn’t use the word “gay” or “bisexual,” and his letter isn’t about caving to the pressures of the labels we are so quick to pass out.
Ocean told his story on his terms and in his own words, something virtually unheard of in hip-hop and R&B — genres he has already pushed forward artistically with his work, and could push further.
Thursday, Ocean played the disc for a small group of music reporters at Los Angeles’ Capitol Records.
“This will take about an hour of your life,” he said before focusing on the control board and bobbing his head to the album, a stellar kaleidoscope of atmospheric beats, lush harmonies and those complex narratives he’s known for.
“It’s a bad religion, to be in love with someone who can never love you,” he muses over an organ on “Bad Religion,” one of the track’s catching attention along with the Andre 3000-assisted “Pink Matter” and the album’s wrenching closer “Forrest Gump,” where he sings of a boy he once knew.
“You’re running on my mind, boy,” he offers on the track.
The reaction to Ocean’s revelation is still uncertain — although any negativity can be drowned out by the album’s raw beauty and masterful craftsmanship. The outpouring of tweets supporting Ocean has made it clear that he’s going to get a fair amount of love from fans and the industry, with some already touting him as a hero and a trailblazer. Being someone of his stature will place a heavy burden on his shoulders as being the “first,” but this moment was so very necessary.
Hopefully, in the wake of his letter, the urban community will fully embrace Ocean for his honesty and bravery. It’s impossible he’s alone.