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July 5, 2012 at 8:35 AM

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A hip hop artist comes out of the closet

Never mind about CNN's Anderson Cooper coming out. This is a bigger deal. A hip hop artist, Frank Ocean, has come out of the closet.

His statement is a major moment for hip hop and R&B, where it's hard to think of another rapper who is openly gay, lesbian or bisexual. Ocean sings with the group Odd Futures and he was featured on Jay-Z and Kanye West's album "Watch the Throne."

Ocean released a statement on his website. Here is an excerpt:

4 summer ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. He was too. We spent that summer, and the summer after, together, everyday almost. ... By the time I realized I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless. There was no escaping, no negotiating with the feeling, no choice. It was my first love, it changed my life.

Ocean is promoting a new album, "Channel Orange," according to these stories from the AP and the Los Angeles Times. The L.A. Times story says when he sings about love in several tracks, he refers to "him" instead of "her."

This moment is big in the context of the uncomfortable relationship African American culture has with open homosexuality. The phrase "down low," which many people use to mean keeping something secret, is also code for an African American man who is married to a woman but has sex with men.

Rap and R&B is long on odes to the African American musician as a hyper-sexualized womanizer. (Please see: "Girls, Girls, Girls" by Jay-Z."). Rappers frequently use gay epithets in lyrics. (Please see: "Heart of the City," also by Jay-Z)

The schism is also evident politically. A majority of African American voters supported Prop. 8 in California to ban same-sex marriage, according to this Los Angeles Times blog post.

This year, however, same-sex marriage activists and African American civil-rights activists are coming together. In May, the NAACP endorsed same-sex marriage. President Barack Obama has also announced his support for same-sex marriage, although he said it's a state's issue and avoided going as far as to say it should be legalized federally.

I don't believe Ocean's coming out will trigger a flood of hip hop artists to go on the record as gay, lesbian or bisexual. But he will make it just a little easier for a younger generation African Americans to live openly gay. Can you hear me say, "HOOOOO-ooooo?"

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