“Anyone that has an issue with Frank Ocean is an idiot.” 50 Cent, 3 days ago.
And anyone who doubts that pop music has lost its potential to change the world, or that Frank Ocean is a revolutionary, should read the above quote again. Bear in mind that this is the same 50 Cent who told Playboy in 2004 “I don’t like gay people around me” and as recently as 2010 attacked Kanye West with the lyrics: “See ya out there wit that funny shit on/ Look him, he’s a faggot, kick him, kick his fuckin ass/ Ahahahahaha”. Now he’s declaring his support for the wildly talented Frank Ocean, who revealed just over two weeks ago that his first great love was a man. 50 Cent, as they like to say on X Factor, has been on quite “a journey”.
It’s not even the most extraordinary statement Mr Cent made that day. He went on to speculate that Ocean’s gentle, heartfelt announcement might be a publicity ploy. “You can call it brave or you can call it marketing”, he said, with the begrudging, confused tone of a neanderthal being dragged from his cave, blinking into the sunlight of modernity (he also cited Barack Obama’s declaration of support for gay marriage, reminding us that that too was a revolutionary moment, in the more obvious political way).
Let’s just consider Fiddy’s Theory for a moment. One month ago, Frank Ocean was a 24 year old singer/songwriter/producer whose first “mixtape”, the eclectic, humane and thoughtful “Nostalgia Ultra”, was released without record company support in 2011 (click here for one of its loveliest moments, and note the lyrics “I don’t believe that our lives are simple” or “I believe that marriage isn’t between a man or woman, but between a love and a love”). It was intriguing and lovely enough for many magazines to name him as a rising star for 2012 – but with the emphasis strongly on “rising”. Despite his sometimes poppy sensibilities (he has written for Beyonce and Justin Bieber), his reputation was grounded in the world of hip hop, as a member of LA’s apocalyptic rap collective Odd Future.
To risk stating the obvious, hip hop in 2012 isn’t exactly glam rock in 1972 or British synth pop in 1984. Homo or bisexuals are not first on the guest list: many rappers remain belligerently macho and some are all too happy to indulge in some recreational verbal gay-bashing. Even Ocean’s friend and Odd Future collaborator Tyler The Creator has cheerfully explained he loves insulting people as “faggots” because “it hits, it hurts people.”
Can 50 Cent really imagine anyone with a commercial interest in Ocean’s fledgling career suggesting that his best career move would be to announce to the world that he had loved a man? Or that any cynical but sane marketer at his record label, Def Jam, given an advance listen to Ocean’s beautiful new album “Channel Orange” would not have begged him not to sabotage its commercial potential with such a risky move?
Because make no mistake, Frank Ocean took a huge risk. As dream hampton, hip hop chronicler and beautiful writer, wrote to him in her open letter: “You must have seen the pictures of pioneer Afrika “Baby Bam” from the Jungle Brothers in drag and read the blogs ridiculing him, despite the fact that he’s been leading a civilian life for nearly two decades. I know as a singer you love Rahsaan Patterson and bemoan the fact that homophobia prevented him from being the huge star his talent deserves.” In hip hop, more perhaps than in any other musical genre (even heavy metal has its gay standard bearer, Judas Priest’s Rob Halford), gay rumours have maimed careers.
So yes, 50 Cent, Frank Ocean is brave, and in ways that few people – particularly in the UK – seem to have fully grasped. More on this in part 2 – out later today.