Now depending on whom I’m talking to, you get pretty strong views, although I have never heard someone come out and say they don’t like the singer. The man is the closest I’ve come to seeing to a legend on the come up in my lifetime. I already know that in ten years I’m going to be singing “Thinking About You” off-key to my children, laughing, saying “what y’all know about this”. Objectively, Channel Orange is one of the best albums I have ever heard.
Even still, apart from all of this, you can’t ignore the fact that he went ghost on us for a couple years, which honestly is very understandable. Everyone needs mental health time, time to just do them, and he had just put all of his business out there for public consumption as a cover letter in his debut album.
It was all everyone was talking about and speculations about his sexuality was honestly a hot topic in 2012. Since then, he sort of disappeared and only reemerged into the public eye late last year with a new album and has been releasing quality content ever since with a new sound and content that is very open.
Seeing Both Sides…
While Channel Orange was soft, new songs like “Chanel” are brazen. It’s like after he decided to be open with himself, his sound evolved into something more confident and experimental, so while my heart will always favor Channel Orange and what it was about, I can really appreciate what he’s doing now. If you look back on his music and separate it into three phases: Nostalgia, Ultra, Channel Orange, and today, you are able to see the differences quite clearly.
From what I believe to be the softest song on Nostalgia, Ultra, and Frank’s debut mix tape back when he was still in Odd Future, Frankie gave us “We All Try.” In between upbeat songs like “Novocane” and “Swim Good” that initially placed him on people’s radar, we get a taste of Frank’s politics with, “I believe that marriage isn’t between a man and woman, but between love and love” and “I believe a woman’s body gives her the right to choose, but baby don’t abort.”
After we got a letter in Channel Orange opening up about, but not specifying his sexuality, we can look back and think about the clues like how everyone sort of glossed over the iconic line in “Oldie” where Frank spits, “I’m hi and I’m bi, wait I mean I’m straight.” I’ve always peeped that one, but when you go back and listen to old Frankie you hear hints. It was like he wasn’t able to share his full self with us by covering up such an important part of himself. You hear a man that was very reserved. You hear analogies in the love songs, which contrast sharply with the songs explicitly about women like “Songs for Women” and “She,” but the deeper songs he has about love has been mostly gender neutral like “White.”
Then, we get a shift, we get Channel Orange, and he has left Odd Future giving us a different vibe entirely full of falsettos and songs that will make you think about your whole life. You end up thinking about your first love to who will be your last, what you will make of yourself in the future and what you have done in your past, and we get a letter from Frank himself talking about his first love and it’s raw. Its vulnerable and you hear that vulnerability in every note sung on that album. You hear pain, you hear hope, and you hear summer, and although I’ll never get over “Summer Remains” not making it on the album, it’s still a literal masterpiece.
Five years after Channel Orange and us devoted fans literally watch Frank cut wood for hours, and we get a new album that sounds like it’s been imbued with a newfound confidence, a callous attitude, and the soulful sound we’re used to mixed with a little something else. We get “Slide,” and then we get “Chanel.”
“Chanel” is just great, honestly. It reminds me of “Pyramids” in that it’s cocky, but “Chanel” is like the bisexual anthem I never knew I needed to hear from him. It even sounds like other hip-hop songs in that he’s stuntin’ and flexin’ his money, name dropping high-end fashion brands, and talking about sex, he “sees both sides like Chanel.”
This is the first song I have heard from him that is so straightforward. We had songs like “Forest Gump” and “Bad Religion” but those were about love; this is different. This is your typical I’m out here getting’ money rap song turned r&b, pop, electro jam that touches on real life themes like Frank does often and well that lacks a gender preference.
With the opening lines “My guy pretty like a girl” and “in the pink like Killa Cam” followed by “I need that b*tch to grind on my belt” and “I need my baby boy” you see him open up about what he likes in a very nonchalant way while the female relations are obviously more sexually explicit which could be for many reasons.
Legends Write The Stories.
Of course the song touches on real issues specifically in the lgbtq community where he talks about men that are “straight acting” and the black community with the police and the very real issue of police brutality when he refers to “12” but I wanted to focus on his sound changes rather than lyrically, although the elevated confidence present in his sound is also present in his lyrics – I have just always found his lyrics very impassioned.
He was able to turn a sound that was already beautiful into something new that is experimental and comfortable yet different from most other sounds you would hear – he has been able to continuously create a sound that is uniquely him throughout his own artistic journey because of this openness that he created between himself and the listener.
Not to sound corny, but it is so much easier to grow and self elevate when you are true to yourself, which is evident here with Frank Ocean and his evolution as an artist. In this, Frankie has also inspired a new wave of softer sounding black musicians and I love that something as simple as embracing yourself can have a revolutionary, positive effect on both yourself and your community.