As rap industry pioneer Russell Simmons rightly stated this week, "These types of secrets should not matter anymore," and yet the cold, anti-gay sentiments sprinkled into lyrics throughout much of rap's history have necessitated a reaction to--or at least a discussion about--the news of R&B singer (and frequent rap collaborator) Frank Ocean's recent coming out as a gay/bisexual man. Ocean is member of controversial Los Angeles hip hop collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (or Odd Future for short), a group who's ambitious production is certainly progressive, although their excessively violent and homophobic lyrics reaffirm much of the genre's perceived intolerance. To put Ocean's announcement (which came in the form of a poetic tale of a teenage love lost on his Tumblr page) in perspective, it would be similar to one of the members of Eminem's D-12 collective coming out if it happened a decade ago; an announcement that surely would have spurred some mixed feelings in the Detroit group's legion of angry, battle-rap-loving followers. It probably would have empowered a lot of young people at the time, and opened the minds of others, as one can only hope Ocean's announcement will now.
I've often justified harsh lyrics with the "entertainment" disclaimer, and I'll stand by that to a point. I mean, unless you believe someone like Nacho Picasso kidnaps and kills people for fun, you understand that he's making himself out to be some kind of comic book villain for our entertainment, and it works. This show is true in any art form. Violence is one thing (and often brings to light the unfortunate conditions an MC grew up in, etc.), but there's something too vile, too specific, and too close to home for many to hear words like "fag" spit with a clearly negative connotation. The LGBT community is one that's too actively oppressed for us to laugh it off or chalk it up to entertainment. There's no sense in belaboring the point, but this is a good chance for many artists to reflect on their lyrics.
Ocean prefaced his announcement with the line "BASEDGOD WAS RIGHT...we're all a bunch of golden million dollar babies," and hey, we don't deserve all the bullshit that's piled on top of us. It was a brave thing to do for a young singer on the rise, and something that he needed to do to feel free. In Ocean's case, and the case of each subsequent artist to come out, the important thing to remember is that we're all golden million dollar babies, listen to their music, and get to know the artist behind the headlines.