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Music

The Story Behind The Song: Frank Ocean's groundbreaking 'Chanel'

@josephtaysom

Hip hop isn’t a genre filled with people openly from the LGBTQ+ community, making Frank Ocean’s rise to the mountain top of music even more notable. He’s never hidden away from his sexuality and, on the 2016 groundbreaking track ‘Chanel’, Ocean discusses his relationship with another man in a way seldom done by a rapper before.

Ocean has always owned his story, and his earnestness from the beginning is a reason why he’s more than an artist to his fans. He helped drag hip hop into the 21st century. The backlash to his sexuality was non-existent compared to the outpowering of love that he received from the community for his work, especially from figureheads such as Jay-Z.

The rapper intended to share his sexual orientation in the liner notes of his 2012 debut album, Channel Orange, but rather than wait, he uploaded a draft of his statement on his Tumblr page. He told his fans how his “first love” was a man he met when the Odd Future star was 19 and saw a handful of times before they went different ways.

“Whoever you are, wherever you are.. I’m starting to think we’re a lot alike,” Ocean poignantly wrote in the blog post. “Human beings spinning on blackness. All wanting to be seen, touched, paid attention to.” He noted how the reason he came out was “to create a world that were rosier than mine” and concluded by saying: “I feel like a free man.”

Homophobic slurs are rife in the rap game, and T-Pain even said in 2014 that he knows artists who “will not do a song with Frank Ocean just because he gay, but they need him on the fucking song and that’s so terrible to me.” Ocean knew this type of backlash was inevitable, but he also was well aware that his immense talent was vast enough for him to thrive as a lone wolf.

2017 effort ‘Chanel’ sees Ocean rap poignantly about his bisexuality. In the opening verse, he iconically sings: “My guy is pretty like a girl, And he got fight stories to tell, I see both sides like Chanel, See on both sides like Chanel.” When previously asked if he considers himself to be bisexual in a 2012 interview, Ocean was reserved about putting a label on his sexuality. He replied: “I’ll respectfully say that life is dynamic and comes along with dynamic experiences, and the same sentiment that I have towards genres of music, I have towards a lot of labels and boxes and shit.”

‘Chanel’ allowed Ocean to express who he is articulately, and for the first time, many rap fans felt recognised as they could relate to the protagonist’s story on the track. Visibility is important for everybody, no matter who you are.

Ocean squashes stereotypes and an artist that deserves celebration for bringing about a more tolerant world. Not only does Ocean prove that hip-hop doesn’t have to be a place where homophobia is accepted, but he’s also proof that LGBTQ+ people come in all shapes and sizes, too.

A$AP Rocky even jumped on the ‘Chanel’ remix and showed that the modern-day spearheads of hip hop couldn’t care less about sexual orientation. As long as you’ve got talent behind the mic, then that’s all that matters.