Gay R&B Vocalist Rahsaan Patterson Applauds ‘Courageous’ Frank Ocean
As the debate rages on whether or not Frank Ocean truly came out as gay, bisexual or was just detailing his personal memories of falling in love with a male friend four years ago, the fallout has truly been surreal. Before the buzz-heavy R&B vocalist posted a July 4 letter addressing rumors of his sexuality, Ocean tweeted of his conversation-igniting revelation, “my hope is that the babies born these days will inherit less of the bullshit than we did I figured it’d be good to clarify.”
Rahsaan Patterson can more than identify with Frank Ocean. The veteran R&B singer—who scored a top 50 Billboard album and strong radio airplay in 1997 with his self-titled debut—was one of the first African-American soul artists to come out officially as gay during a 2007 interview with BET.com. For Patterson, Ocean’s statement represents a big moment. “I thought Frank coming out was bold; I thought it was courageous,” Patterson tells VIBE. “Particularly since he reps more of the hip-hop realm I found it even more courageous because that’s an area that a lot of folks that support hip-hop and the lifestyle of hip-hop don’t like to really confront and address. Kudos to him.”
Reactions within the R&B/hip-hop community to Ocean’s public statement have been surprisingly on the positive side (Solange Knowles tweeted “I salute you, brave soul. Independence Day” and veteran Queens rhymer Cormega offered, “Frank Ocean is more honest than the average industry person!”). Still, amongst the general African-American music buying public Ocean’s announcement has been a hard pill to swallow (derogatory comments like “Frank Ocean is gay. It’s been confirmed…So no more listening to him” have been omnipresent on the Web).
Historically, African-American musicians have rarely been upfront about their sexuality. For every Sylvester (the flamboyant disco icon never tried to hide the fact that he was gay) there is a Luther Vandross (the legendary vocalist reportedly kept his homosexuality a secret until his 2005 death). And in the overtly masculine world of hip-hop, homosexuality is viewed as a death knell; the sort of news that can literally derail a career. On the flipside, white pop and rock acts like David Bowie, Elton John, and Melissa Eldridge have experienced a more positive acceptance after coming out. It’s a dichotomy that bothers Patterson.
“Look at that compared to white music artists or even white actors who come out,” he says. “When they come out [as gay] they are applauded, not that they don’t suffer a bit in terms of press and people who may have an issue of their sexuality. But ultimately, them stepping into who they really are propels them in positive ways. It opens up their lives. I think a lot of times we are all so insecure with our personal things as black folks that we deny ourselves that right to be who we are. We forget that when you stand within your true light the world opens up for you.”
As for advice for Ocean on how to handle the whirlwind that currently surrounds him, Patterson says the singer is so far on the right path. “Clearly, Frank Ocean is a strong cat,” Patterson says. “Clearly he’s an artist and a person who has come to terms with who he is. But I will say there is a lot that comes with exposing that truth. He has come to terms with taking on the repercussions with exposing himself in that manner. We just have to continue to be strong.”
Patterson, who released his fifth studio album Bleuphoria in 2011, is currently promoting his latest single “Crazy (Baby),” which features Faith Evans and Shanice. “I’m working that til the wheels fall off,” he laughs. And I’m preparing to start recording a new album. I’m focusing on my craft and making sure that I’m true to myself.”—Keith Murphy