Saturday, July 7, 2012

Frank Ocean: Changed Channel

      Media mayhem ensued after LA based singer and songwriter Frank Ocean took to his tumblr this past Tuesday with a screenshot of what was intended to be part of the liner notes for his upcoming 'Channel Orange' album. The note, entitled 'thank you's', was more than just your ordinary thank you mom, dad and label. It was a confession of sorts involving Ocean's love life. A few days prior to the post, rumors had begun to circulate about his sexual orientation. He had just previewed his album in NYC and LA for select groups of music lovers, execs and journalists. Questions began to arise when those who had heard the album realized that on certain songs, Ocean was singing about a 'him' as opposed to a 'her' love interest. This is what prompted Ocean to take it upon himself to clarify.

        In the thank you letter, Ocean opens up about a friendship he had with a 19 year old male that developed over a period of about a year into the unknown man being Frank Ocean's first love. He goes on to say that the relationship never went anywhere, so it ultimately ended up being his first heartbreak. He remains ambiguous, though, and seems reluctant to put a title on his sexual orientation, which I personally feel like was a smart move and an indicator of his own uncertainty. It seems as though he's saying that he's a human with distinct doubts, beliefs and emotions and that he wants that to be his classification as opposed to gay or straight. He wrote, “I don't know what happens now, and that's alrite. I don't have any secrets I need kept anymore.” Since the news broke, bloggers and journalists alike have weighed in on what this means and how important it is and in this entry, I will attempt to do the same.

        Frank Ocean has been a rising star since his 2011 release of his first studio album 'Nostalgia,ULTRA'. For R&B lovers, like myself, he and his work have been a breath of fresh air. His musicianship, in my humble opinion, has been unmatched when it comes to putting together songs that operate as stories of emotion, progression and life in general over at least the last decade. His songwriting puts him in a league of his own and has gained him recognition from the likes of Beyonce', Jay-z and Kanye West with whom he wrote with and for, for their respective albums. His lyricism contains dense substance and articulate descriptions while his delivery remains as plain and simple as one could ask for. Before he really developed as a singer, he ghost wrote for some of the biggest names in the game. He has brought to the table the type of songs that one could scrumptiously divulge into because there is meaning behind every single line.

        I guess I say all of this to show that what Frank Ocean means for music is enormous. After a only a year he has made quite a name for himself and it is well deserved. Ocean can ultimately go down as one of the greats. His rhythms and blues are even bigger than the confinements of a specific genre. When asked about the subject in a March 2011 interview with Complex Magazine, Ocean said, "I’m an artist, first and foremost. I don’t like boxes. Whether you’re singing or rapping or spoken word, any combination you love, the lyrics sheet should always read well. So that’s how I approach everything, no matter what I’m doing.” He goes on to say that this was the rationale he used when tagging the aforementioned Nostalgia,ULTRA as a blue grass album. He jokes, "Yeah, I tagged the album as Bluegrass. I move a lot off instinct. I enjoy little details like that. I don’t want to seem like I have a cause against genres, or maybe I do, but I didn’t think about it that much. Bluegrass is swag. Bluegrass is all the way swag.” This reflects the character of Ocean a bit more.

        Frank Ocean has always had a mysterious appeal about him. 
He is rarely seen outside of interviews and musical events and 
even when he is seen, he seems to be extremely introverted. This may, though, be exaggerated due to the overtly ridiculous and out-there nature of his fellow Odd Future associates, whom under leader Tyler, The Creator, invoked the powers of shock value to create an image for themselves. But a common strain is found that could explain the relationship between Frank and OF. Tyler and his gang have made it a blatant mission to show that they are going to do and say whatever comes to their mind. If you ever built up the stomach or interest to check out Tyler's twitter you know that there is no such thing as censorship to he or his crew. This idea, just a little less bloody and vulgar, is a driving force behind Ocean's success. Without restraint he can be as genuine as possible and this brings forth the raw emotion we hear in Ocean's music. Even with this known though, there is still left much to wonder about Frank and his private life. Who is the dude in videos rocking Asian Conical Hats and robes sitting indian-style that sings on hip-hop and r&b songs?

        Frank Ocean is not a homosexual or bisexual artist who secretly writes through a confining pen about the life of such classified peoples. So I ask you critics and listeners, how many times have you ever sang along to a song and playfully changed the word boy to girl or him to her or he to she and vice versa? The art of music appreciation involves empathy with what you, the listener, is listening to. Music is about connection through experiences and relationships. Its about finding yourself in the words. If any of you were asked at different times what your favorite song is, it is liable to change depending on your mood. So in listening, the writer's bias becomes irrelevant to an extent. YOU listen for what YOU want to hear. After all, that's the best part about music.. Isn't it? Its all boils down to how it makes you feel and not feel.

        Last night, I listened to Nostalgia,ULTRA and other Frank Ocean releases in their entirety to see if anything has changed for me, as a fan, and the answer was a simple no. Writers have dug over the past few two days to find where he could have hinted at the uncertainty of his of his orientation or lack thereof. That's not what its about though. As I previously mentioned empathy is the key tool in music. This doesn't mean that men need to find a man to fall in love with in order to really hear Frank Ocean. This means you take the art for what it is and project yourself into the emotions and ideas of it. There's still that girl you think about when you hear ''lovecrimes'. There's still that pop to 'novacane' that makes you two-step. There's still that relationship that 'Thinking About You' brings back to life. I am a fan of good, calculated and thought-provoking music and if you are a fan as well then you should share my excitement for Ocean's upcoming 'Channel Orange' dropping July 17th.

         His inspiration is his inspiration and it cannot be taken away or discredited because you don't agree with it. We talk about being different and promoting non-conformity but when we are approached with it in any form it is it is labeled strange and written off. Mankind is about progression and making things better and more fair one day at a time. In the year 2012 it is time for discrimination to be discarded and for eyes to be open. If Frank continues to make music the music he has, one would only be missing out on quite the musical experience by narrowly ignoring it. This is especially big for the hip-hop and R&B community. Diversity, while being one of this machines driving forces when it comes to racial matters, is not as acceptable when it comes to sexuality (probably closer to unacceptable). If, however, real truly recognizes real, this will change the game. One can only ponder the lasting effect Frank Ocean's bold move will have on the genres and music as a whole, but with a future seemingly as bright as his I feel obligated to assume that it will go down as a defining moment that will move us in a progressive direction. For more answers from the source himself, be sure to check out Frank on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon this coming Monday July 9th at 12:35am ET.

-L. Reels

Check out these two new Frank Ocean releases off of Channel Orange

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