The first time I heard about 24-year-old R&B singer Frank Ocean was in a Childish Gambino (Donald Glover's rap act) lyric: "I wanna suck your breasts and finger-blast to Frank Ocean." It's safe to say that I was introduced to his music as the baby-making kind. But Frank Ocean's debut album that dropped digitally last week and officially on Tuesday is more emotional than sexually charged. It's riddled with confusion and happiness, elation and conflict- an emotional roller coaster that's as musically smooth as a lazy river.
Frank Ocean also made headlines last week with this post on his Tumblr, which my friend called "(500) Days of Summer type brokenheartedness in a blog." In it, he tells the story of his greatest love: another man. The dude wouldn't admit his love for Ocean, perhaps for fear of being known, perhaps because he had a girlfriend. Whatever the reason, the turmoil kept Frank brokenhearted enough to create the heart-wrenching Channel Orange, and to back up the album with his admission of his unlabeled sexuality. He's one of the first openly non-heterosexual males in the hip-hop community, and so far he's been embraced with open arms for his admission, with label rep Russel Simmons calling him brave along with the likes of Beyonce.
The title track "Thinkin 'Bout You" is catchy as it is creative, as Ocean croons over a smooth beat about having someone else on his mind, switching it up from almost rap-like quick verses to a falsetto R. Kelly would envy on the chorus. The next tracks transport us to the world of excess and free time in California, with "Sweet Life" as a symphonically booming tribute to spoiled people living in their own world. "Super Rich Kids" features Odd Future fellow member Earl Sweatshirt, the young rapper who went MIA when his parents shipped him off to boarding school. The group was infamous for what many labeled as misogynist and homophobic content, so it's interesting enough that the openly not straight Frank Ocean hails from the collective. But Earl's rhymes on this track that features Elton John's Benny and the Jet's are everything but offensive. He spits in a deep, way post-pubescent tone on the chorus and his own verse, lyrically dissecting the wealthy with the grace of a seasoned expert.
Most emotional of all is one of the last tracks, "Bad Religion," in which Frank makes a taxi cab driver his own armchair therapist. The violins in the background surge as he tells the story of his unrequited love for a man who can't love him back. He says that he's in disguise, with "three lives balanced on my head like steak knives." The ballad is intense, a lament to anyone who's felt the sting of not loving themselves because someone doesn't love them back.
The album is a triumphant debut, featuring heavy hitters like Andre 3000 and John Mayer. It goes from laid back to twisted to quirky, with Andre 3000 rapping on one track "if models is for modelin', then thick girls are for cuddlin'." Channel Orange is a must-by for any R&B lovers, or anyone looking for the kind of music that makes you experience your bests and worsts in life and love all over again.