"Frank Ocean and the Future"
It can be obscured under a grime of casual homophobia and sexism in their lyrics and music video imagery, but the most radical thing about the music collective Odd Future has always been their matter-of-fact inclusion of their lesbian producer, Syd tha Kid. She’s always been a full member of the group, rather than a sexually-available hanger on, and for all the language and imagery members of Odd Future throw around, in practice, the collective seems entirely comfortable with non-straight people. That perception is even truer today after Odd Future member Frank Ocean posted the story of his first love on his Tumblr, a lyrical, painful reminiscence of falling for another man who didn’t, or couldn’t bring himself to, return Frank’s affections. Tyler the Creator, Odd Future’s flashy frontman, was immediately supportive, tweeting “Proud of that nigga cause I know that shit is difficult or whatever.”
His Twitter bio, of course, still reads “I AM NOT A DYKE.” And it’s not as if his pride in Frank’s personal courage means Tyler recognizes (or wants to acknowledge) the contribution of casual vernacular homophobia to the fact that “that shit is difficult or whatever.” Dream Hampton wrote, in an open letter to Frank, “The 200 times Tyler says ‘faggot’ and the wonderful way he held you up and down on Twitter today, Syd the Kid’s sexy stud profile and her confusing, misogynistic videos speak to the many contradictions and posturing your generation inherited from the hip-hop generation before you.” That evolution, that untangling of contradictions, happens in fits and starts. Earl Sweatshirt, another Odd Future member, came back from an extended stay at a school in Samoa, during which he did volunteer work with rape and assault survivors, sobered about the casualness of rape imagery in his lyrics. Maybe the same thing will happen with Tyler. Maybe it won’t.
But whatever happens, Syd and Frank are here. They are visible. Tyler’s support for them is visible. Jay-Z’s tacit support is visible in letting Hampton publish her letter on his Life and Times site. And visibility is the long-term death of bias. I don’t really think that Odd Future will be the wheel that turns the entire ship of hip-hop (or R&B, the genre which Frank is more rooted in) here. It was never going to be that a major talent in a musical genre came out and the next day we woke up to the bloom of a thousand gay and gay-positive mix tapes. That’s too much freight to place on any one person, and far too much to expect of an entrenched industry with well-established norms, even if those norms do that genre harm. But at the end of Angels in America, Tony Kushner’s main character, Prior Walter, said something that I think gets this kind of event exactly right. “We won’t die secret deaths anymore,” he tells the audience directly. “The world only spins forward. We will be citizens…The Great Work begins.” There are all kinds of countries, and all kinds of citizenship to be claimed.