Last week I read an interview with English singer-songwriter James Blake as part of his current press run for his newest album, (which I'm still in the process of wrapping my head around). In the interview, he touched on a topic that currently seems to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time--the ever elusive Frank Ocean and this goddamn album that was supposed to drop almost a year ago.
A simple Frank Ocean name drop in May 2016 is clickbait gold, and therefore enough to incorporate his name into the title regardless of context or number of sentences that are spent discussing new music from him. And of course, while James Blake was generous enough to drop a bit of insight into their creative relationship for the nerds like myself, he shed absolutely no light on when the shit is coming out. All we really know at this point is that he is "onto something." Thanks James.
Initially, the Frank Ocean fan in me wanted to punch through my computer screen in frustration for having yet again fallen for a headline that ultimately yielded nothing but a vague quote and more confusion about the timeline of Ocean's second official release. But after doing some deep breathing, the music fan in me told the Frank fan to relax and have a couple of seats.
I remember exactly where I was when Channel Orange dropped. I remember skimming over Nostalgia, Ultra between repeated plays of Kush & Orange Juice and Cabin Fever and not really getting why the Internet was going crazy over this guy. I remember watching his performance of Bad Religion on Jimmy Fallon and not really liking it. I even remember reading his open letter/Tumblr post in which he came out of the closet, and being more amazed by the almost instant spike in popularity and buzz it gained him than the content of said open letter. The only reason I clicked on the iTunes preview of the album was because of all this hype--and because it had an Earl Sweatshirt feature.
And then I heard Sierra Leone.
It all clicked. I listened to the album through once, twice, then Nostalgia, Ultra, then Channel Orange again, then back to Nostalgia, Ultra again until I looked at the clock on my computer and realized that it was 4PM and I had gotten absolutely nothing done for the day at work. The next few days were pretty similar. I left my desk only to use the bathroom. The rest of the day was spent transfixed on the computer screen. Unmoving. Earbuds jammed as far into my ears as they could go. Trying to navigate through the layers, follow the stories and understand exactly how and why this album made me feel like my head was exploding...on the beach in southern California. Listening to Channel Orange for the first time was like finding out that Santa Claus isn't real while taking your first bite of Harold's Chicken. All you can do is sit there and take it all in.
I despise when people overstate the importance of music but I'd be lying if I said that Channel Orange didn't completely shift the way that I thought about and approached my own music in a way that nothing before it had. It flung me headfirst down the rabbit hole of black music--from Otis to Curtis, from Erykah to André and back again more times than I could count. It opened my eyes to the beauty of music played by musicians. It showed me the power or chord changes, background soundscapes, and implicit storytelling. And then there was Blue Whale...but that's a whole other article.
I know I'm not the only one who felt the seismic waves left behind by Frank's debut. There's a reason that people around the world react with fury when this new, still nonexistent album is mentioned. But I want to implore my fellow fans to be patient with the man and give him the time that he needs. Frank Ocean is one of the last, true vintage superstars. He possesses an aura of mystery that is only shared by artists like D'Angelo and the late, great Prince--a mystery that's nearly impossible to obtain in this era of social media and constant exposure. He's not accessible. We don't know who he's dating. He's not gonna drop a song for the summer. Shit, people you would think are close to him don't even seem to know his whereabouts most of the time. His extended silence after brief periods of activity are what make us clamor over distorted, lo fi snippets of unfinished work. It's what breaks the Internet when rumors of secret listening parties get out. But we should ask ourselves a few things: Would Frank Ocean be Frank Ocean without the silence? Would we care? Do we want the album right now if it means that it doesn't live up to the astronomical bar that he set with Channel Orange? Isn't this, the anticipation, the fun part anyway?
Frank Ocean's career has always been about timing. He and his team are calculated. This is chess, not checkers and I think all of these false alarms and rumors are part of the plan. Music needs some mystery. It needs deep thinkers. It needs Frank Ocean to bring balance to The Force. Basically what I'm saying is, let the man cook.
We know you'll deliver and we'll be here when you're ready, Frank.