Friday, July 13, 2012

Channel Orange!

Have you bought Frank Ocean yet? Check out this soulful performance. It's hip hop... with violins! Even more surprising, Frank Ocean is singing to a taxi driver "be my shrink for the hour" about his unrequited love...for a man!


Is there anything more violently homophobic than hip hop? Maybe only Africa. Exactly. I cannot imagine what it must be like for a black man to come out. "Masculinity" is so much more rigid in that culture. And, like it or not, hip hop is one of America's biggest exports. So for Frank Ocean to sing about loving another man, and to have artists like Jay-Z and Russell Simmons publicly commend his action is nothing short of revolutionary.

My friend Sharon teaches college in Jamaica, Queens. She told me about the impact this could have on her students. Queens is a massive melting pot - and she's had a lot of kids into hip hop - and a fair amount of female students who have been completely out, to the extent that it will even come up in class discussion - a girl will say how such and such a story reminds her of her ex-girlfriend. This has never, however, happened with a male student. Just by the law of averages, she must have had gay males in class...

In one assignment, she has students select a short story from class and write an essay about how it resonates with them and why. One student, 18, super butch, rough and tough black guy all into hip hop and dressed in that hip hop drag... he chose to write his essay on how he related to The Yellow Wallpaper. This is an astonishing 1899 short story about a woman suffering depression after giving birth. Her patronizing husband insists she stay cooped up in this upstairs room that has elaborate yellow wallpaper and she obsesses over this wallpaper as she descends into full on madness. 

So this student, he wrote about how he felt like the woman in the story. How he felt trapped like her, in his case trapped by “people's attitudes” about “how you are supposed to be like a man”. They had talked in class about how the woman in the story went mad because of the way she was forced to conform, and this is the way he felt, wanting to never get out of bed because of the pressures of what it means to be a man. Such as (and he buried this at the end) "having romantic feelings for a woman".

The essay to her was heartbreaking and this student, who never otherwise shared anything but sass in class, became so much more emotionally complex than his exterior suggested. He opened her eyes to the intense pressures many young men face, and not even just sexuality - but in expressing emotions, fear, sadness...

To have Frank Ocean open this sealed door just a crack is game-changing. Buy his album. Maybe one day teachers won't have to read essays like that ever again. 

3 comments:

DeMon Spencer said...

Awesome blog entry! I pursued a career in hop hop (which is my first love) and managed to get a deal until I decided to come out. That effected me so deeply that I stopped writing and recording music for 4 years. Frank Ocean did something I couldn't do and I appreciate and admire him for that.

DeMon Spencer said...

Awesome blog entry! I pursued a career in hop hop (which is my first love) and managed to get a deal until I decided to come out. That effected me so deeply that I stopped writing and recording music for 4 years. Frank Ocean did something I couldn't do and I appreciate and admire him for that.

Jesse Archer said...

Hey DeMon, I'm really sorry to hear that but hope you're inspired to get back into writing and recording your music. The world wants to hear it! xoxo