“He’s a really good writer.”
In the midnight hours, this was my lasting impression of Frank Ocean. Not the most eloquent response, but the intensity of his prose was humbling. I had felt this way before, but it struck me even harder on this particular night. When someone says “I believe a woman’s temple gives her the right to choose, but baby don’t abort,” you listen. It reflects a dichotomous relationship, wrapped in conflicted thought. In short, it is authentic human emotion—the absent father of modern songwriting.
Frank was supposed to change this. R&B has become the bastard child of music, eschewing any semblance of direction. For many, nostalgia, ULTRA was the foggy image in music’s crystal ball. If recent events have taught us anything, we should probably stop prognosticating on the trajectory of an artist’s career. But, then again, predicting the weather is one our most vain engagements.
Hindsight is everyone’s best friend after the fact and it’s been called to the stand more than ever during the trial of Frank Ocean. I’m not going to say that I saw this coming, because the entire ideology behind it is questionable, at best. What I did know of the artist was that his peculiarities have made for one hell of a ride. An example of this is the thoughtful sampling of Nicole Kidman’s memorable bedroom diatribe in “Eyes Wide Shut,” woven into the closing moments of “Lovecrimes.” I’ve always appreciated the film’s esoteric look into the erotic and for this moment, it came together masterfully. In fact, all of his music has this innate ability to connect with an audience in ways all too personal. We can all relate to grandiose feelings of heartbreak and overwhelming joy. This is the great trick of pop songwriting. But to draw emotions from the acute takes a talent unforeseen in contemporary sound.
I was 17. Riding shotgun was a young lady. I’ll call her Summertime Fine. She was the type of girl you brought around your ex, the one that left you for the varsity quarterback. That was the basis of our high school romance. It’s not rational, but neither are most relationships at that age. Nevertheless, I was pleased with my superficial victory. As we rode to our destination, I attempted to do what we all do in that particular situation and set the metaphorical “mood.”
“What is this? Ew! Is this jazz? Don’t you have any Trey?”
The “this” our young heroine was referring to was Dwele. I never called her after that night.
Misogyny aside, I feel you, Frank. And that’s all that matters.
The unfinished songbook of Frank Ocean reads more like a collection of short stories, our stories. They’re ballads, but not in that sentimental, sugary pop way. This isn’t fast food music, built of processed emotions and assembly line sounds. It’s palpable, yes. But right now, we’re talking about substance.
The greater narrative of the artist remains to be told. Perhaps this is its rising action. As I said before, I’m no longer one for prophesizing, but there will come a day in which true purveyors of art will be separated from the fake, as seen in discussions of Frank Ocean, the artist. There is something undeniable here and I think we all know the reason for any caustic dissent.
This is the point where I force you to indulge me and my impassioned progressive rhetoric, eviscerating the gross vehicle of discrimination, whilst embracing the abstract concept of love in all forms. But I won’t. Because, honestly, none of that matters. This doesn’t require an open mind, but instead an open ear. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: It always goes back to the music, man.
In response to one of the most stirring moments in recent music history, I was left in awe, but not of the moment. I was taken by the artistry behind it. Like I said, this has nothing to do with my own personal politics. It’s still and always was about the music. It’s incontrovertibly good and touches a place that I can relate to, even if the original vision is not directly aligned with my own proclivities.
Frank Ocean will inevitably become a maligned figure and contradictorily a hero to many. For me, he’s just an incredibly talented guy. That’s it.
Written By: Paul Pennington