Genius of the Month: Frank Ocean


Written By: Evan Linden and Carter Ferryman


Christopher Breaux is one of the most uniquely talented artists alive. He also happens to be one of the most mysterious and reclusive “mainstream” artists alive, if not the most. In a way, he’s something of a mythical figure in the music world.


Breaux, better known as Frank Ocean, has quite a crazy story. The mystique of Frank’s story makes it seem fable-like: his origins, his rise to fame, his evolution, his achievements. Much of Frank's story doesn’t even seem real, for lack of a better descriptor. I won’t be the least bit surprised if there ends up being a world-renowned biopic about Frank one day. After all, Frank has already perfectly painted himself as a protagonist through his art.


Notice earlier that I put mainstream in quotations. Frank Ocean would undoubtedly be considered a mainstream artist- he does the numbers, he has the name recognition, he has the universal respect and accolades. Despite this, Frank hardly immerses himself within the mainstream. He doesn’t often do shows or festivals, he doesn’t do very much on social media, he doesn’t attend many celebrity events, he doesn’t make many public announcements or statements. While just as many people know his name, Frank doesn’t have that same mainstream appeal as a Drake or a Weeknd. Frank has never bothered making radio hits or dumbed-down sellouts; Frank has never bothered cranking out releases. Frank shines through his off-the-charts artistic ability; Frank shines through his often unorthodox approach to everything in his career. Frank Ocean has silently become one of the most respected artists in the industry, creating a devoted fanbase of diverse people who truly appreciate music and art.


As epic as his story has already been, I have a feeling that Frank is really just getting started. Whenever he’s done, he’ll go down as one of the best artists of our time. Even now, he has a pretty solid case to be considered for that honor. Either way, let’s take a brief look at his story thus far.

Christopher Breaux was born on October 28, 1987- currently sitting at 31 years of age. Breaux was born in Long Beach, CA, relocating to New Orleans with his family a few years later. At a young age, he became enamored with jazz music- perfectly fitting considering his NOLA roots.

The University of New Orleans, where Frank briefly attended

Frank lived in New Orleans throughout his whole adolescence and went to the University of New Orleans in 2005, where he had intended to study music. However, Hurricane Katrina devastated his campus shortly after he had moved into his dorm. Katrina put a hold on Frank’s career- it damaged all of the local recording studios he used; it closed down his college before he could even start his classes. Being the determined motherfucker that he is, he used the money that he had saved up to fly out to LA so he could still record music and make some connections. He originally planned to stay in LA for only six weeks.


Spoiler Alert: he didn’t stay for just six weeks


Frank spent years grinding his ass off in LA- constantly working on music, shopping demos around, networking, ghostwriting, scrounging for cash to survive. Frank had success as a ghostwriter, songwriting for artists such as Justin Bieber and Beyonce. Frank enjoyed the income and anonymity of ghostwriting for bigger artists, but he knew that he had a greater purpose in the world of music. After all, he dropped out and moved halfway across the country to pursue music. He worked a number of odd jobs to support himself, he went through heartbreaks, he went through failure. It was win or go home for Frank, and he had no plans of returning to New Orleans to face his other reality.


In 2010, Ocean became a member of the infamous Odd Future collective. Being apart of the group helped Frank bring his songwriting and sound to the next level; Frank especially notes Tyler and Earl as pivotal in that process. All of the Odd Future members helped each other evolve and they all built off of each other, further mastering their collective sound. Odd Future utilized the pure chemistry that they had together to make some truly revolutionary music.



After meshing with his Odd Future counterparts, Frank reached a new level of musical confidence and quality. In 2011, Frank made his personal debut to the music world with the release of Nostalgia, Ultra, his critically acclaimed first mixtape. Nostalgia, Ultra featured the classic singles "Novacane" and "Swim Good" that first established Frank as a solo artist. Nostalgia, Ultra was a sample-heavy mixtape, featuring samples of songs from Coldplay, MGMT, The Eagles (which got him in a heap of legal trouble) and Radiohead. He even covered Coldplay's song "Strawberry Swing" on his track of the same name. The interludes were based off 90's video games, such as "Street Fighter" and "Goldeneye". Nostalgia, Ultra was vibrant and unique, giving listeners a slight taste of R&B's newest prodigy. However, Frank had a lot more up his sleeve.


2012 brought us Channel Orange- Frank's beautiful debut studio album. If Nostalgia, Ultra was a sample of Frank's brand of R&B, Channel Orange was the full taste. Frank understood the importance of making his debut count; Frank used Channel Orange as a canvas to showcase his range as an "R&B" artist. Channel Orange has slow & steamy cuts, poppy electronic tracks, alternative ballads, rap-R&B hybrid fan favorites, jazz-influenced songs. Channel Orange cemented Frank Ocean's spot in the music world, earning him a Grammy for Best Urban Contemporary Album in 2013.

-Evan Linden-

Carter Ferryman on Blonde/Endless


ENDLESS


When Evan reached out to me about writing a synopsis on Blonde & Endless, I immediately began contemplating how exactly I would compile my unhinged love for these companion projects, both released in back-to-back days (August 19th and August 20th in 2016).


Since Endless was technically the first of the two albums to be released, let's start there:


In theory, Endless really isn't an album at all, but rather a visual spectacle that stretches itself to roughly forty-five minutes in length. I vividly remember waiting anxiously by my phone for Blonde's release - only to be shocked (and in a sense, disappointed) by the release of Endless - at the time, I was under the impression that Endless was the only album we were getting from Frank Ocean - so i'm sure you could imagine the unnerved expression on my face when I truly believed that Endless was what we were getting after the 4-year drought since Channel Orange.


