Like most of the world, I first heard about Frank Ocean when he wrote a poetic, pensive blog post about his first love. The post wasn’t very long – but it was big. Ocean was talking about his feelings for a man. That a man working in the machismo of the hip-hop and R&B could essentially come out in this way was a shock to most, as he single-handedly shattered the rigidity of that exact stereotype. Fortunately, his post garnered an overwhelmingly positive reaction. With the small task of expanding the boundaries of an entire genre complete, Ocean followed up with the release of his first LP, channel orange.
channel orange is many things at once. An evocative, provocative expression of emotion, Ocean is staggeringly sensitive and insightful. Keep reminding yourself that he was 25 at the time of its release to get the occasional spine shiver on top of the ones he already deals you. For someone who has proven to be so idiosyncratic, the album simply begins and finishes with tracks titled Start and End. The album opener samples the PlayStation start up screen noise, text message alerts and idle conversation, setting what is to come within a specific generational ambience. The album emanates youth but criticises the superficiality and bragging that so often comes with the work of Ocean’s peers. Short and sharp track Fertilizer is a conscientious shrug of resilience, stating simply that whatever negativity comes Ocean’s way will only fuel his growth.
It is wrong to call this a confessional album because to confess, you have to feel guilty. This is an introspective album that is intimate and lyrical without being obtuse. Contemplative, yes, through its lush melodic strings and lyrics with references to sparring verbally with Japanese Senseis, but not anxious. A personal declaration of strength in vulnerability, and the wisdom that comes with that.
Can you tell that I love it?