Frank Ocean made headlines recently by announcing that he was bisexual, bucking the long-held belief that you can’t come out in hip-hop. How has his announcement impacted young hip-hop artists struggling with their sexual identities?
“The impact is colossal, not just for black musicians, but for black men in general. Frank is cool, he’s a staple of the hip-hop community. Jay Z, Kanye West—artists black men look up to—they all love Frank. “ says Berklee graduate Joy Daniels, a bisexual hip-hop artist living in Boston. “But Frank didn’t just come out and say ‘I’m gay’— the reaction might have been different if he had—he told us a beautiful love story. That’s what hip-hop is all about-—telling your story. It’s also about respect—respect acts as a buffer to homophobia.” But Daniels adds, “as a woman, it’s different. There’s less of a stigma than for gay male hip-hop artists.”
Calvin Brown, a bisexual musician who played in Joy’s band when they were at Berklee, is now based in New York City and plays jazz, another genre often associated with homophobia. “Frank transcends his sexuality because he is so good at what he does,” says Brown. “Many of us first get into music through church, and that can lead to a lot of baggage. When I came to Berklee, I knew who I was but had to figure out how to navigate the music world as a bisexual, how to present my masculinity. Like hip-hop, jazz is a very masculine genre, especially for instrumentalists. It can be aggressive and almost contest-like—soloists trying to out do each other, each having something to prove.”