Coming out may be the best thing Frank Ocean ever does for his career. As Billboard reports, when the R&B singer-songwriter (and member of the hip-hop collective Odd Future) announced his album Channel Orange a few months ago, the industry predicted it would debut with about 40,000 copies. That’s how many copies other Odd Future projects sold in their first weeks, so it stood to reason that Ocean would do the same.
But then he came out of the closet. And boom. Suddenly, he was a very big deal. And sure, some people reacted harshly, but lots of Ocean’s fans (and many, many people in the hip-hop community) supported him. And now it looks like Channel Orange is going to debut with over 100,000 copies in its first week. Or, you know… almost three times what people initially predicted.
Just a few years ago—or hell, a few months ago—I would’ve predicted the opposite. I would’ve predicted that by coming out, Ocean would cut his record sales in half, not triple them. But obviously, the fans have spoken. Coming out raised Ocean’s profile, which probably convinced more people to try out his music. (As a bonus, his music is really soulful and beautiful.)
This suggests that hip-hop is starting to be a gay-friendly place. Or at least gay friendlier. I mean… yes. There are still lots of people tweeting hateful things about Ocean’s sexuality, and no, one hit album doesn’t make everything all better. But I’m looking on the bright side, you know? This week, a lot of consumers used their money to say they support Frank Ocean (or at least care about his art more than his sexuality.)
And then there’s the pro-gay hip-hop videos that have been surfacing recently. A few months ago, we got Adair Lion’s moving video “Ben,” and last week, Murs dropped “Animal Rights,” which tells a powerful story about the danger of the closet:
And again… I know that a few videos from underground rappers don’t fix all the problems. But combined with Frank Ocean’s success? And the fact that, like, Jay-Z and Beyonce think it’s great that he came out? I see a lot of progress here. I see the possibility, as a gay person, to love hip-hop and feel like it might love me back.
Previously: Frank Ocean officially comes out
Mark Blankenship tweets as @IAmBlankenship. He has written about pop music for NPR and the New York Times. He’s been known to rap about gay stuff, but only when he’s had a few beers.