Artist: Frank Ocean
Album: Channel Orange
Style: R & B, Urban Alternative, Soul, Hip Hop, Nu Wave
This artist could go on tour with: Outkast, N.E.R.D, Cee Lo Green, Gnarls Barkley, Janelle Monae’, Neco Redd
Greetings beautiful people
Since Frank Ocean released his groundbreaking mixtape “Nostalgia Ultra”, last year, I’ve been waiting to hear a full length album from this artist. I found “N.U.” to be cool and unexpected in his sample choices, but simply amazing in his lyricism. I am still pondering the songs “American Wedding” and “Strawberry Swing” to this day. Imagine some modern, possibly future age, black, indie, sci-fi film, put to song. Weird, I know, but f*cking brilliant at the same time! Yet with “Channel Orange”…..I’m thinking……maybe a new musical genius has manifested!
A genius is someone embodying exceptional intellectual ability, creativity, or originality, typically to a degree that is associated with the achievement of unprecedented insight.
Yes I said “genius”! It may be a bold or italicized statement, but I feel there is some validity in using it to describe Frank Ocean and his current body of work.
See verse 1 of “Bad Religion” which just happens to be my personal favorite
Taxi driver / You’re my shrink for the hour
Leave the meter running / It’s rush hour
So take the streets if you wanna / Just outrun the demons, could you?
He said “allahu akbar”, I told him don’t curse me
“But boy you need prayer”/ I guess it couldn’t hurt me
If it brings me to my knees / It’s a bad religion
How poignant and distressing these lyrics are, yet superb, all at the same time when backed by a lovely string section and rolling drums. These are the kinds of lyrics artistic, smart, and emotional people write. They also are the kinds of lyrics artistic, smart, and emotional people understand.
It’s clear that Ocean is a story-teller, but attempts to break with convention. On songs like “Sweet Life” and “Super Rich Kids”, Frank Ocean paints a picture of his perception of privileged California life, first as a spectator and then as a participant. I loved this parallel. Actually it may not be fair to say that he paints a picture, because I’m not seeing him as that kind of artist. I’m thinking more of a video/light installation.
On the album’s 9 minute and 53 second, magnum opus “Pyramids”, Frank Ocean takes us from war-torn ancient Egypt to the strip clubs of today. How he crafted a tale of Cleopatra’s (metaphor for women) rise and fall is stunning! The beat moves from epic battle cry to a dollar raining 808 bass driven track that will keep you listening.
In all honesty, this album is so well written, each song deserves its own review. Highlights that people will probably listen to the most are “Thinkin Bout You”, “Pink Matter ft Andre 3000” for obvious reasons, and the previously mentioned “Sweet Life”.
I have nothing bad to say personally about the project in accordance with my taste, yet I do know the public. I don’t see any real pop hits that would appeal to the commercial single serving appetites of these young people! This music, while only $9.99 on I-Tunes is way too intellectually and emotionally expensive for the masses.
Also listening to the craftsmanship of the words and arrangements, it’s clear that Mr. Ocean has been influenced by Prince. What I feel makes this a good thing is that Ocean has learned to craft poetic storytelling much in the same way Prince did on “Little Red Corvette”, “Sign of the Times”, “Purple Rain” etc. I mean craftsmanship in terms of “high quality” not emulation. Where I feel some learning will take place is that Ocean has yet to translate his song writing into the type of cultural mantras that Prince was able to do in the 80’s. Yet rest assured I feel it is coming.
This is definite recommended listening from Mr. Sawyer for anyone looking for music that is appealing to both the ears and the intellect.
So that concludes the review of the album and now I’m going to talk about the elephant in the room.
I won’t recap the beautifully written note Ocean posted on his blog essentially coming out of the closet. I want to focus on this being the first time (to my knowledge) a black man in popular music has blatantly admitted his homosexuality, much less at the start of his career. Surely you realize how this was a big risk this was and a few years ago would’ve surely been career suicide. We all know about Little Richard and Luther Vandross, but while it was obvious, neither of them said it. So with all the acceptance and love Ocean is getting, at least it shows how our society has progressed some in the way of letting go of old negative ideas.
(***Side note: My opinions on this matter will refer to black gay males in the entertainment industry. I exclude women, because it’s clearly more socially accepted for black women to identify with being gay or bi sexual than a black man in the entertainment industry. As evident by Janet Jackson, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Nicki Minaj to name a few: End side note***)
I and one of my best friends discussed this situation and both acknowledged how brilliant we thought this move was. I mean first the rumor when the reviewers heard the lyrical content of “Channel Orange”, then the letter Ocean released to the public, then the Jimmy Fallon performance of “Bad Religion” and finally surprise releasing the album a week early! F*cking brilliant! #1 album guaranteed! Other stars should take note on how to turn controversy into triumph.
Last week after the release of the letter, I saw a post by the “OUT Music 1,000 Strong Campaign”. The post stated , “I support Frank Ocean for the politics of the Out music movement, however I still hope for the day when us TRUE Out music artists can come into the game as ourselves from the jump…”
At first I didn’t think much of the statement, but after a while it just kind of sunk in and it bothered me. I see the Frank Ocean situation as a big step in gay politics, considering the influence the entertainment industry has on public thinking. I am aware there is still a ways to go; yet sometimes we should celebrate the steps we’ve made and not attack or add inference just to be contrary.
In all honesty Frank Ocean never claimed to be straight or gay. He is a song writer and doesn’t get paid by other people to express his sexuality. He gets paid to write songs that people want to listen to and will buy. Like a good professional he waited until his own personal project to reveal these things, which really he didn’t have to….. the album is that solid.
Frank Ocean is not part of the OUT music movement, in which I have found many of its artists to be very dogmatic in their expression of sexuality. When I listen to music by straight people, I don’t hear them so focused on expressing their heterosexuality that it gets in the way of the music. When listening to a lot of OUT Music artists I find this to be the case. Songs about being gay and gay love, and gay rights, and gay, gay, gay! So while I dig and appreciate music that gives gay people a voice, I wish more gays focused on training that voice, writing better songs, and developing a more appealing image for public appreciation. Much like my thoughts on blacks downing Obama, I feel gays (in a subtle caddy way) downing another gay artist, who just made the biggest stride for gays in the entertainment industry; need to snap out of it. I’d much rather they look at Ocean as an example of how to be better artists and then maybe others can break through from the jump.
Be blessed people
Till next time