Ocean is certainly a revolutionary because he is the first black male singer to come clean about his sexuality and attraction to men in the midst of his rising career in the history of urban music. He is certainly not the first gay or bisexual man in urban music there are hundreds if not thousands before him but he is the FIRST large scale star to come forth and admit it. Some will say Sylvester or RuPaul were first but who didn’t know they were gay whether they said it or not? Frank could have certainly remained under the radar and had a career as a fake ‘ladies man only’ for decades like many other black male singers have done and still continue to do to this day but he was not willing to make that sacrifice. The question now becomes, how will the black audience and urban radio respond to his new project and to him as an artist?
Urban radio and the black community have a shared tendency to be unusually conservative, even at times neglecting the obvious shades of hypocrisy. Some of the greatest opposition for black gay people comes from the black community’s controversial extremes: those with criminal pasts, the religious and those who have a deep rooted psychological and unexplained hatred for black gays who they summarize as “traitors.” There are also those who know they are gay but make every possible effort to hide it even to the point of marriage and children because they are all to familiar with the extreme opposition from the black community and (what can even be the hypocritical) black church. Finally, there are those who quote the Bible on gays with opposing scripture as a weapon as they are fully aware of the black gay community’s deep rooted family ties and at the same time universal unparalleled commitment to the black church. It is often a winning effort to evoke guilt and shame for a lifestyle that is consistently under attack by the black community mostly because, unlike the white gays, black gays are often silent, invisible and unwilling to collectively fight back or take a stand. Black gays are supremely dedicated to their unparalleled historical ties to the black church as well as the black community even to a fault.
All of the above positions about the black community and black gays offer an interesting irony and dichotomy that can be debated until the end of time but urban radio is now on the front lines of an issue it has ignored for way too long. Not just about black gays but about the black community as a whole. Just how will urban radio respond to Ocean’s historical admission. Time will tell but if urban radio does not support this project or Ocean it could be a problem with (mostly white) gay community leaders, perhaps not but urban radio should be prepared to have a good explanation either way as the new album is a solid piece of work.
Urban radio’s once community leader and advocate position yet never-ending fight for ad dollars may have to find a neutral position and rise from the community-driven dead to once again help to change the minds of the listeners, offering urban radio programmers the ultimate challenge in their ability to program, if the corporations are willing to take a back seat and let them do their jobs. Syndicated shows like Tom Joyner, Steve Harvey, Rickey Smiley and Yolanda Adams (over) dominate urban radio airwaves nationwide and they could certainly make a huge impact with listeners by speaking up for Ocean. It’s a very delicate issue with older blacks especially and most of the major corporations, including Radio One, already fall short in dealing with this issue because they don’t have the right people in place.
One may question if Urban radio’s job is to appeal to the masses or simply play the hits only. While there are opposing sides of the black gay issue most people, a MAJORITY of black people, rarely considered or mentioned, fall in the middle and they could care less about who someone else is sleeping with because they are too busy trying to raise their kids, keep working and keep food on the table. People with criminal pasts are no strangers to gays within the prison system. The religious have often been exposed by the extreme hypocrisy of ministers and because of the very public recent Eddie Long scandal, should it not be incredibly obvious that people who have a deep rooted disdain or dislike for gays could very well be hiding secrets of their own? Long is not the alleged exception to the rule, many in the gay community state that he IS the rule.
Most urban programmers are progressive thinkers but they are also reserved, especially the gay and bisexual ones. With so much bullshit that they have to put up with these days dealing with radio corporations just to keep a job, remaining under the radar at all costs is most desired. To that end, Urban radio does offer some exposure to black gays, often in the form of the typical over-the-top gossipy morning sidekicks but many gays will state this perception is insulting and not who a majority of the gay community is. Nevertheless, you can’t be more in-your-face than the sidekicks and the golden rule for the black community has always been, ‘we don’t care who or what you are, as long as you can entertain us,’ so to a large extent these gay men are certainly the revolutionaries of the black gay community. If urban radio hired a black lesbian she would most likely be a knockout and unclockable, urban radio would be terrified of hiring a “stud” (very masculine woman) but there are a few who have worked in the urban industry who make Kimbo Slice look like Taylor Swift. Oddly, the opposite is the truth for black gay men: urban radio will hire an over the top effeminate gay man but not an out conservative black gay man. But once again, it’s the opposite with music, artists like Sylvester, Grace Jones and Jermaine Stewart where often shelved in an effort to keep the urban radio playlists “clean” and “repulsive” free of androgyny and listener and industry “suspicion” but Prince was the exception, with permed hair, makeup, high-heeled boots and frilly blouses as long as he had a woman close by. Urban radio’s golden rule has always been as long as an artist was undercover and not “Out” urban radio would support them and there have been/are several black male artists who fit that category especially black male balladeers.
Urban radio and the music industry has the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell rule and the problem is not that the decision makers are homophobic but black people as a whole are “group” thinkers and the black media often fears retaliation for being perceived a certain way amongst peers. The truth is there are several black gay men and women who work in the industry at all levels from radio programmers to announcers to DJs to record label execs to singers to, dare we say RAPPERS: certainly the MOST homophobic arena but they are not OUT or openly gay for fear of discrimination.
Some of the biggest legends in the urban radio and music arena are gay and bisexual but they are not out to the industry but the industry knows about them, on the other hand there are some extremely homophobic people working in the urban industry too, one label comes to mind with a black male executive who works for a huge industry star. If I revealed who this person is, pandemonium would break out. It’s no surprise that it’s been rumored for years this man is secretly gay himself but he absolutely hates gays and those closest to him know this. A black radio executive informed Radio Facts recently that white execs at major radio corporations have tried to get urban radio to do HIV testing for listeners but several urban programmers refused because they didn’t want to be perceived as gay (either themselves or their station). Black women would benefit most from such drives, walks and campaigns.
Frank Ocean‘s success (or the lack of it…the album Channel Orange is already #1 on iTunes) will certainly be interesting to watch in the coming months as urban radio is now put on front street and MANY, MANY, MANY gay organizations will be watching to see how our industry handles this situation.