After all the mind games, heartache, pain, and utter disappointment, this weekend, the world was blessed by the being known as Christopher Francis Ocean. It has been over four years since we received a project from Frank Ocean. Ocean released the timeless classic Channel Orange to the world on July 21, 2012. It seemed like after its release the star just disappeared off the face of the Earth (musically that is).
Fans and Frank Ocean lovers have been dragged through the ringer and emotionally damaged as release dates have been posted and fabricated with ultimately no new music release or really any word from the New Orleans native. As the years following Channel Orange went by, anticipation for the follow up album severely built but ended in pure frustration, anger, and disappointment, as no music ever appeared. With each fake release date, anger substituted the sadness and increased. The anguish and heartbreak finally ended this weekend when the soul-filled crooner released not one but TWO albums for the world.
Anticipation and eagerness heavily developed on Thursday night (Aug 18), when Ocean released his visual album Endless on Apple Music. As the visual album began, we see Ocean in black and white, building some type of contraption (ultimately a staircase). As he builds it, a soundtrack begins and we hear new Frank Ocean music in its complete glory. Could it be? Was it really happening? Fans went totally insane on all forms of social media as they heard these new sounds and vibes. The soundtrack to the 45-minute video enlisted of the likes of the incredible Jazmine Sullivan, James Blake, and Sampha. This visual album helps us understand the process to creating any work of art is not always pretty or quick. It shows beauty in the process, beauty in the struggle of creating anything, and the beauty when it is completed.
Endless left fans confused and wanting more. How could he just release a visual album with no actual tracks for fans to play over and over (without having to watch the video that is)? Was there more to come? While still excited and impressed by the great new sounds and Ocean’s building skills, many were just baffled and not completely satisfied. On Saturday (Aug 20), fans lives were changed as they received the answers to their questions, pop-up shops (in four cities), an art magazine entitled “Boys Don’t Cry,” and a brand new 17-tracked studio album on Apple Music! That’s right, Ocean fooled the entire world and gave us TWO albums. The magazine also contained a second CD version of this new album. Following the Endless visual album, this new spontaneous project is titled Blonde (spelled “Blond” on the album cover). Blonde also has two distinct album covers. One features Mr. Ocean with blondish-green hair covering his face and the alternate cover shows what appears to be Ocean in a pink jacket with a helmet on and the word “blond” in yellow.
Following the album’s release, Ocean took to his Tumblr platform and wrote: “I had the time of my life making all of this. Thank you all. Especially those of you who never let me forget I had to finish. Which is basically every one of y’all.”
Blonde marks the 28-year-old’s sophomore studio album. It is highly decorated as it’s contributors list contains a plethora of artists which include: Beyoncé, Kanye West, Tyler the Creator, James Blake, Andre 3000, Jazmine Sullivan, Kim Burrell, Pharrell Williams, and many more.
Blonde begins with the lead single, “Nikes,” which was released 24 hours before the album. From that moment forward the atmosphere has been set and greatness begins. As we begin the journey, “Nikes” gives classic mixtape Frank. It also gives Channel Orange vibes as it channels pyramids in a sense.
The album is blessed with so many amazing tracks that it’s overwhelming. The album is truly everything I thought it would be. The production is immaculate. Ocean distorts his voice in several of the tracks and plays with tone and pitch. His transitions are unlike any other, and deliver a presence that brings back shades of Channel Orange. The album gives complete alternative, electronic, futuristic vibes. The guitars and pianos in this album KILL. They make such wonderful beauty in so many of the tracks. There is so much detail that truly drives the album. As you play the album through its entirety, you see the passion and work that has been placed in the project. It becomes an experience deeper than an album. The album possesses such an intricate, unexplainable, structure. Each track flows directly into the next. The album is truly complex and next level. It’s like nothing that has been released this entire year.
