If anything, Frank Ocean is consistent. His music is textured and complicated, and his songs are smooth, his voice of cream on display and yet his lyrics doing the work. In 2011, he released his debut mix tape, Nostalgia, Ultra. This July, he released his first studio album, Channel Orange. But before any of this, he joined a group called Odd Future. Founded in 2007, the group is fronted by an outspoken rapper named Tyler, The Creator, who has continually produced records full of slurs and ostensible hate, or at least arrogance. The prime example? Their 2010 album, Goblin, which contains an unforgivable amount of slurs. Gay slurs. How many? 213.
A year ago, Sara Quin — of the band Tegan and Sara, twin sisters who are openly gay — spoke up. She said, “In any other industry, would I be expected to tolerate, overlook and find deeper meaning in this kid’s sickening rhetoric?” And, “Why should I care about this music or its ‘brilliance’ when the message is so repulsive and irresponsible?” When The Creator heard questions, his tweeted answer was brief: “If Tegan and Sara need some hard dick, hit me up!”
Fast-forward to now. Ocean has publicly adjusted his sexual orientation, and the Odd Future front man has replied, this time favorably, again over Twitter, lauding his friend’s courage. And then, switching gears, he stated — inexplicably — “Anyway. Im A Toilet.”
“Come take a stab at it faggot, I pre-ordered your casket.”
— Odd Future, “AssMilk”
So what are we to make of that puzzling statement, or admission, or joke, “I’m a toilet.” Is Tyler, The Creator dismissing the whole situation as light and humorous? Is he declaring atonement? Is he attempting nothing? Whatever the case may be, it doesn’t quite matter, as sifting through the politics of Odd Future has never been easy. For example, before Ocean came out, the group’s DJ, Syd the Kid, did the same. She is a lesbian and yet curiously, she aligns herself with misogyny that’s both insulting and archaic in nature. However, something about Syd the Kid’s philosophy is admirable; in an interview with LA Weekly, she says, “I put myself out there because I’m sick of people asking…[It’s] not like [people] are going up to the other guys in the group and asking if they’re straight.’” Then again, until now, and unless we were being subjected to the ultimate scenario of being punk’d, we could be certain that the rest of the Odd Future members were definitely straight, if only because of their lyrics, their words.
“It was just funny cause I was getting bashed as a homophobe or whatever and I kept saying dude how am I one? i have gay friends like what the fuck leave me alone haha.”
— Tyler, The Creator, on being asked to elaborate on Frank Ocean’s coming out (via Formspring)
If we are to take Tyler, The Creator’s Formspring remark at face value then we see that he is at once in denial, on defense, and in retreat. After all, Odd Future is continually lauded as brilliant, even “mesmerizing.” Their music and art and therefore their message has been affirmed and reaffirmed, allowed and enabled. They have never had to collectively and seriously answer for their morally questionable content. Now they do. Now, Tyler, The Creator is caught between a straw-man argument (i.e. saying you’re not_______ because you have _______ friends), a hard place of keeping his (at least) public persona, and the even harder place of admitting his previous moral bankruptcy. On the heels of President Obama’s statement of support for gay marriage, America is progressively moving toward both acceptance and self-acceptance, and yet the Creator is drowning.
“I believe that marriage isn’t between a man and a woman but between love and love, And I believe you when you say that you’ve lost all faith.”
— Frank Ocean, “We Try” (from Nostalgia, Ultra)
“This is unrequited love, to me it’s nothing but a one-man cult, and cyanide in my Styrofoam cup, I could never make him love me, never make him love me.”
— Frank Ocean, “Bad Religion” (from Channel Orange)
This is not an essay about sexuality or identity. It is not about music, or lyrics, or even art. Not really. Instead, it is a place for questions: Does controversy start with two people or one? Where are we going compared to where we have been? What does it mean to accept? And yes: What happens next?
Where Ocean was once general about his views on homosexuality (e.g. “We Try”), he is now more specific (e.g. “Bad Religion”). On Channel Orange, he does not make any broad statements of creed and belief, but instead talks about his life, his love. By referencing the particulars of his direct experience, he transcends the debate of gay marriage and acceptance (much like Syd the Kid, who is not interested in drawing attention to any fundamental differences, as, arguably, there aren’t any). However, the leader of their band is drifting behind. If Ocean remains a member of Odd Future, and if the Odd aesthetic does not change, then what does that mean? He has been a member of the group since the beginning, and so the same question must stand: What are we to think? By certain standards, the Creator is supporting his fellow artist. He is staying true to an ancient belief, acting as his brother’s keeper. And yet perhaps this is the problem. Perhaps he should not be keeping Ocean from anything at all. Perhaps he should look into the distant, bursting, and altogether scourged place of himself.