Frank Ocean is no stranger to murky waters. Prodded by Hurricane Katrina from his native New Orleans, he moved to L.A to pursue a career in music. After experiencing waves with record labels, he broke out solo in 2011 releasing his debut, Nostalgia Ultra (NU), a mixtape. Its critical acclaim was a show for Ocean swimming good into genres broader than R&B/hip hop.
Delving deeper, Frank recently came out (labeling himself neither gay or bisexual) in an open letter via his Tumblr blog, declaring that a man was indeed his first love, amidst girlfriends and confusion. While some critics took the lackadaisical confession as uncalled for, a myriad of celebrities including Mama Blue Ivy, Jermaine Dupri and Russell Simmons showed their support. And Frank was well above his strokes at the verge of unleashing his official debut album cum sophomore effort; Channel Orange (CO) released in July 2012.
Half the time, there’s nothing (or nobody) like your first. So to speak, CO is rather a guaranteed will-fall-in-love-with album; as opposed to NU’s love-at-first-listen gift but nonetheless a befitting sequel, once again displaying Frank as an effortless juggler of innovative sounds, poetic lyricism and emotions running nude.
2. Thinking about you 03.20
This alluring entrée into the album is served with a falsetto that would put Usher to shame. The poignant composition is a quest of a carrier of love un-returned seeking THE answer, “Do you not think so far ahead? Coz I’ve been thinking about forever”. I heard so many covers of this song before this original version, and I’ve come to a conclusion that all other singers should be banned from it with immediate effect because only Frank killed it straight up that nothing was left.
From big cars, money to drugs and servants, this is a story of the lives of super rich kids, laden with a heavy R&B beat, complete with a slurry hook, a melodic incarnation of Mary J’s chorus to Real Love. Earl’s lazy flow rap is the kind of stuff you want to be high on all year round. Sick collabo!
10. Pyramids 09.52
Half split into dance and dub step, respectively, this track is definitely a favorite! Also making for a serious club banger! The song is a weird yet beautiful lyrical journey starring Cleopatra as the stripper and the cheetahs; an analogy for ‘hungry’ men. They are set loose but her legion still stands tall as she’s working at the pyramids, a place where she makes many (including him) feel brand new and loved, though not for free. Someone please tell Frank to write me a book on poems. BTW the vocal arrangement in this one is the album’s most outstanding!
11. Lost 03.54
Certified iPod banger! Frank sings about love lost. The song is a mirror to the many worthless pursuits of the world. Like being hopeless in love with a girl who could never care that she was overweight more than unemployed, or her sightless thrills, even if urged to modify. Miami, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Spain, L.A, India or Kenya, wherever in the world, she’d still be lost and so would he, in the heat of it all, he sings.
Ok. I admit I added Kenya to that list. Nway the ad-libs on this one make me want to get so freaking lost that Frank would just serenade me back into my senses if not into his life. I mean I kinda have a model figure & a job too :-) Something’s gotta give!
14. Bad Religion 02.55
‘If it brings me to my knees it’s a bad religion’.
The embodiment of short & sweet and probably the most beautifully written song I’ve heard since I can remember. It’s paradoxical twist will get to you if you listen keenly. The song is a one-way verbal diarrhea at a taxi driver, the last resort to getting out burning emotions of love unrequited, a one-man cult, he sings. And after all that confession, the driver only said to him, ‘Allah Hu Akbar’.
It’s human nature that we nearly if not entirely worship those we truly love, even when they don’t return back the favor. Those un-reciprocating gods account for millions of followers of a bad religion (what Frank equates to being in love with someone who could never love you). He’s actually singing about [his] first love here. Did you cringe? I did, but probably for a different reason. The last 30 secs of his ad-libbing is the most heartfelt thing I’ve ever heard from Frank making me think of only two things I want to do: Kiss & Love Frank Ocean. I mean who could never love this man, and make him sad? Also this is the kind of song with two extremes, you either dig or not. And it’s true, we’ve all been in a bad religion, at least once.
15. Pink Matter feat Andre 3000
If you weren’t already acquitted to Frank Ocean, Pink Matter is by far the closest this album has channeled him back to the brilliance of NU. From Frank’s poetically jotted lyrics about a quest to know what lies beneath every matter (be it heart, a box or body), his sweet revarb-ing vocals, to Andre’s inexplicable rap/vocal prowess, this track is Frank’s best collaborative effort so far.
The complete Channel Orange has 17 tracks, including must-listens like Forrest Gump and the guitaresque Sweet Life. I have new-found respect for Frank’s honest expression through his music. Away from fame and fortune or whatever else could come out of this, Frank is a beacon of redemption for any person ostracized for whoever or whatever they loved or stood for. For love is love. And music makes the world go round. And if anyone can’t understand that, then they should jump into an ocean already. I recommend Channel Orange, just be prepared for a good swim.
For more info dive into frankocean.com
BONUS: Check out this 9 minute interview of Frank talking about creativity, inspiration and how he appreciated his first chance to write his own songs for NU.