Frank Ocean exploded onto the commercial music scene in 2012 with his groundbreaking project, Channel Orange. Released on the heels of his courageous bisexual announcement, Channel Orange confirmed what his mixtape, Nostalgia Ultra, suggested: Frank Ocean is a generational talent. Ocean’s beautiful, dynamic voice conveys the introspective tales that formulate his challenging and relatable coming-of-age narrative. But as loud as his triumphant introduction was, his palpable hiatus left a vacuum of silence.
Four-years, numerous release dates, and several album name changes passed between Channel Orange and Frank’s 2016 work: a debut visual album, Endless, and his sophomore studio effort, Blonde. The pressure to repeat his evocative debut must have been stifling, but he answered the beckoning call beautifully.
In a year of standout albums—from Chance’s Coloring Book to Kanye’s The Life of Pablo—Frank proved that not only is he still a musical contender, he is a champion. Blonde adhered to a similar template as Channel Orange by intrepidly continuing his bisexual chronicles, while deepening his artistic allure through exposing more sides of the multi-faceted Frank. Today’s short-attention span world typically doesn't grant artists the latitude for a prolonged recess, but Frank, as we’ve learned over the years, is anything but typical.
His absence proposed an interesting paradox, however: sure, we craved new Frank material, but out of self-protection we began to accept his hibernation, remaining faithful that magic would inevitably transpire the next time he graced the microphone. But in 2017, it appears that Frank is ending that through something his fans aren’t accustomed to: multiple singles and features, and a different artistic side.
It all started on February 21st when super producer, Calvin Harris, announced his single, “Slide,” featuring Migos’ Quavo and Offset, and of course, Frank Ocean. An upbeat piano-centric instrumental that gestates into a hypnotic dance track facilitates Frank’s eclecticism. We’re introduced to “Slide” through Ocean’s manipulated intro, which bleeds into his traditional buttery voice that gingerly plays with the Harris production. The Migos juxtaposition adds an interesting layer that conforms well to Calvin’s beat, adequately complementing Frank’s singing to produce a multi-textured hit. Hearing a Frank Ocean verse was refreshing, as it had been about three-years since we’d heard him in a feature capacity. But if history has taught me anything, it’s that being optimistic for continued Frank releases is a fool’s mission.
Not even three-weeks later, Frank took to his Beats 1 Radio Show, “blonded RADIO,” to premiere his first 2017 single, “Chanel”, including a variation with A$AP Rocky. Frank is the complete artistic package. On the surface, it’s impossible to miss his vocal ability, but plunging into the depths of his poetic lyrics exposes his complex, intelligent mind. “Chanel” cleverly uses the iconic brand’s opposing “Cs” to symbolize Frank’s dualistic life vantage point—he sees both sides of life, just like Chanel. From being a bisexual to satirizing his fame, Ocean’s ranging examples illuminate and contextualize the song’s meaning. Aside from the deep content, Frank employs a technique that typically complements his work, as opposed to structuring it: rapping. His feathery flow disguises the rapping by adding a softer touch to the traditionally serrated approach, providing a different side to Hip Hop’s focal point, as well as Frank himself. We’ve seen this version of Franky O before, such as his feature on Earl Sweatshirt’s 2013 hit, “Sunday”, and Tyler's 2011 Goblin cut "She", but “Chanel” gently reminds us of his dynamic talent. Ocean periodically intertwines his customary captivating singing, which climaxes at the song’s midway point with his stretched vocals. It’s beautiful, it’s honest, and most importantly, it’s the blueprint to Frank Ocean.
With two exemplary 2017 Frank sightings, I was positive that we wouldn’t hear from him for another three-four years.
Just one-month after “Chanel’s” release, Frank teamed up with Jay Z, and Odd Future affiliate—and close friend—Tyler, The Creator for the whimsical “Biking”. Hov’s introductory contribution hides behind a retro-sounding filter that transplants the listener to yesteryear, as he analogizes bicycles with life’s cyclical nature. The biking metaphors continue with Frank and Tyler’s parts, comparing riding bikes to feeling transcendent freedom. Ocean continues his hybrid rapping-singing style, further blurring his musical aesthetic while making one thing resoundingly clear: Frank Ocean is damn talented. Recently, he released a solo version of “Biking” that enriches the original through a new verse, which continues Frank’s rapping exploration. Dropping alternate versions of his 2017 tracks has developed into a theme for Ocean, effectively expanding his artistry and generosity to us Frank supporters.
A facial silhouette contrasts with the colorful backdrop; the word “Lens”, written across the dark figure’s face, stands above a toothy, incomplete smile. No, this isn’t an avant garde expression—it’s the cover art for yet another Frank single, “Lens.” 2017 might be the year of the rooster according to the Chinese New Year, but for Frank Ocean, it’s the year of successful experimentation. Frank uniquely textures his voice by adopting the burgeoning auto-tune Hip Hop trend, spearheaded by guys like Quavo and Travis Scott, to deepen his artistic command. Fittingly, Frank recruits Travis for the song’s alternate version, “Lens V2”, finding Ocean playing a chameleon in Travis’ typical auto-tune field, and marking the first collaboration between the two. The result? Well, it’s a Frank Ocean and Travis Scott collaboration, so I think the outcome is self-explanatory. Additionally, Frank partnered with another auto-tune frequenter, Young Thug, for the single, “Slide on Me”, which premiered during his Beats 1 Radio Show, but has since been removed from digital outlets—this partnership also marks another inaugural collaboration for Frank. It’s a year of many firsts for the Blonde artist, and we’re sitting here with bigger, dumber grins than the “Lens” cover art figure.
While this surprising influx of Frank material has been incredible, I feel like his rapper wings didn’t fully emerge until this past Monday. Last week, in addition to releasing “Biking (Solo)”, Frank teamed up with A$AP Rocky, Playboi Carti, and Lil Uzi Vert to continue his 2017 alternate version release theme (he provides two separate verses) for the hit track, “Raf”—a humorous, materialistic song that shows all contributors bragging about their high fashion clothing, and warning outsiders to “please not touch their Raf.” In addition to sustaining his dualistic release strategy, “Raf” also finds Frank further harnessing his rap skills, and surprisingly showcases him as the track’s preeminent spitter. Yes, I think he bests Rocky on his own song. And in case Frank’s 16 off the original isn’t enough evidence, he provides an equally great verse on the second edition.
I’m not sure what’s more powerful: the bombardment of new Frank material, or his impressive rapping ability. Either way, music fans are winning. We’re roughly five-months into 2017, and already we’ve received nine Frank tracks (including his features and alternate versions). Let’s put that into perspective quickly: three-years passed between any Frank features, and four-years dragged by in-between his album releases. Damn, how times have changed.
I think we grew accustom to his loud silence, and ultimately—albeit hesitantly—accepted it. Of course, we craved new Frank content, and him dismissing our pleadings became frustrating, but we blindly kept faith that he’d return. We trusted the process. We were rewarded with not one, but two 2016 projects: Endless and Blonde. Frank is an old soul in a reserved man’s body who’s experienced a level of emotional turmoil few are privy to, hampering his output and creation process. Now, it appears that Frank’s discovery of himself and purpose correlates with an increased yield and experimentation into differing musical disciplines. We are witnessing a man undergoing a musical renaissance, and only the beginning of Frank’s potential.