Frank Ocean upended hip-hop when he came out earlier this year, redefining what keeping it real really means in 2012. Now, in a long, revealing interview with Amy Wallace for GQ's Men of the Year issue, posted online today, Ocean reveals how he came to coming out — and the long road from writing hit singles while making fast-food subs to planning on his own arcade while riding hit record sales. Just don't ask him to label himself as bisexual.
Ocean's songs are full of California references, but he grew up primarily in New Orleans to a single mother and her recovering-addict father. "We were not middle-class. We were poor," Ocean says in a clarifying moment for anyone who thought his song "Super Rich Kids" described his own upbringing. After Hurricane Katrina hit, Ocean scrimped and saved his sheatrocking earnings, leaving for Los Angeles with $1,100 cash on hand to build his music career. He reveals that before being tapped to write songs for artists like Justin Bieber and John Legend, he was still working crummy odd jobs. "I worked at Kinko's, Fatburger, Subway—I was a sandwich artist—and I was a claims processor at Allstate Insurance," he says.
This was around the time he fell in love with another man. The tone of Ocean's Tumblr post from earlier this year, airing out that affair publicly, may have been calm and confident. But Ocean admits that on the night he posted it...
I cried like a fucking baby. It was like all the frequency just clicked to a change in my head. All the receptors were now receiving a different signal, and I was happy. I hadn't been happy in so long. I've been sad again since, but it's a totally different take on sad. There's just some magic in truth and honesty and openness.
As it turns out, the confession didn't derail his career. It only increased fans' admiration and got a few more outlets interested in covering his just-released album, Channel Orange. Still, when asked by GQ whether he considers himself bisexual, Ocean takes a pass on labeling himself:
You can move to the next question. I'll respectfully say that life is dynamic and comes along with dynamic experiences, and the same sentiment that I have towards genres of music, I have towards a lot of labels and boxes and shit ... I didn't need to label it for it to have impact. Because people realize everything that I say is so relatable, because when you're talking about romantic love, both sides in all scenarios feel the same shit.
Other interesting moments from this interview include Ocean playing vintage arcade games at the Museum of the Moving Image (he got the high score on Battle Zone!), favorably name-checking unlikely artists such as Elton John and Billy Joel, and claiming that he told Def Jam to pay him $1 million for Channel Orange after they sat on their hands earlier in his career. As for what's on deck, Ocean says he wrote a song for Quentin Tarantino's upcoming film Django Unchained, is collaborating with Alicia Keys and Beyoncé, and is prepping an operatic tour along the lines of Pink Floyd's The Wall. He's also entertaining the idea of moving to New York and opening his own arcade.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.