Usually for these posts I try to think about what I’m going to write beforehand, process things, write a few drafts. This month I haven’t done that. What I have been doing is listening to the same 30-some Frank Ocean songs.
Frank Ocean only has two studio albums on Spotify. I’ve listened to some of the other songs he’s been featured on with artists like Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Kanye West, and Earl Sweatshirt among others. I also learned that a few of the singles on Spotify like “Novacane” and “Swim Good” are from his debut solo mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra, but it’s mostly his two albums Channel Orange and Blonde that I’ve been listening to. I will admit I’ve repeated Blonde a bit more, but Channel Orange is still a great album.
I started enjoying Frank Ocean’s music early on in this month’s listening experience. At some point though, I can’t exactly say when or during what song I was hit with a thought of, “oh shit this is brilliant. I get why Frank Ocean is highly regarded in music.” He combines aspects of different genres like hip hop, avant-garde soul, psychedelic pop, and indie rock in a compelling way. His songs incorporate things like beat switches, interesting rhythms, with some honest song-writing (not necessarily honest in a everything in this song is true way, but in what feels to be an authentic artistic intent). There were several times when I had his music on, writing something else, and I just found myself sobbing. Like “Bad Religion” that song just in the feels, as I believe the kids say.
I really love the use of homonym words and phrases that he uses in some of his songs. Like I did not realize at first the chorus in Solo (the title itself also a homonym of solo and so low) was “inhale, in hell there’s heaven.” I thought he was singing “in hell, in hell.” Then I thought of inhaling and breath being part of life (you need to breathe to live) and how life can be hell, but how you have to look for the good things. I think I’ve heard the phrase “there’s heaven in hell” but never phrased “in hell there’s heaven.” I always love when someone says something in a unique way. Frank Ocean often alters his voice in some songs including by pitching up his vocals (something Prince did in some of his songs; which was really cool to notice that influence in another artist on this project). Often this helps to showcase a different perspective (like a younger version of himself) on some of his tracks.
This was one of those months where I questioned myself and why haven’t I listened to these songs earlier than this. I think part of me was a bit intimidated because I kept hearing that Frank Ocean is such an innovative artist. Look, I’m not going to say I don’t listen to rap and hip hop, because I listen to a little bit of it, but those genres are also ones that I’m as not as familiar with compared to some others (mainly pop, rock and if I’m being perfectly honest Broadway musicals). I want to be careful in my wording because I’m not trying to gatekeep anyone’s enjoyment or understanding of any particular genre of music or artist or song. And I don’t think we should hold an artist’s intent as some almighty final word. Your interpretation and understanding of a song (or any artistic work) is as valid as what the artist may have intended.
Before this month though I was a bit worried I wouldn’t “get” Frank Ocean’s music. And this partly due to my own psychology because I’ve always hated not knowing things (which I know it’s impossible to know everything, but I just hate feeling stupid). I can’t tell you that I relate to Frank Ocean’s songs on a personal level, because my life has been very different than his. I haven’t had the same upbringing, and experiences that he has, but I’ve still really enjoyed his music. I might not be able to explain why though aside from saying it’s innovative and good.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking because I’m not writing much that there isn’t substance here, because there is. I just don’t feel well versed enough to be able to explain what I’m hearing. But there are other people who have broken down some of Frank Oceans songs and can speak to them a little bit better than I can. This article breaks down the song “Nights” and season 3 of the podcast Dissect looks a Frank Ocean’s music (mainly Blonde). I’m someone who likes learning and I especially like learning about music. So if you like those things too I highly recommend checking out those links.
So yes I regret not listening to Frank Ocean earlier, but I’m glad I’ve started now. And while his discography is fairly short (compared to other artists I’ve been or will be featuring) it’s definitely worth getting into. Frank Ocean is pretty young (only a few years younger than myself) and he’s proven himself to be a very talented artist. I don’t know when he’ll be releasing his next album, single or other project but when he does I’ll be there to check it out.