Until a few months ago, when Frank Ocean alluded to being, at least, bisexual with an open letter on his blog, I, for some reason, had not really registered him. I had heard the name every now and then and knew he was involved in music, but he wasn’t really on my radar. I had heard that he was on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch The Throne album but, to be honest, I’ve never really submerged myself in that album. I like some songs but its impact on my musical listening was nowhere near regular enough for me to register Frank Ocean or a lot of the album. I heard that he had written songs for artists like Brandy, Justin Bieber and John Legend, but didn’t really seek them out to get a sense of his sound.
I had come across his Tumblr blog and seen people quote him but, while I would read the occasional thing, he never really did feature in my thinking. Until July 4th this year, when he posted the story of his first love and parts of the world went into a flat spin – the first person in, or associated, with rap, coming out.
There were tweets, open letters and statements from the average person through to his Odd Future friends (eg. Tyler the Creator), writer dream hampton, Jay-Z and Beyonce. There were articles written and extended conversations on what this meant and his motives for coming out, which included the fact that his album was about to drop. One couldn’t not register him then and I read a lot of what was being said, fascinated to see how a notoriously homophobic industry would react. I also read Terrance Dean’s book Hiding In Hip Hop, which reveals alleged truths about homosexuality in the hip hop.
And when his album Channel ORANGE was released, I was fortunate enough to get a copy soon after, more out of curiousity than anything else. Okay, a friend me up while I waited for the record label to hook me up – scribbling words like these about music has its perks. Anyway, because I had no reference point, musically, I listened without any preconceptions. Since then, I have listened to the album a minimum of once a week. In that first week, I didn’t listen to much else.
I still remember the first time I heard D’Angelo’s Sh*t, Damn, M*therf**ker, Erykah Badu’s On & On, Maxwell’s Till The Cops Come Knocking, Dwele’s Truth and Bilal’s Sometimes. I remember being drawn in by and submerging myself in their albums. I remember not being able to get enough. That’s how I felt – and feel – about Channel ORANGE. As a first album, it is a great start. The songs are beautifully written and he sings within his limits but with limits when it comes to expressing emotion. The lyrics are quirky and misleadingly left field but tap into a range of human emotion and understanding. The production is often gentle, musical, at times playful, and meant to be performed live.
I like every song. The album feels a journey as opposed to a collection of songs connected simply by album name. My favourites? When I first listened to it, Sweet Life, but Super Rich Kids (featuring Earl Sweatshirt) is also dope. And Pilot Jones. And Sierra Leone. And Monks. And Bad Religion. Right now, I can’t get enough of Pink Matter which features Andre 3000. In fact, I reckon Frank Ocean and Andre 3000 need to do a full collaborative album.
If he is able to sustain this trajectory, I believe Frank Ocean can build a body of work that can sustain those of us who love artists who constantly push their boundaries. Only time will tell.