Thank You, Frank Ocean
Four years ago, Frank Ocean released Channel Orange. The album was magnificent. It received critical acclaim. It exposed a soft side of an artist who was known more for the over the top lyrics of the group he was apart of before he split off. Frank Ocean is something special.
In the world of popular music, four years is a lifetime to wait to release a new album. Actually, it is more of a death sentence. Every year, hundreds of new bands show up on the scene. They receive praise, they sell records, then they vanish into thin air. It happens all the time. A one hit wonder isn’t a rarity, it is the norm.
With all of that looming, the great story teller slowly became the story itself. With every passing week the internet became more and more impatient. Was Ocean a one album wonder? Did he ever really exist? Was the man who somehow made a song about Forest Gump seem like something we would want to listen to just disappear?
Then the miracle happened. Well, sort of. The album we had all been itching to get our fingers on showed up. Kind of. Instead of the long awaited, “Boys Don’t Cry”, we got “Endless”. Endless is great. It also came in the form of a 45 minute music video that is a story, in the visual sense, that encompasses another story, the audio. When it showed up on Apple Music the Twitterverse was ablaze with excitement. The hype was real. Endless also served another purpose, it officially satisfied Ocean’s deal with Def Jam records.
The next day, Ocean released “Blond”. Wait, after four years we get two albums? Hell yes. We also get the next generation of music, that which is defined by music being released by the artist, not the label. Not that long ago, the idea of releasing an album with out a label was unheard of. Today, however, streaming music has positioned itself in a way that makes it the friend of the artist, not a means to an end. This isn’t a Beyonce or Jay-Z style move. This isn’t an independent artist releasing an album while still utilizing a record label to actually distribute it. Ocean has released an album and distributed it through streaming music. Artist, check. Platform, check. Record label as the middleman, nope.
The way we consume music is changing. The idea of owning a record has been replaced with the constant of renting music. Record labels have become famous for absurd contracts that inevitably lead to drawn out court battles. Artists create, they should be allowed to do just that. Yes, everyone wants to get paid but that cannot be the end all in the world of creating things that are going to be listened to or viewed by millions of people. We are all music to the opening shots of the battle that is going to change the power structure of music for generations to come. Both of Ocean’s albums are beautiful, that isn’t the point. The point is that he chose to share the one he wanted you to have on his own name. That sort of ownership means something. What it means for the music industry may mean something so much more.