Is Frank Ocean The Realest Thing In Hip Hop?
Hip hop’s emergence as the most dominant cultural influencer over the past several years has indoctrinated it into a now common industry culture of popified, formulaic, and subversively outsourced production. Why does the second album from Frank Ocean’s infuriatingly teased and desperately anticipated Blonde feel cut from a different, more authentic cloth?
On Solo(Reprise) and Be Yourself Ocean strips away any major instrumental accompaniment highlighting the clear message to be secure in yourself and to be “solo so that I can give a fuck about what is trending/tryna cut down on my spending regardless of winning instead of pretending.”
In many ways Ocean has embodied this message since very early in his career. Following the release of his album Channel Orange he shared that he was gay. In a music culture that had previously been dismissive and antagonistic towards homosexuality, Ocean’s openness and comfortability was nothing short of tone-setting.
In the lead up to the release of Blonde Ocean did not waver from his mission to be himself. He did not cave to pressures from a starving fan base, and was remarkably silent. His control over his message and career have been outstanding. He does not reek of empty-controversy and promotional dramatics.
Musically, his work mirrors his disregard of “the mold”. His sprawling list of collaborations across genres and styles makes this album challenging to define. Ocean and his collaborators pull from hip hop and marry R&B and soul to a happy-goth ethereal rock sound that gently opens up to gospel. Consistent throughout is an appeal to the unavoidable digitalism of our culture and its effect on our music, with subtle autotune, muffled synth, and cellphone footage audio.
The authenticity of Frank Ocean’s work is in his constancy through message sound and action. By not claiming to be perfect, by not claiming to feel one emotion, and by not being unitary in his sound or person, he unleashes his relatability and in doing so highlights the similarities in humanity. It is a powerful combination that should serve as an example for other artists and even ourselves.