In this day and age, I didn’t think it was possible for there to be a resurgence of R&B royalty who would come and take the music above and beyond my expectations. Maybe I am just stuck in the R&B purist state of mind, circa 1960s and 70s, when R&B artists such as Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder redefined the genre and took it to another level.
But, I am glad to say there is a new artist in town who is on the musical genius path like that of his predecessors and has taken the world by storm. Many critics are already hailing Mr. Frank Ocean as the savior of R&B and having followed his career for a while and listened intently to his music, I must say that I cannot argue with that statement.
Venturing into his music is like taking a journey to another world, (if that’s possible) and coming back with a sense of sensual satisfaction and a yearning to hear classic R&B just to see where Ocean”s creativity comes from. His mixtape was called Nostalgia,Ultra for a reason. And like his mixtape, there is much to be explored and deciphered on his debut album, Channel Orange.
Ocean may only be 24, but the profound images he paints throughout the album will have you thinking he has been around the block a few times. Sometimes it is difficult to tell whether he is for or against controversial subjects such as wealth, drugs and warfare. But, by the end of the song, he gives you an answer.
On the mid-tempo, velvety tune, “Sweet Life” Ocean glorifies the fancy lifestyle of the rich, but still admits that there is more to life than affluence. The reflective lyric “Don’t know why see the world when you got the beach ” pretty much sums up the glossy, Pharrell Williams produced track and made me admire his music even more.
And on “Super Rich Kids” he goes in hard on the superficial and lackluster attitude that can come with attaining wealth, and he does it over a revamped version of Elton John”s “Benny and the Jets.”
Ocean does something mesmerizing and rare on “Pyramids” which is a sexually divergent dip into the world of a stripper named Cleopatra whom Ocean is obsessed with. With technical beats and a touch of dub-step, this song is a clear statement of the direction Ocean is currently taking R&B in. Don’t get too consumed with the intricacy of “Pyramids;” not all of his songs are 10 minutes long, but they all define his unique approach to a once dying music.
He then goes deeper and comes up with the intense blues “Bad Religion,” which details his relationship with someone who is not in love with him. Hints of the R&B king Prince echo throughout the song as Ocean pours out his soul to a taxi driver as organs and soft strings dominate the melancholy melody.
Ocean steps up his game both lyrically and vocally on Channel Orange, which I thought would be hard to top after such a strong mixtape release.
Yet, he continues to shine even in areas that can be challenging as a songwriter and artist.
He once again explores drug addiction and the art of getting stoned on “Pilot Jones” and “Crack Rock.” As I stated in my last piece a about Ocean, he is one of the few artists who can openly mention drug use in such a poetic way that it almosts becomes second nature. ( Rick James and Curtis Mayfield are two artists in particular who also have the gift of poetically name dropping cocaine use in music)
“Crack Rock” begins with a soft piano and then subtlety heads into a heavy hip hop beat where Ocean details the hard life one leads when drugs take over their life. The song could be perceived as part of a “Don’t Do Drugs” campaign, but it is deeper than that, and instead the crack fein is viewed in a sympathetic way as opposed to being the enemy.
For those who have not yet heard his mixtape, he gives listeners a sneak peek into the project via “Thinkin Bout You” an electro soul seduction where he stretches his falsetto and asks his lover if they ever think about him.
As you can see, I have avoided all the commotion that has been surrounding the release of Ocean”s new album. I, as well as many fans are more concerned about the new direction Ocean is taking the music in, and are less concerned about his sexual status. There will be plenty of time for the sexuality conversations once his album goes platinum. Then the media can really say he is a star, even though we have known this from the beginning.
Favorite tracks: Bad Religion, Sweet Life, Sierra Leone