Frank Ocean Redefining Masculinity in Hip Hop with Sonnet “Good Guy”

Frank Ocean exists in the world of hip-hop as something of a rarity. As a queer, Black, male artist, Ocean’s music offers a window into the experiences of racial and sexual minorities. Oceans work is undoubtedly poetic, romantic and thoughtful, as most evident by his barely minute-long track, “Good Guy.” Ocean’s poignant, auto tuned track is also a sonnet; the first 14 lines tell a bittersweet “love” story before the song breaks down, devolving into a recording of two men talking to each other. In the distinct, contrasting portions of the track both before and after the break, Ocean shares some of the complexities of his experiences with a queer Black identity. His track raises questions of masculinity, dichotomizing his search for emotional intimacy beside a derogatory conversation between Black men about their sexual conquests. It is this stark contrast that should cause audiences to question a socialized definition of masculinity alongside issues with rigid expectations of vulnerability and intimacy amongst men, especially Black men.

Over the course of the song, Ocean presents an experience of manhood that is all too underrepresented in society. The track begins with mellow piano and a toast: “here’s to the “good guy, he hooked it up/ said if I was in NY I should look you up” (1–2). Already, listeners get a sense for this unfulfilled relationship between these two men. There is a sense of hope and excitement for the future, suggesting maybe the relationship will grow to be something more. Ocean goes on in the third line stuttering “I… first time I’d ever saw you” (3). In stumbling over his words, Ocean recreates the sense of awkward speechlessness that comes from being infatuated with someone new. The next line takes a turn: “you text nothing like you look” (4). As a sort of tragic reflection of modern romance, Ocean describes how his date doesn’t match the idealization he envisioned in his mind while the two messaged back and forth. He goes on to note a discrepancy between the two individuals: “you talk so much more than I do” (7). From there it is clear that there is no hope for the relationship, much to Ocean’s disappointment, he explains: “I was convinced/that this was much more than/ just some some night shit…and to you/it’s just a late night out” (9–14). In these last lines, we cannot help but feel sympathy for the speaker, mislead by his own hopefulness and naivety. In sharing this experience, Ocean makes himself vulnerable, admitting that what he desires is a meaningful relationship over a one night stand. This portrayal of queer, Black, male experience goes against traditional notions of masculinity often represented in hip hop culture.

After the fourteenth line, Ocean stops singing, and there is a switch to a recorded conversation between two men, presenting a very different experience of masculinity than the previous stanza. The derogatory conversation begins with one man addressing the other “this n***a, all the bitches in the neighborhood wanna fuck you” (15). Instantly the differences are clear. The second individual responds “I used to fuck with all of ‘em/ … I ain’t got bitches no more/…I don’t care about bitches like that…Jasmine fucking wrecked my heart, I don’t even know how to feel” (18–20). This conversation is in such stark contrast to the previous stanza. The language and relationships have changed. Now it is about the sexual conquest of “bitches” by heterosexual Black men. The sexually aggressive language reflects a socially constructed definition of manhood, the effects of which are worsened by lower socioeconomic and race. Within American culture, there exists a disapproval of emotional vulnerability and an emphasis on perceived toughness for men. Ocean presents his experiences as a queer man in contrast with those of the men in the recording as a means of highlighting the different interpretations of manhood.

Ocean’s track has two very different portrayals of masculinity within it: that of a queer Black male, and another of heterosexual Black men. The two present themselves almost in opposition to each other. The first is confiding, emotional and tender, while the other is sexually aggressive and emotionally guarded. The track title “Good Guy” is evocative of the differing interpretations of masculinity in it, insisting that listeners reevaluate their definitions of what it means to be a man.

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Jak Tedesco

Writer, creative, and thinker about all things related to sexuality, health, identity, diversity, and social justice.