In the last five days you may have already read several “What you need to know” blogs and “How’d we get here” columns describing the complex and mercurial lead up to Frank Ocean’s much anticipated second album,
Boys Don’t Cry Blond(e). The build-up and continuous edging that we’ve been experiencing the last several years has now come to fruition with more content than we know what to do with (And I’m not even going to talk about the visual album Endless that he released the day before Blond).
Rapid fans have been foamily gnashing their teeth for the first official full length release from the singer/songwriter/rapper/crooner/panty dropper since 2012’s Channel Orange. And it’s here at last.
This isn’t a review. There won’t be a singular thematic thread that I try to wind through this 17-song project. There won’t be a thumbs up, thumbs down, great, good, bad, ugly, rating out of 10 at the end either. I don’t purport to be a music critic with any grand ideas about this album. I am just a music nerd and a Frank Ocean fan boy. What I want to do though is talk about some of the dope songs, themes, and moments from Frank’s first project in over four years.
Running hot out of the blocks, “Nikes” wraps its arms around you, soothing the painful memory of those countless dreary, sad days you cried yourself to sleep listening to “Thinkin’ Bout You” for the last half decade. Dreaming of a new Frank Ocean album, “I’ve been thinkin’ bout you. You know, know, know.”
The pitch shifted vocals are a bit disconcerting, but I eventually warmed up to them. I wish Frank returned to his normal key sooner – especially on the introductory track, but once his familiar dulcet tones hit my ears it’s all over. He’s fucking back! Double high five emoji, fam.
The lyrics are as topical as any in 2016 with several references to the deaths of A$AP Yams, Pimp C, and Trayvon Martin. Frank paints a picture of partying with valley girl-type mermaids while perspiring in expensive jeans, and sipping lean-infused “pink-gold lemonade” (another nod to Yams and Pimp C) at a pool in a Beverly Hills mansion. He ties his desires for these unnamed beautiful women with well known celebrities, “Like twigs with them bangs” (FKA Twigs), “We breathin pheremones, Amber Rose.” And of course the best line of the song, “She want a ring like Carmelo/Must be on that white like Othello.” This. This is the Frank I’ve missed so.
The album’s second track “Ivy” feels like a prototypical Frank Ocean track and could have been produced closer to 2012 than now. It’s the most Channel Orange-y of the lot. Bare-bones instrumental – fuzzy, airy guitar riffs while Frank pines over a lost love. That said, I could also very easily mistake “Ivy” as a cut from his first project Nostalgia, Ultra, which is exactly what this song exudes.
Heartbroken nostalgia for the what-if of a break up. It’s a relatable and gut punching feeling all at once, “It started from nothing,
I could hate you now.” It makes you want to strain your voice to hit the upper reaches of your not-quite-in-key singing-in-the-car falsetto, especially at the very end Frank shrieks, “I could drive all night, drive all night.”
Frank seems to be fighting between wanting company, while also savoring his solitude, “There’s a bull and a matador dueling in the sky/ Inhale, in hell there’s heaven.” Drugs can help with that mental battle, “I got that act right in the Windy city that night/No trees to blow through/But blow me and I owe you/Two grams when the sunrise/Smoking good, rolling solo.” Can’t get more Frank Ocean than that. Poetry, imagery, word play. Some may knock the half-bakedness of some of his tracks, but it’s tidbits like this that place him high on my list of contemporary lyricists. This is as close as you get to a radio-friendly pop single.
Here we have Frank striking up a “Poolside convo about your summer last night” with a new love interest. It leads to what will eventually turn out to be a white dwarf of a relationship, burning hot for a brief time before winking out. Not made to last.
The song begins with only some soft guitar chords(It reminds me of the slow sadness of “Pink Matter”). Frank experiments once again with pitch-shifted vocals (Kendrick is given a nod in the credits) here with good results. Much like the subject matter, the track builds to a crashing finale with many layers of distorted vocals, before fading out suddenly, leaving me wanting more. The outro alone makes the record for me, “I, I, I know you gotta leave, leave, leave/Take down some summer time.” This is a dark horse favorite on the project.
