As one of 2016’s anticipated albums, Frank Ocean’s sophomore effort Blonde marks the follow up to 2012’s raved channel ORANGE. Prior to the album’s long-awaited release, cryptic messages were posted on Ocean’s website, such as band dates on a library book card. Blonde begins with the haunting “Nikes” featuring KOHH, which includes layered high-pitched vocals and a dreamy production style. With lyrics like “R.I.P. Trayvon, that n**** look just like me,” Ocean lets listeners know that—on a musical platform—his silence regarding the ongoing issue of police brutality has ended. In the song, Ocean also touches upon themes of materialism and loyalty.
“Ivy,” the second track from the album, takes more of a balladic form. Sprinkled with Ocean’s idiosyncrasies, the track features a 1960’s mellow rock melody over soft vocals that lead into a screamo-esque outro. Love is a common topic in Ocean’s music, and this song sounds like it could be from channel ORANGE due to its theme.
“Be Yourself” is a motivational interlude spoken by Ocean’s aunt. The aunt warns listeners not only about students’ antics in regards to alcohol and drug consumption, but also speaks about learning how to be your own person—not a follower. It serves as the precedent for “Solo,” which lyrically revolves around the same themes: drugs, loneliness and autonomy.
In “Facebook Story”—which features spoken word by producer Sebastian—Ocean makes his statement on the contemporary times with which Blonde coexists. It gives the listener a glimpse of how love and relationships now gyrate around social media. Whether or not future music historians go back and listen to Blonde, social media’s influence on contemporary relationships and the problems it causes has been instilled within the album.
Ocean not only makes references to current and futuristic times, but also to the classics of the past. “Close to You” contains a sample of a Stevie Wonder cover, as the song uses spacey, mirrored vocals. Ocean again reminds us of a modern context through “Close to You.” Furthermore, Ocean later references The Beatles in “White Ferrari,” with John Lennon and Paul McCartney being credited as songwriters.
“Futura Free” closes the album. This song ends Blonde by introducing a simple piano arrangement. Lyrically, the first half of the song speaks about Ocean’s success story: from “work on my feet for $7 a hour” to “making 400, 600, 800K momma, to stand on my feet momma.”
Interestingly enough, “Futura Free” references artists that are regarded as musical pioneers, such as Selena and Tupac Shakur, who were both assassinated at the climax of their careers. This serves not only as a good juxtaposition to the earlier parts of the song, but it also highlights the dangers of fame.
Ocean makes these allusions in “Futura Free” to exemplify how fame becomes bothersome. He makes it clear, however, that he’s still “a guy” and “not a god.” He also addresses his sexuality, saying, “If I was [a god] I don't know which heaven would have me momma.”
Indeed, just days before channel ORANGE’s release in July 2012, Ocean made headlines when he posted a heartfelt memo on Tumblr addressing how his first true love was with a man.
Whatever you may perceive Ocean to be—whether avant-garde or overrated—you cannot deny that his profound, worldly lyrics leave room for a lot to be said. Blonde proves to be a thematic mix that touches upon various aspects of life: love, loneliness and social issues.
Apart from the atmospheric and audiovisual production, Ocean shines in his niche. His play on words and unconventional analogies could not make his lyrics or style any more interpretive and enticing.
Blonde is an album that you simply cannot summarize; it is an album you have to experience and interpret individually.