That’s a pretty f-cking fast year flew by.
Within that “year” between channel.ORANGE and Blonde, Jay-Z and Kanye West became fathers, Dr. Dre and D’Angelo released albums, and J. Cole went platinum without any features. Then, it finally happened: four years of insurmountable hype was met with four promotional tools: a library card, Woodshop 101, Nikes, and a magazine; symbols that represent a coming of age of some sort. Now here we are, one year after Blonde’s release, and Frank Ocean continues to demonstrate his esoteric growth as an artist in ways that are practically an extension of Blonde itself.
Every time you listen to Blonde, it almost feels like you’re somehow listening to it for the first time again. When the untouched vocals on “Nikes” finally materialize it’s as if Frank never left. Those four years of near-silence melt away, and you forget about when he said he had #two versions #july 2015 #album 3. You forget the fact that you waited all day Thursday for him to finish painting those boxes only for him to leave for the week. You forget that Time Magazine lied to you. It puts you right back to a particular moment, whether it’s when channel ORANGE came out or when you heard your first Beatles song. It’s an album hell-bent on nostalgia more than Frank’s 2011 release that literally has the word in its title.
Blonde is a combination of the old and the new. “Pink + White” is the Frank you’ve come to love since his emergence with Odd Future. “Self Control” seems vaguely familiar, but you can’t put your finger on it. It amazes you that a song like “Pretty Sweet” that utilizes a children’s choir can coexist on album that has Yung Lean backing vocals.
“Nights” copies the formula that made “Pyramids” so intriguing, and the rhythmic change happens exactly in the middle of the run time of not only in the song itself, but the album as a whole. Before the shift in tone within “Nights,” Frank uses his vocals in a more optimistic tone. Here’s a guy that has everything in life to look forward to, and even with warnings from his beloved mother he intends to experience everything life has to offer.
“After 20 years in, I’m so naive
I was under the impression
That everyone wrote they own verses
It’s comin’ back different and yea that shit hurts me
I’m hummin’ and whistlin’ to those not deserving
I’m stumbled and lift every word
Was I working just way too hard?”
The second half of Blonde is a reflection on everything that shaped Frank—it’s a lot more pessimistic—and “White Ferrari” is the perfect song to put you on that road of reflection. This half of Blonde retroactively starts to make a lot of sense when you can contextualize and compare both his post-channel.Orange and post-Blonde outputs.
Between channel.ORANGE and Blonde, it seemed like time was running out for Frank: there was the pressure of topping a critically acclaimed debut, the growing distance between the members of Odd Future, as well as all the regular pitfalls that come with celebrity stardom. These burdens led to his disappearance and re-evaluation of what exactly he wanted from his music career. By ditching Def Jam and forming a partnership with Apple Music, Frank is allowed full creative control of his music, leading to diverse singles like “Chanel,” “Lens,” and “Biking,” all accompanied with alternate versions that signify a previous artistic battle Frank faced as a singer and rapper. His progression as an artist and the jarring amount of new music Frank has put out post-Blonde emphasizes a renaissance for him as an artist. Frank is as equally elusive as he’s always been (releasing singles on unscheduled radio shows in the middle of the night), but now he seems to be on the road to master his craft and has no intention of stopping.
When the final falsetto on “Seigfried” hits, it hits hard. The vocals trail off and you’re left wondering about that person that he would do anything for, but then “Godspeed” comes in sporting the optimism found on the A-side of the album. “Futura Free,” perhaps the most revealing track on the album, blends together Frank’s ocean of past memories with his little brother’s bright optimistic future that he possessed in the first half of the album.
“Remember when I had that Lexus, no
Our friendship don’t go back that far”
As a listener, you’re happy. You remember the come-up leading to the mystery that would later be Frank Ocean, but it’s over. He’s the same guy that would freestyle with Tyler and Earl in 480p YouTube videos. Frank’s ability to stay true to his roots and keep his friends close are the reasons his and The Weeknd’s careers went so retrograde. Frank will always be the guy that gets it, that gets you. Blonde will be the album that you will remember during both the most trying and the happiest times in your life. Rather than ending the album with his own voice, Frank ends it with his brother, Ryan Breaux’s. By ending the album with his younger brother, he’s re-insinuating the idea of the wide-eyed youth that he and all of us once were. No one is the same person throughout their life and it’s always interesting to reflect on how you have grown into the person you are now, and for this reason, the album is not only for Frank, it’s also his gift to us. That’s why you don’t care that it took four years to make—you’re too busy remembering everything that this album reminds you of.