Of course, just a day later, Frank followed up this visual album with Blonde, a truly revered project that I will soon get to.


Let's talk about Endless though. To this point, you are probably pondering what I mean when I say "visual album". Well, Endless is (under all concievable circumstances) a forty-five minute long music video - a project that really only consists of a start and finish, with no real cuts in between songs.


There is no track-listing.


There is no goal, rhyme or reason.


Endless, for all intensive purposes, is a long clip of Frank Ocean constructing a staircase in the middle of a warehouse, with continuous music playing in the foreground.


Accordingly, this album was immensely difficult to review/analyze at the time of its initial release - that is until it was released on vinyl in very limited quantities.


Lucky for you, I was lucky enough to get a copy of the exclusive vinyl release.



Fortunately, Frank did the few owners of this record the dubious honor of giving each track a title name, as well as separating them and adding the lyrics onto the inner wrappings.


Now time for maybe the hottest take of my extensive musical opinion catalog - Endless is by far my favorite Frank Ocean project to date... and it's not really that close.


I like it more than Blonde and Channel Orange - a claim few people would dare to say out loud.


In a sense, I think what I find so appealing about Endless is its unparalleled ability to sound like one long forty-five minute song. As experimental as Blonde feels, Endless takes that creativity and adds an extra layer to its many pages - Endless is so incredibly glossy and spacey it feels like an ambient album; a project that exists solely to fill a quiet void with unavoidable melodics and space-shifting instrumentals.


One of my all-time favorite Frank Ocean cuts is "Deathwish", a euphoric song that sits right in the middle of the continuous project. In all honesty, "Deathwish" is hard to put into words, so I'll link the song here:


Listen to that and tell me it doesn't feel like you are floating on a cloud.


I think the appeal of Endless is, for lack of a better word, its mysterious nature. Much like Yeezus is to Kanye West, Endless is as true to the personality that is Frank Ocean as there is for any of his other works: reserved, sonically pleasing, mysterious and complex.


Part of the fun of Endless, in addition, is it's difficulty to find and listen to. So, I have a task for you, the reader: go and find the project, pick out your favorite cuts, and appreciate the album for what it is - a beautiful composition of transitional music from start to finish.


BLONDE


Blonde, for all intensive purposes, is the "grand daddy" of them all (by all, I mean that at the end of the day, Blonde will most likely be seen as Frank's most recognizable album - regardless of its quality).


Allow me to explain.


Unless you lived underground from 2013-2016, you more than likely should've seen the incredible hype and anticipation that was the lead-up to Blonde - a rollout that was defined by numerous Twitter riots, endless speculation and ludicrous fan theories that had no foreseeable end.


That was until August 20th, 2016 rolled around - the release date for Frank Ocean's universally acclaimed cult classic - an album that, nearly three years after its initial public offering, has transcended the ranks of what it means to be an R&B album.


I say this, of course, because Blonde isn't really under a definable genre. While Ocean's vocals could realistically be categorized as ones that could fall into the niche of R&B or Neo-Soul (see D'Angelo, Lauryn Hill), his ultimate methodology in which he conducted the crafting of Blonde is nothing short of indescribable.


Take "Good Guy" for example. Ocean's cadence and overarching message seem clear and definable, but the route in which he takes to present those ideas is meticulous and unorthodox to say the absolute least. On this short "middle-album" track, he uses the power of music technology to make it seem as though he is singing through a receiver, which in turn presents the listener with a sound that can most easily be categorized as what one would experience while listening to an AM Radio in the mountains.


Much like that description, the vast majority of Blonde relies heavily in its uncanny ability to set a scene for the listener, plugging him/her into an alternate world surrounded by objects and sounds that exist synonymously with Frank's hand-crafted compositions - a fictional world, if you will.


While it's undeniable that Frank Ocean goes against the grain of what's sonically "correct" on Blonde, there is one instance where I see the master song-writer follow a trend (of sorts). On "Nights", one of the albums best songs by a long shot, Frank executes a "beat pivot" (a quick and transitional flipping of the instrumental from one sound to another) to near perfection. I'm not particularly sure why, but it seems as though most all critically acclaimed albums in Rap or R&B have some sort of beat switch on them (see "maad city", "New Slaves", "Jukebox Joints", "u", etc.).


So, is it a trend? Sure. Am I mad he did it? Absolutely not.


"Seigfried" may very well be Blonde's penultimate composition. At five-and-a-half minutes, "Seigfried" is fairly long, but upon listen you get instantly lost in its hypnotic sound - simultaneously losing track of time. Just look at this line he delivers just after the songs climax:


Dreaming a thought that could dream about a thought that could think of the dreamer that thought that could think of dreaming and getting a glimmer of God


Woah.


Listen, I could go on for hours and hours about what makes Blonde so special.


I could talk about the heart-wrenching lyrics on "Ivy",


the odd, but strangely comforting auto-tuned vocals on "Nikes",


the unbelievable verse from Andre 3000 on "Solo (Reprise)",


the warm, bright structure of "Pink + White",


the hazy, yet lucid beat on "White Ferrari",


Like a true connoisseur of the music world, however, my goal is not only to give insight for an artist, but more importantly to urge you, the reader, to go and listen to Blonde for yourself.


In all honesty, I think this is what Frank Ocean wants all the same. There's a reason why Frank takes such a painstaking amount of time in between projects - he wants his music to be discussed, dissected, cherished and appreciated.


I'm probably wrong, though. He probably doesn't care.


I take comfort in that.


We love you Frank.



-Carter Ferryman-


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