A Rational Conversation: Amy Wallace Explores How D’Angelo and Frank Ocean Transcend Soul Stereotypes…
BY ERIC DUCKER
Posted to The Daily Swarm, November 29, 2012
NOTE TO READERS: THIS IS MORE FUN TO READ ON THE SITE, WHERE THERE ARE VIDEOS, SO CLICK LINK ABOVE. BUT HERE’S THE BEGINNING OF THE INTERVIEW:
A Rational Conversation is a column by editor and writer Eric Ducker. Every week he gets on iChat or Gchat or Skype or whatever with a special guest to examine a subject that’s been on his mind.
Two of the most important music stories of 2012 proved the return of D’Angelo and the rise of Frank Ocean, who put out the great Channel Orange album days after revealing on his Tumblr that his first love had been a man. Writer Amy Wallace wrote extensive pieces on both the artists for GQ, where she currently serves as a correspondent; she’s also an editor-at-large for Los Angeles Magazine, and over her career has contributed to prestigious publications spanning The Los Angeles Times, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and Wired.
For her D’Angelo feature – one of the year’s most insightful, illuminating, in-depth pieces of music journalism, if not this decade’s – Wallace enjoyed unprecedented access, spending considerable time with the enigmatic soul legend and even travelling to Europe with him on his first tour in over ten years. In her recently published Frank Ocean story, she spent a day with the headline-grabbing singer in New York and spoke to him about his momentous year, creating a revealing portrait that proved far more dimensional than any mere celebrity profile. Ducker and Wallace discussed the similarities between D’Angelo and Frank Ocean, and issues of masculinity in R&B (sort of, more on that soon).
Eric Ducker: Do you listen to a lot of R&B?
Amy Wallace: I do – old and new. I grew up in a small town in Ohio that was kind of the cradle of R&B of that time. The Ohio Players, Earth, Wind & Fire, The O’Jays, the Isley Brothers – the list of musicians who formed me could go on and on. Plus, I have a 15-year-old son who is hip-hop-obsessed: Miguel is on in the car a lot.
ED: Not a bad car soundtrack.
AW: Indeed. You said at the outset that you wanted to discuss masculinity in R&B. I have a caveat to that, if you will permit me. I feel I should say that the two male R&B singers I’ve had the good fortune to interview lately, D’Angelo and Frank Ocean, aren’t comfortable with the label of R&B. Neither one of them is particularly fond of labels in general, but this one in particular rankles. D’Angelo, who’s long been labeled the King of Neo-Soul as well, said he didn’t want to be put in the R&B or the neo-soul box. He told me, “I hate the term R&B, because that acronym robs us” – by “us,” he meant black musicians – “of our proprietorship of rock & roll. Because that’s our shit.” For his part, Frank Ocean spent a fair bit of time with me refusing to be labeled, either musically or in terms of sexual orientation. But of R&B specifically, he said, “It’s really racially charged and kind of archaic.” “Demeaning?” I asked. “I don’t know about ‘demeaning.’ I think ‘inaccurate,’” he said. “So what do you call your music?” I asked. “Music,” he responded. “I call it post-modern, and people look at me like I’m being an asshole.” I say all this not to derail your interview, but because I think the issues are related. Part of what is going on in black popular music – in its forms and in the topics it continues to tackle – is a resistance to being labeled one thing or another.
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