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Real Talk: What's Next for Frank Ocean?

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Frank Ocean

Did I miss a memo? Last week, Anderson Cooper and Frank Ocean, a singer from the hip-hop collective Odd Future, both opened the door on the sexuality closet and came “out.” On Monday, Cooper confirmed via email to the Daily Beast's Andrew Sullivan that he was proud and gay. It was news we already "knew" — or at least strongly speculated about, since Cooper hadn't previously confirmed. News sites ran wild with headlines screaming "Anderson's Gay!" as if he were the first news anchor to come out (uh, Don Lemon, anyone?). But for many Cooper fans, the reaction fell somewhere between "Congratulations!" and "Yes, and water is wet. What else is new?"

The news that "Novacane" singer Frank Ocean is either gay or bisexual, however, caused much more of a stir. Earlier in the week, a BBC reporter noted that on a few songs on Ocean's anticipated upcoming album Clockwork Orange, Ocean used the pronoun "him" to refer to a love interest. The buzz about Ocean's sexuality, which had never been questioned, was overwhelming. So overwhelming that on July 4, Ocean posted an open letter — originally intended to be liner notes for his album — confirming that yes, the rumors were true. 

Without labeling himself as "gay" or "bi," Ocean offered a heartfelt (and heartbreaking) account of his first love, a man. "I don't have any secrets I need kept anymore," Ocean concluded. "I feel like a free man."

My reaction: Wow. This is a moment, capital M. Def Jam Records co-founder Russell Simmons weighed in, calling Ocean's revelation "a big day for hip-hop. It is a day that will define who we really are." The L.A. Times said Ocean's disclosure was "the glass ceiling moment for music."

I am proud of Ocean for getting free, but I am also worried about where he goes from here. I can't help but recall how Lemon, the first Black male national news anchor to come out, characterized reactions to homosexuality in the Black community when he came out a year ago. Explaining the risks that come with being an openly gay black man, Lemon said, "In the black community they think you can pray the gay away." He also noted pressures to attain certain ideals of "manhood." Those pressures are tenfold in hip-hop.

Since the big reveal, a slew of rappers have come forth to support Ocean, including members of Odd Future, plus Busta Rhymes and Trina. Ocean's fans have been largely supportive, from applauding him to noting they would "still" enjoy his music, despite the pronouns. So far, everyone's been pretty PC or is operating by a "nothing nice to say" vow of silence. I wonder how long this lasts, and what comes next for the undoubtedly talented Ocean. He is a first in popular hip-hop, and as such, there is no precedent.

Will you listen to music from an "out" singer?

Demetria Lucas is the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk

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