When Frank Ocean released his acclaimed Nostalgia Ultra mixtape via Tumblr last year, details on the shy and mysterious singer/songwriter were scarce. But when he drops his Def Jam debut Channel Orange on July 17, that anonymity will be no more. In addition to the many fans Ocean has picked up in the past year, his recent sexual revelation has now made him a hot search topic.
Via a Tumblr post, in which he shared the liner notes for his album, Ocean detailed an intimate relationship he had with a man at age 19, putting to rest assumptions that the New Orleans native was heterosexual. In the days that followed, Ocean was praised by his peers — including Odd Future ringleader Tyler, the Creator , Beyoncé and Russell Simmons — and supported by his mother and fans, but a whole new crop of potential consumers learned his name as well.
There hasn’t been a major promotional push behind Ocean’s album yet (save for some very private listening sessions and a commercial that aired during the BET Awards) but when news of his coming out spread across Facebook, Tumblr and Twitter, those who had not previously heard his music were interested enough to start clicking frantically on his name.
Official projections for his first-week album sales cannot be confirmed yet, but Keith Caulfield, associate director of charts at Billboard, thinks Ocean’s revelation could draw more curious eyes to the Odd Future crooner and more ears to his music.
“American Idol” alum Adam Lambert is one of the most recent gay pop stars to have a #1 album, but things work differently on the urban-music front, Caulfield said. “For Frank, it’s different. He’s in the R&B and hip-hop world, and he’s relatively under the radar to most people, but this is important, especially in light of Anderson Cooper ,” Caulfield said, citing the CNN anchor’s recent revelation. “On one hand, it could give him visibility that he didn’t have before, because suddenly people are writing about him and headlines with his name are coming across people’s Facebook and Twitter dashboard and they’re wondering, ’Who is this dude? Let me read about him, let me listen to his music, I’ve never heard of him before now,’ so it could help. No one in R&B music who’s that huge, or could be huge, has ever been frank, so to speak, about their sexuality in this way.”
Ocean was rather careful and poetic in the way he revealed the news, not addressing whether he considers himself bisexual or homosexual, but Caulfield thinks it was a good move to make at this point in his career. “It’s better to do it now instead of two or three albums into your career when you have all this pressure mounting on you to be a ladies man and to sing all these songs to women in your videos,” Caulfield continued. “Everyone knows that there are rumors and allegations haunting some celebrities in the closet, and they’ve had to continue a career fronting something else.
“People were anticipating that the album was going to debut in the top 10 on the Billboard 200 charts, but the jury is still out as to how his recent news will affect his first week,” he added, noting that official sales predictions will be available July 18, the day after Channel Orange is released.
MTV News recently gathered a team of hip-hop experts to share their thoughts on how Frank Ocean’s revelation will affect his career , and Vibe executive editor Datwon Thomas believes Ocean’s talent and honesty can help push the hip-hop community in a positive direction. “It really has to be a situation with someone that the hip-hop community respects,” Thomas said. “Outside of Odd Future, Jay-Z and Kanye, the biggest icons in hip-hop, living legends, they’ve accepted him already.”