By Tamani Chithambo
Combine the ominous undertones of a Brother Grimm’s fairy tale with upbeat, head bopping beats and you’ve got Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange.
Ocean has slowly been building his repertoire, from writing and co-writing the songs of internationally acclaimed artists like Brandy, Justin Bieber and John Legend to releasing his first mixtape Nostalgia, ULTRA on 18 February, 2011. These experiences have helped craft his music to the extent that it can be compared to the likes of Prince, although this debut album may not inspire the same head banging enthusiasm as Prince’s Purple Rain.
The storyteller in Ocean is not lost among the fixating chords denoting heartache and hope. Instead, his lyrics have earned the stamp of approval by millions, putting Channel Orange in second position on the Billboard 200. Songs like “Super Rich Kids”, “Bad Religion” and “Pilot Jones” force the listener to engage with the themes of searching for love amongst wealth, unrequited love and the turbulence of love.
Sure, Ocean is not the first artist to make love the overarching theme in his album, and he won’t be the last. But it’s the way he puts love into contexts no one would want to encounter; the way he desperately empathises with the characters stuck in various tragic predicaments that makes us, the listeners drawn into the dense narratives. He has a kind of sensitivity that is impossible to resist.
“What do you think my brain is made for/ Is it just a container for the mind? / This great grey matter”
“You’re the dealer and the stoner with the sweetest kisses”
“This unrequited love/ To me it’s nothing but a one man cult/ And cyanide in my stryofoam cup/I can never make him love me”
Lines like these showcase Ocean’s ponderings over the all-encompassing nature of love and also unabashedly reference his stance as a bi-sexual male, something that has made him highly respected in the R&B industry.
Not that Ocean’s music explicitly places him in the sphere of R&B. Eclectic best defines his choice of sounds, which includes jazz undertones, indie tunes and guitar renditions that call forth the aforementioned Prince’s Purple Rain.
It’s unfortunate that 21st century artists rarely poke at the social consciousness of their worldwide audience. Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange does. It demands that the brain cells exercise empathy, without forgetting to let those beats pulsate throughout the body and induce an eyes-closed, head-nodding musical coma.