The songs are utterly amazing. “Pink and White” is utterly mesmerizing. Add Beyoncé’s angelic harmonious (nearly hidden) background vocals along with Ocean’s amazing presence and you have just created pure art. Once you realize that it’s Queen Bey in the background, your mind is literally blown away. The beat makes you feel like you’re taking a summer drive to the beach as it just flows all the way through. It channels classic Frank and is one of the album’s best songs. As it progresses we reach “Be Yourself,” which is personally a favorite on the album. It shows Ocean’s mother giving the expected motherly advice in regards to finding your identity and staying away from drugs and alcohol. As you hear her say, “Be yourself and know that that’s good enough,” you nearly want to cry because of the beauty and passion in what she’s saying. It’s definitely an amazing factor on Blonde.
Another favorite is Solo. The organs instantly take me to church as Ocean smoothly chants, “solo.” The imagery he leaves in this track is just amazing. It makes you visualize everything he is saying. It tells a story and makes you crave more. As we progress through the track list, we approach another favorite, “Self Control.” The guitar work exhibited in this song along is enough to overwhelm you, and then you add a passionate, heart-wrenched Ocean and this song just hits you right in the chest. It gives off the feel of a serenade type song. It’s so mellow and beautiful. The outro gives off a ghostly feel that leaves chills running down your spine.
More standout tracks from the album come once we reach, “Nights” and “Solo (Reprise).” …. Nights is beautiful. It consists of two parts and is one of those tracks you play when you’re up at 2 am. The production in it is so smooth and harmonious.
In regards to “Solo (Reprise),” where do I even begin with this track? The track is only a little over a minute and Andre 3000 literally managed to make my heart jump out of my chest and return back inside as he delivered some of the most amazing wordplay! Both Ocean and 3 Stacks are no strangers to one another as the two worked together on Channel Orange’s hypnotic, melodic “Pink Matter.” The moment I heard Andre a smile leaped onto my face and I became obsessed with the track.
By the time we reach “Godspeed,” I’m pretty sure you have already cried a couple of times. The tears will probably continue as “Godspeed” begins. This is probably my favorite song on the entire album. Once you hear Frank say, “I will always love you,” and the organs begin to echo, it’s a wrap. This song is truly unlike anything I have heard before. Kim Burrell’s background vocals take me to another world. The beauty in her voice nearly brings tears to your eyes.
The album’s last track, “Futura Free,” is the album’s longest song. This song marks reflection as Ocean looks back on his life before fame. He references a variety of things from his sexuality, his friendship with Tyler the Creator and how he used to sleep on his sofa, Jay Z emailing him, and much more. It consists of two sections, just as “Nights.” The wordplay in this track is strong and is a great way to end the album.
Overall, this album is truly ahead of its time. It’s honestly unlike anything I have heard before. I think true Frank fans will appreciate this body of work, along with the visual album. Every song is great! You simply choose which songs you like more than others, but every song on the album is great in its own way. The album contains beautiful imagery and symbolism. The album is definitely more personal then we have seen before. Blonde showcases who Frank was four years ago with his previous release and who he is now, as an artist and ultimately as a person. It shows Ocean’s versatility and growth as an artist.
The production is great; the lyricism is great. This album is very detail oriented. The very little details such as the contributions by the various artists truly drive this album. Is this album better than Channel Orange? That is a tough one. I’m truly not sure about that. While this album is absolutely amazing, Channel Orange was / is untouched. Nothing really matches the greatness that was seen in that album. I think they’re both great. This is definitely a project you have to play several times to truly understand and process.
I loved it from beginning to end. I’m not even upset about the four year wait anymore. The man gave us a visual album and a studio album; there’s no way I could be upset at that. Ocean truly created art. It took time; it was a process but it ultimately bloomed into something completely out of this world. This album will definitely win some Grammys and many other awards (as it rightfully should). Ocean created yet another timeless classic and for that, I thank you so very much Frank.
Blonde is available right now, exclusively for stream on Apple Music and purchase on iTunes!