Frank Ocean has built some of his best music around the idea of duality.
Last year’s “Nights” from his sophomore album seams together epics about self-sacrifice and conflicting schedules before an electronic fissure transforms the tri-hop song into an R&B ballad.
Similarly, his 2009 nine-minute opus “Pyramids” blends elements like prog-rock, alternative R&B and electronic in a tale about foregone lovers as the beat changes and radically defies easily classifiable genre boxes. The accompanying video for the lead single of “Blonde”, “Nikes”, featured a memorable duet of Ocean’s one of his pitch-shifted vocals laid atop Ocean’s infallible falsetto crooning that he had “two versions.” Time and time again, Ocean proves to be at his most compelling when he is singing from the heart about wrestling with competing identities.
“Chanel”, which premiered March 10, on the the singer’s Beats Radio show, is his most dualistic work yet. The song shares the only characteristic you can blanket over every one of Ocean’s songs: ambiguity.
Ocean brags in the same voice he reveals his fears of police confrontation. Then, he recalls existential reflections seconds before referencing a popular 21 Savage meme, where the Atlanta rapper exclaims “issa knife”. In the midst of everything, it’d be easy to miss Ocean’s subtext about the duplicity at the front of his mind: bisexuality and gender expectations. “My guy pretty like a girl and he got fight stories to tell,” Ocean sings.
While sonically in line with “Blonde”, Ocean’s third release, “Chanel”, subverts expectations again. Over minimized production, a shuffling piano and steel drums, the singer vocals stand center stage and coated in reverb as he states plainly he can “see on both sides like Chanel.”
This and his earlier release this year, the Calvin Haris and Migos assisted “Slide”, sounds more accessible than anything Ocean has released prior. The newly radio-friendly Ocean is far from a disappointment; both songs stand as highpoints in the artist’s catalog. This new direction is put into a greater context when examining the interview with rapper and mogul Jay Z, Ocean posted on his first episode of the Beats Radio show.
After dissecting the demographics of radio listeners, the repetitiveness of modern stations Jay Z said “Bob Marley, right now, would not get played on a pop station. Which is crazy.” Ocean, who has never had a single debut on the Top 40 before “Slide”, has clearly taken note of pop’s current landscape and is ready for takeover.
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