I’ve never been one deeply moved by hip-hop music. Just ask my husband, who thinks hip-hop is essential to every task from washing clothes to reading the Bible. (Thank you Jesus.) And so when I was motivated by my husband to listen to Frank Ocean’s new album Blonde, I cannot be blamed for hesitating to cooperate. It was only after I discovered that his motivation took the form of withholding sex that I reconsidered listening to Mr. Ocean’s Blonde. I was not yet aware that the album had debuted at Number One on the Billboard charts. I knew it was highly anticipated, of course.
It had been four years, after all, since his first album blast onto the music scene with such adulation that even I could not ignore it. Channel Orange was a blend of soul, R&B and hip hop, a fusion that certainly got my attention, if only for its uniqueness. Frank Ocean’s lyrics peel back layers of emotions that are so normally in place that you feel they are essential. Or, at least, they are essential until he removes them and you feel exposed and liberated at the same time. It’s like what happens when you have a good cry—in public. There’s a certain humiliation about the experience but at the end of the day, you feel pretty doggone good about yourself. And so it is with Frank Ocean.
In addition to the lyrics, which are always supposed to say something meaningful and poignant, there is the unexpected music—some of which is so unobtrusive that it becomes soothing background music. And even when Frank finally sings his first line, it’s almost a whisper compared to other hip-hop artists’ hostility—jamming and pushing their curse words and crushed grammar down our throats as if we have no choice to accept it. Well, I have a choice, and I’ve, more often than not, refused to accept such trash as art. But this–this Blonde–art is art.
I guess I should have known that I would have a bond with this singer/songwriter/performer/lover. I had forgotten that years ago Ocean had admitted via Tumblr about the moment he realized that he was in love with a man. It was an outpouring so heart wrenching in its purity that I should have seen the genius inside at that moment.
“4 summers ago, I met somebody. I was 19 years old. ,” he wrote. “We spent that summer, and the summer after, together. Everyday almost. And on the days we were together, time would glide. Most of the day I’d see him, and his smile. I’d hear his conversation and his silence…until it was time to sleep. Sleep I would often share with him. “By the time I realized I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless. There was no escaping, no negotiating with the feeling. No choice. It was my first love, it changed my life.
“Back then, my mind would wander to the women I had been with, the ones I cared for and thought I was in love with. I reminisced about the sentimental songs I enjoyed when I was a teenager.. The ones I played when I experienced a girlfriend for the first time. I realized they were written in a language I did not yet speak. I realized too much, too quickly. Imagine being thrown from a plane. I wasn’t in a plane though. I was in a Nissan Maxima, the same car I packed up with bags and drove to Los Angeles in.
“I sat there and told my friend how I felt. I wept as the words left my mouth. I grieved for them, knowing I could never take them back for myself. He patted my back. He said kind things. He did his best, but he wouldn’t admit the same. He had to go back inside soon, it was late and his girlfriend was waiting for him upstairs.”
I’m told that Frank Ocean has made $1 million from Blonde since its release only days ago. I now understand why. Thank you husband for the forced introduction.