Earlier this month, with the glitter still settling on R&B singer Frank Ocean’s hugely viral coming out, hip-hop elder statesman Chuck D made a point almost everyone chose to ignore.
“I commend Frank Ocean for coming out and saying it, but it’s not a first because there’s plenty of black male gay singers. Even when they don’t admit it, you kind of know,” he told British music magazine NME.
He wasn’t strictly wrong. R&B’s decades-long experience with out-ish singers is by now unquestioned and includes names as big as Kenny Greene, Labi Siffre and Luther Vandross. So when a breathless media described Ocean’s revelation as “historic,” they might, just slightly, have been exaggerating. (Meanwhile, it remains unclear from Ocean’s coming-out Tumblr post whether the singer is gay or bi.)
Said Chuck D, “If you heard somebody like . . . the Wu-Tang Clan or something, if they came out, then that would be groundbreaking. That would be totally challenging.”
You might even say it would be nuthin’ ta fuck wit.
None of this is to diminish Ocean’s affecting and poetic coming out. Nor is it to question the post’s importance. It’s only to underscore, as apparently verbosely as possible, the groundbreaking precedent set by “Animal Style,” the new video from underground rapper Murs.
The video sees the LA rapper – who’s straight – play the role of Roderick, a deeply closeted gay man whose conflicted attitudes toward homosexuality end in tragedy. Spoiler alert: he actually kisses a dude.
Though hugely acclaimed among dedicated fans of the genre, the 34-year-old Murs is nowhere near a household name – for now, anyway. Only eight days after its YouTube release, “Animal Style” has garnered more than 280,000 views and received big-ups from Entertainment Weekly, The Huffington Post and the New York Daily News.
“‘Animal Style’ is a song I did for many reasons,” said Murs, né Nick Carter, on YouTube. “The first was to be an advocate for people close to me who are out, and those who have yet to come out. It’s also a love song, which is nothing new for me. But with this one I wanted to challenge the listener to ask themselves: is the love shared by two people of the same gender really that different than the love I have for my partner of the opposite sex?
“Finally, I just felt it was crucial for some of us in the hip-hop community to speak up on the issues of teen suicide, bullying and the overall anti-homosexual sentiment that exists within hip-hop culture.”
Of course, hip-hop culture still has a long way to go. (A glance at the comments under “Animal Style” proves as much.) But a gay-themed song by a rapper – not a singer – is a massive, ocean-spanning step in the right direction.