Review of Frank Ocean’s “Blonde”

“Boys do cry, but I don’t think I shed a tear for a good chunk of my teenage years. It’s surprisingly my favorite part of life so far. Surprising, to me, because the current phase is what I was asking the cosmos for when I was a kid.” The quote comes from Frank Ocean, posted onto his Tumblr account, in which he reflects on the journey he has taken in order to reach this point of his career.

Reappearing after an unannounced four-year hiatus, Ocean’s third and most recent album “Blonde” (ambiguously spelled “Blond” on the album cover) was released to Apple Music on August 20 and almost instantly topped the billboard charts to become the third largest album debut of 2016. Now available for streaming on Spotify, “Blonde” marks a glorious return for Ocean in an album that is on par with his previous works.

Featuring music that heavily draws from R&B and soul, Frank Ocean first appeared in the hip-hop community in 2011 with his album “Nostalgia, Ultra.” After “Channel Orange” was released the following year, his name emerged as a prominent working member of the industry, rising to the ranks of other modern day rappers such as Kendrick Lamar and Childish Gambino.

“Blonde” marks Ocean’s second studio album and features seventeen original songs, most of which Ocean wrote himself, that include collaborations with Beyoncé (whom Ocean has also written for in the past), Andre 300, James Blake, Kendrick Lamar and several more.

One day prior to the release of “Blonde,” Ocean also released an online visual album entitled “Endless.” Highlighting an assortment of trippy footage that’s filmed solely in black and white, the 45-minute video focuses on several characters interacting and moving around in a single widespread room. It also features a select few of Ocean’s new songs, enhancing his music with the ability to experience it on a more visceral level.

In the past, Ocean has never been one to back away from touching on pressing and controversial topics, often discussing important matters of race and religion. After remaining ambitiously silent for four years, appearing only for a brief moment on Kanye’s “Life of Pablo,” Ocean finally touches on the issues that have been on his mind. “Nikes,” the album’s stunning opening song and sole single, addresses the Trayvon Martin case. Ocean also often openly mentions his own sexuality, which created sparks in 2012 when he publicly announced that he had fallen in love with a man in his teenage years. Now releasing his inner demons, songs such as “Ivy” and “Facebook Story” depict some of his failed relationships from the past. Telling of Ocean’s personal journey, “Blonde” hears his struggle to make sense of all of these events. However, this album is not completely devoid of hope; an earlier moment in the album titled “Be Yourself” features a voicemail from Rosie Watson, Ocean’s mother figure growing up, offering him some kind motherly advice in one of the album’s more touching moments.

Taking inspiration from Elliott Smith and The Beatles, Ocean’s music is typically known to be slower, stylistic and often electronic based hip-hop. Blending these elements, “Blonde” is also a somewhat calmer and more reflective album than his previous work, suggesting Ocean’s musical career has matured over time. His voice remains important and one that deserves to be heard. Seeing how the album’s many talented contributors never overpower or outperform Ocean, it leaves his soft and somber voice, along with his rather unconventional sound mixing, to do most of the talking. The result is a personal story from Ocean in a genre-crossing and mystical sounding album that was well worth the wait.