Good Guy is only a minute long. It feels like a quick idea he had after a failed date that never materialized into a full-fledged track. But the line,”You text nothing like you look,” holds a ton of weight in this era of Tinder and DM-initiated hook-ups where your internet persona can be a full 180 turn from who you are in real life. I think this is why Frank left it in. Much like “Fertilizer, I’ll take bullshit if that’s all you got” from CO, it holds more weight as a snippet teasing us to what could have been, much like that dead-end date at a gay bar.
A haunting song with more minimal guitar and diffuse drums that at first has Frank rapping about a familiar subject matter, a failed past relationship, “You are from my past life/Hope you’re doing well bruh.” Mid-song we seesaw to a sadder more stripped down R&B vibe describing his family’s experiences in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina devastated his home city of New Orleans . While reading the lyrics for this track I stumbled upon a brilliant annotation from some wonderful human on Rap Genius:
“The beat change here marks exactly 30 minutes of the 60 minute album. As heavily explored, Frank references the themes of duality with the release of both Endless and Blonde. By bifurcating the album, he hints at his own duality: his bisexuality, his masculinity and femininity (i.e. the difference between blonde and blond), and where those worlds collide.”
Nicely put, that. Thank you, kind anonymous annotator.
Where to start? Oh, I know. THE FUCKING ANDRE THREE THOUSAND VERSE THAT COMPRISES THE ENTIRETY OF THIS SONG. Jesus, what a treat. Nowadays, much like Frank, Andre 3Stacks marches to the beat of his own oddball drum, which takes place almost exclusively out of the limelight. Somehow Frank knows the secret incantation that summons 3K like some Beetlejuice rap seance to deliver unparalleled guest verses. We all remember Dre’s verse from “Pink Matter,” which is still to this day one of my favorite verses:
“Since you been gone
I been having withdrawals
You were such a habit to call
I ain’t myself at all had to tell myself naw
She’s better with some fella with a regular job
I didn’t wanna get her involved
By dinner Mr. Benjamin was sitting in awe”
There are a lot of similarities from that verse in this one. Twenty full, fiery, perfect bars are spat at breakneck pace and ends so suddenly you wonder if they clipped off a line or two by mistake. I could honestly copy and paste the whole goddamn thing right here it’s that good. Andre riffs on the Solo (So Low) mantra of the full track earlier in the album, “So-lo my cup is a rojo, my cholo, my friend.” He would rather retreat into the shadows than participate in the troubling parts of today’s culture, “When I hear that another kid is shot by the popo/It ain’t an event no more.” I just imagine Andre finished this thing in a take or 3 and then disappeared into the ether before Frank could ask, “Wait was that last part a barefaced shot at Drake?” I think you know the answer to that Frank.
This song could be a Bon Iver track if you turn your ear to the speaker and squint. I don’t think it’s been officially credited, but I’m certain that’s Justin Vernon on the final verse. I would not be surprised if the Bon Iver frontman is revealed to have a heavy hand in the production of this track. Frank leans on what he knows and loves best – coke references and vintage cars. This one is growing on me.
To be honest, Pink+White, Seigfried, Godspeed, and Pretty Sweet among others have not caught my ear as much as the above tracks. This album has so many layers that I am still sorting out a lot of the content for most of these songs. The same process happened with Channel Orange where I itched to skip over tracks like “Monks,” “Not Just Money,” and “White,” but those little gems grew on me and emerged to complete the fully realized picture that project ended up being. With time I expect the same thing (or something resembling that realization) to happen here, too.
So there you have it. Four years seems like an eternity in our fickle and impatient Twitterverse. But you know what? It doesn’t matter how long it’s been, or how we got here. It doesn’t matter what people thought this album was going to be. Frank Ocean’s art has never been about fan service or delivering on promises. Doing his own thing (So-looooo) at his own pace is what makes Frank a compelling character. He’s totally okay with letting others predict his next move, “We’ll let you guys prophesy.” What does matter is that we have a new album to dig into and unpack over the next several years. And I couldn’t be happier.