Frank Ocean: The Rosa Parks Of The Gay Hip-Hop Movement
From here on, Caushun will forever be known as the Claudette Colvin of Hip-Hop. Caushun was unabashedly out when he was thrust upon the Hip-Hop community as one of the first rappers to be presented as openly gay and embraced by the powers that be. He was also covered heavily in the media as one that would have waved the rainbow flag inside the otherwise open doors on the House of Hip-Hop.
As the story was told in the mid-2000s, he was signed to Baby Phat Records and touted through of the music elite's insider parties. Russell and Kimora Lee Simmons took the fabulously flamboyant Caushun under their mighty marital wing and introduced him to the world.
Jason Herndon, Caushun by his real name, has to be somewhere in the deep recesses of obscurity, stewing. Pissed. Crushed even.
Frank Ocean stole his moment.
Frank Ocean, when history is told and re-told, will be regarded as the Rosa Parks of the Gay Hip-Hop movement. Mark these words. If you have a chisel handy, etch them in stone.
He's not a rapper, some are going to argue. Was Nate Dogg a rapper? What about TJ Swann of the Juice Crew? We all love Mary J. Blige. They and others like them are unquestionably Hip-Hop. Caushun was a rapper, but there was nothing truly Hip-Hop about him. Frank, albeit a singer, is undoubtedly a part of the Hip-Hop community, because of the manner in which his music resonates and his affiliations.
Rosa Parks, who was down with the NAACP, was heralded as a heroine of the Civil Rights Movement for her unwillingness to give up her bus seat to a White man as she rested on her weary feet on that fate-filled day in a 1955 Alabama. But her move was a well-timed act as well, as it was a supremely strategic move. Enter Claudette Colvin.
Before Rosa Parks, there was Claudette Colvin. Colvin was a 15-year-old G from what I've gathered. She was a young, scrappy, and militant kid when she refused to give up her seat to a White person, a full nine months before her elder counterpart, Parks. Colvin was studying the injustices that were going on in 1955, analyzing the life of Black leaders and was ready for whatever was to come.
In her 2009 book, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, she explained why Parks was selected. To NPR, she said, "Her skin texture was the kind that people associate with the middle class. She fit that profile." Parks was also the secretary for the NAACP and had the backing of the local chapter to start the boycott that would cripple the racist busing system.
So, Frank Ocean is the Gay Hip-Hop Movement's Rosa Parks, whether dissonant voices admit it or not. Rosa Parks wasn't the first to get arrested for not giving up her seat. But, she was the first, some say, to fit an ideal that matched the delicate needs of the Dr. Martin Luther King-led push for equal rights. And, like Parks, Ocean is relatively safe, whereas Colvin was a militant that eventually relocated to Harlem in the midst of a cultural revolution living among the likes of Malcolm X.
Caushun was presented as an effeminate gay stereotype, a sort of person that’s overtly flamboyant and ultra outrageous to the commoner. Caushun and several other Gay Hip-Hop heads pre-dated the Odd Future affiliate's announcement that his first love was with another teen boy. But those Homo Hip-Hop heads were not the ONE. Frankie Baby is. Frank Ocean rose quickly through the ranks digging his roots deep, but revealing his sexuality at the right time in the right climate.
The door is opening and Frank Ocean - whether he's Gay, Bisexual, or Something Else - helped open it. It doesn't really matter. He's already worked with Kanye West, Justin Bieber, Brandy, Beyonce, and Jay-Z. And now, 50 Cent wants to work with Ocean post-Gay announcement, and Fif hasn’t historically been all that progressive. In fact, just a couple of mixtapes ago, he waged war against soft rap and "smedium" clothing, and now, he still wants to work with the leader of this new school. Like Obama, that's a shift in position. There has been little to no backlash from the Hip-Hop community, whose homophobia is the stuff legends are made of.
But times have changed quite considerably. Attitudes have changed, but a lot of folks just aren’t choosing to fight that fight.
On top of it all, Frank (and his team) mastered this moment.
Frank Ocean played it perfectly, and there will always be some level of speculation on the timing of the revelation that his first love was a boy. Frank made his gi-normous reveal about his sexuality a week before his album dropped - a sharp contrast from CNN reporter Anderson Cooper, who could have easily capitalized by announcing he was gay during sweeps. He middle-fingered everything and even made the “announcement” through an email to a friend. Whatever.
This is the business of Hip-Hop and impact is about timing and relevance.
Frank Ocean is inexplicably a part of an untold underbelly of African American history - gay people were in Hip-Hop from the very beginning. (Gasp!) If you don't know, you don't know. If you know, you're probably not saying a lot.
Frank Ocean threw caution to the wind and said what he had to say, in song, letter, and deed.
And his timing couldn’t have been better. Just like Rosa Parks.
[Editor’s note: When it was all said and done Caushun turned out to be a joke. He even had a ghost writer. Oddly enough, by today’s Hip-Hop standards, he would have still had a shot at stardom. Claudette Colvin was no joke. Read up on her.]
Many thanks to my muse for this piece. I appreciate your inspiration.