Elusive artist ends the drought with highly-anticipated record
THE SANTA CLARA
September 29, 2016
Several key societal events happen every four years: U.S. presidential elections, the Olympics, a leap year—and, as was recently discovered, the release of a Frank Ocean album. And now the question begs, were the four years worth the wait?
Ocean first confirmed he was working on a new album back in 2013. A year later, in 2014, word went out that it was nearing completion. And then silence—the intel from Ocean seemed to end there indefinitely.
In the meantime, fans anxiously watched his tumblr for a release date, snippets of songs and any news about potential collaborations to grasp onto, desperate for new Frank Ocean beats.
Finally, in mid-August, Ocean ended the hiatus with the release of a 45-minute visual album called “Endless,” exclusive to Apple Music, and then a day later, the studio album our ears have been yearning for— “Blonde.”
But is Ocean just exhibiting the stereotype of celebrity diva, a privilege allowed to him by the critical acclaim he received from his previous album, or was his long-coming record solely driven by artistry and perfectionism?
Back in 2012, when Ocean released “Channel Orange,” he also published a pivotal blog post in which he explained the struggle with accepting his bisexuality, a major creative driving force behind the album.
“I wrote to keep myself busy and sane. I wanted to create worlds that were rosier than mine. I tried to channel overwhelming emotions,” Ocean said in the post.
He created a world in “Channel Orange” which allowed himself to escape, bringing his listeners along for the journey. And if his previous album is the ultimate form of escapism, then “Blonde” is his next journey–into reality
Ocean opens with “Nikes,” a pointed critique of materialism and the fantasies of luxury. Using the presentation of broken American values as a backdrop, Ocean sings, “RIP Trayvon, that (expletive) look just like me”—an obvious homage to Trayvon Martin, the fatally shot 17-year-old African American whose death sparked protests and brought about the Black Lives Matter movement.
Ocean uses the opportunity to add his voice to the growing conversation of the state of black rights and police brutality, even including a picture of Trayvon in the music video for “Nikes.”
He writes about coping with lost love on the second track, “Ivy,” a relatable story about the path most relationships follow: from strangers to lovers to nothing.
In a sign of growing maturity, the artist reflects on his mistakes and chooses to respect the love the couple shared, singing, “It’s quite alright to hate me now / When we both know that deep down / The feeling still deep down is good.”
Although the lyrics read simply, all who have experienced a relationship turn sour can attest that it is a concept more easily spoken than realized.
Beyond exploring new subjects, the record also breaks out of the R&B genre to explore spoken word in skit form in songs such as “Facebook Story” and “Be Yourself.”
One of the more poignant songs comes out of a collaboration with André 3000 of Outkast. In his energetic rap-monologue on the track “Solo (Reprise),” André 3000 throws shade at the younger generation of rappers who he believes haven’t earned their fame the way artists like André did.
Referencing artists like the uber-popular Drake—who famously feuded with Meek Mill over the use of ghostwriters—the Outkast musician bitingly raps, “I was under the impression / That everyone wrote they own verses…I’m hummin’ and whistlin’ to those not deserving / I’ve stumbled and lived every word / Was I working just way too hard?”
Did Ocean work too hard on “Blonde”? With four years of writing, recording, collaborating and producing, the first week of streams of the album still fell second behind Drake’s “Views.” Ocean’s fan base would most likely scoff at that reception, denouncing “Views” as too monotone—a conclusion reached by many music publications.
But as always with music, what’s topping the charts rarely holds the title for the best crafted work. Frank Ocean’s “Blonde” next to Drake’s “Views” surely demonstrates that ironic truth. Great art cannot be rushed or fabricated. “Blonde” is an honest album which showcases newfound growth and maturity as Ocean’s personal transformation has allowed him to explore new territory musically.
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