“I wanted to create worlds that were rosier than mine.” - frankocean.com
Frank Ocean’s debut solo album, channel ORANGE, was officially released on July 17th, 2012. Sexy ebb and flow are guaranteed from Ocean, who at the age of 24 has already written music for Beyoncé, Brandy and John Legend. After joining LA hip hop collective OFWGKTA (Odd Future) in 2009, Ocean began to refine his writing and develop his own career. He independently released the mixtape Nostalgia, ULTRA. in 2011, which saw cult-acclaim and peer recognition by industry giants Kanye West and Jay-Z. channel ORANGE is a much more personal album; if we choose to see his music as a development from craft to artistry, Ocean is shamelessly carving his own R&B style with this release.
Every track on the album spruces a different feel. “Thinkin Bout You” introduces a smooth and crisp beat with Ocean’s slow and pretty falsetto voice. It echos the minimal R&B tones that How to Dress Well and The Weeknd introduced to our post-90′s generation. Subdued synth and bass with interludes of snare develop into a consistent hip hop sound, but Ocean still enjoys singing more than he does rapping. Listen to another ballad “Bad Religion” as he addresses a belief system that doesn’t support homosexuality, or “a bad religion”: ”This unrequited love to me, it’s nothing but a one man cult, and cyanide in my styrofoam cup, I could never make him love me, never make him love me.” His songs are flaring with visuals and stories, his lyrics often flow with chills like poetry.
The lyrics of “Bad Religion” might just bear general comments, but Ocean’s recently announced love for another man makes relevant these lines, fostering many conversations about an important topic within the R&B/hip hop community. Rap has traditionally been an ego-dominated industry, with topics like wealth, women and power paving the modern genre that stemmed originally from major racial oppression. A collective ego developed as a compensation or even a defense, however underground hip hop has been changing this course. Just take a peek outside mainstream radio hip hop and you’ll find rhymes about family struggles, child soldiers and serious issues that trump songs about birthday cakes and keys to your ass. Ocean’s free sexual expression acts as his own stress alleviation, as he mentioned on his website, but it will also work to streamline an openness among hip hop artists who might’ve feared to initiate this sooner. It’s about time we witnessed acceptance span across less universally accepting cultures.
However unfortunate it is, Ocean’s industry credibility determines the conversation that this becomes. The skill that Ocean exhibits in channel ORANGE is forcing the imminence of these discussions, it’s the reason it matters so much. One track in particular sticks out as another album favorite: “Pink Matter” featuring Andre 3000. Ocean brings all seductive measures forth as he belts “Pleasure… Pleasure… PLEASURE…” with the passion of a lover torn and craving, followed by one of the sexiest synth-bass drops accompanying Andre 300′s nu-flow verses. “Super Rich Kids” and “Sierra Leone” illustrate his poetic abilities, which confidently work to define himself as a lyricist. The entire album succeeds in innovation, interest and relevance, and it only grows stronger when left on repeat. Ocean joins a small trailblazing elite to let us know that slow jams are back and that R&B is sexy again, however rightfully refashioned it’s become.
Frank Ocean - channel ORANGE tracklist:
- “Thinkin Bout You”
- “Sierra Leone”
- “Sweet Life”
- “Not Just Money”
- “Super Rich Kids”
- “Pilot Jones”
- “Crack Rock”
- “Bad Religion”
- “Pink Matter”
- “Forrest Gump”