BLONDE IS THE BREATH OF FRESH AIR WE DIDN’T KNOW WE NEEDED
2016 has been an incredible year for music so far. Numerous releases have been anticipated, celebrated, reviewed, and done with. From Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” a stark portrayal of infidelity, to Kanye West’s insult-laden and mesmerizingly controversial “The Life of Pablo,” the year has not been short of talking points. Those are just the big ones. Just last week, there were new releases by Young the Giant, Tory Lanez and Of Montreal; not to mention Kendrick Lamar’s groundbreaking “Untitled Unmastered,” Chance the Rapper’s “Coloring Book” and Red Hot Chili Pepper’s return, “The Getaway.”
We may take it for granted, but we have been inundated and saturated with new music from many great artists. Yet somehow, none of these releases compare to the news that Frank Ocean — the notoriously reclusive and mysterious singer — had released not only two albums, “Timeless” and “Blonde,” but also a music video for a song titled “Nikes” and a mysterious and haunting movie titled “Endless.”
Endless is a word that could certainly be used for the wait and anticipation for a new project from Frank, originally titled “Boys Don’t Cry.” Let me tell you something, ladies and gentleman, boys do cry. At least, I certainly do. I downloaded, watched and listened to “Endless,” but I was admittedly unimpressed. There were a few songs I liked a lot, but it was just too out there and cryptic for the Frank Ocean I knew. Little did I know, “Endless” was just the beginning.
On August 20, Frank Ocean’s second official studio album “Blonde” dropped. As I watched the songs download into my iTunes folder, I immediately became emotional. I thought back to when “Channel Orange” came out. I was in my senior year of high school, and that summer was filled with riding around in mine and my friend’s cars singing along with the words and bobbing our heads to the music. I knew that Frank Ocean was something special, that there would never be another artist like him.
When track one, “Nikes,” began playing, immediately my head started swarming with memories. As Ocean’s distorted voice sang “Pour up for A$AP, RIP Pimp C, RIP Trayvon, he look just like me,” was the first pouring of tears. From there on out, the only meter I could gauge each song by was how wet it made my eyes. I tried to explain to my roommate why I was so emotional, but I was at a loss for words. The jazzy “Pink and White” had me swaying and the interlude “Be Yourself,” in which Frank’s mom warns him against trying to be like someone and also advocating against drug use, was funny and meaningful. “Solo,” “Skyline To” and “Nights” were all highlights. “Facebook Story,” in which French producer Sebastian recalls his encounter with a woman regarding social media is especially telling of Frank’s thoughts about the matter.
In “Godspeed,” as Frank sings the opening lines “I will always love you,” tears really started flooding. In “Futura Free,” Frank seems to end the album with a bit of braggadocio, some words to his mother, and then a few minutes of ambient noise, which seem to be someone conducting interviews. Some of the words in this song resonated with me very hard, and clicked some puzzle pieces in my head. Frank sings “they payin’ me Mama, I should payin’ them. I should be payin’ y’all, honest to God. I’m just a guy, I’m not a God.”
Many of my peers, and myself, were angry with Frank for the time he took to release this album. There was anticipation, anxiety and even hate towards Frank, his team, Apple Music, the New York Times and anyone else who seemed to know anything about what was happening, but here’s the thing: no news ever came from Frank Ocean himself. The expectations were an illusion, something that we as an audience created. How many other artists have taken longer than 4 years between albums, and didn’t receive the kind of feedback that Frank has?
Now, it’s out, and it’s beautiful. It’s wonderful. It’s happy and sad, nostalgic, new and, most importantly, different. In an era where we know so much about every celebrity and artist, we are involved through Youtube, news and social media in the creation of their projects. We are an ever-present global audience to these artists and we demand so much of them. Yes, they may be over-paid, but too much light is often shined on the flaws and shortcomings of these people, who are meant to be creators, not our role models. Frank Ocean doesn’t owe us anything, and never did.
The reason for all of my tears had suddenly become clear. “Blonde” is a breath of fresh air. None of us knew what to expect, and somehow it still defied all expectations. On his debut mixtape, “nostalgia, ULTRA,” he sang a song called “Novacane,” a song about feeling numb. I think that is the zeitgeist for this era of music. There is so much, and it comes along with constant updates, drama, scandal and breaking news to go along with that. “Blonde” came into the world with none of that. As Frank Ocean says on Futura Free, “I’ll keep quiet and let you run your phone bill up. I know you love to talk. I ain’t on your schedule. I ain’t on no schedule.”