Channel ORANGE and the Summer of Frank

Will Nuelle The year 2012 will be remembered primarily for two main reasons: (1) there is an slim chance that the world ends, (2) R&B was reinvented. Behind R&B’s seemingly out-of-nowhere rise back to the top are several young new artists including Jessie Ware, Lianne La Havas, and the wonderfully talented Frank Ocean. Frank Ocean is the rare collide between the detail-particular hipster and the beloved R&B/Soul crooner. He first caught my eye as he waltzed across the blogosphere in 2010 with his friends at Odd Future — a young, rowdy, and angry rap collective out of LA. However, Ocean seemed like a square peg in a round hole in the Odd Future group. Tyler, The Creator — the group’s ringleader — made angry music about how he was wronged by “White America” in addition to derogatory slurs about gays and women. How could a man like Frank Ocean, who sings with heartbreaking passion and honesty, take part in a society-hating group of young radicals like Odd Future? The answer — it wasn’t about Odd Future. It was about Mr. Ocean all along. His first mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra, was when Ocean first received praise from the critics. But, it wasn’t critics of a certain genre who were digging Ocean’s dulcet, emotional harmonies and good vibes; it was critics of every genre who lauded this tremendous debut. The album has several standouts, foreshadowing what was potentially in store for future albums, but the biggest hit from the album was “Novacane.” Nostalgia, Ultra landed him beyond the critics, however. Kanye West and Jay-Z even went so far as to add Ocean as a feature to “No Church In the Wild” from their 2011 album Watch the Throne. It was all building toward an apex. At a listening party in early July, though, things took a turn. Someone had noticed that there was a general lack of specific lines about Ocean’s sexuality, something most R&B artists had traditionally been upfront about in their music. In fact, the implications that were made about sexuality in the album, most notably in “Thinkin’ Bout You,” were rather vague. Just days later, Ocean released a groundbreaking pdf pronouncing to the world that his first true love had been a man. The pdf contained a letter, written December 27th of the previous year while Ocean was on a plane back to Los Angeles from a family function in New Orleans over Christmas. The letter isn’t addressed to anyone specifically, implying that maybe the letter is meant for anyone who is willing to listen. The letter is beautiful; both beautifully written and beautifully honest. Its vagueness lets a reader connect with his main idea, no matter what gender or sexual orientation, “I don’t have any secrets I need kept now… I feel like a free man.” Ocean’s decision to tell the world that he had loved another man was an act of modern bravery. The rap and R&B industry had, for long, been one of the most close-minded of them all. However, Ocean’s coming out seems to be a seismic shift towards open mindedness, as he was supported by most rappers from Jay-Z to his homophobic associate Tyler, The Creator (who was asked how he feels about his friend Frank coming out, and he said that he supported it fully and that his homophobic slurs on his records were just for impact, which is another problem in itself). The proximity of the letter release to the impending release date of the album made way for huge excitement from fans and critics alike. And of course, Ocean did not dare disappoint. What makes channel ORANGE so tantalizing is Ocean’s ability to sing about the hardship and splintered relationships that the album, especially the back half, is known for in such an elegantly composed way. The album’s tour de force “Thinkin’ Bout You” is a song that explores that certain vagueness in sexuality that the letter addresses. The song is multi-dimensional, hearing Ocean sing in a lower tone, but then showing his full potential when blasting his famous high notes, “And you not think so far, ahead? / Because I’ve been thinking about forever.” Channel ORANGE has high points and low points, not in the quality of the songs, but in emotion. Some areas on the album catch Ocean singing at a reflectively optimistic time, while others, namely “Bad Religion”, sees the Frank that is continually questioning himself in his songs. Frank’s studio debut earned huge support from a musical aspect as well. Pitchfork Media rated it a 9.5/10 and the title of Best New Music, which is something they only award if they view the release as particularly groundbreaking or progressive, which are both adjectives that seem to describe channel ORANGE and Ocean’s personal decisions. In just one summer, Ocean became an artist that many people were unfamiliar with to one of the biggest names, if not the biggest, in music in 2012. His Saturday night headline of Lollapalooza marked his rise to prominence. The performance was well attended, even though both the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Santogold were playing at the same time. Ocean became a must see in one summer, and one of the most prolific artists of the year with channel ORANGE and his brave decision to “come out” to the public.]]>