text by Adam Lehrer
After over a year of letdowns, I was really starting to think that Frank Ocean would be the next D'Angelo. That is, an R&B genius that waits a good 15 years to release his next album. After first announcing new LP 'Boys Don't Cry' in July of 2015, nothing new came out. That went on for six months. Frank came back into the public eye with contributions to what will probably go down as the year's biggest Pop releases in Kanye's 'The Life of Pablo' and Beyoncé's 'Lemonade,' and an almost-as-important record in James Blake's 'The Colour in Anything.' We kept hearing whispers of new music: Blake said the new Frank Ocean material was pristine, and one of Frank's producers said it was looser than but better than 'Channel Orange.' Then, last month we get a library card reading 'Boys Don't Cry' on Frank's website, perhaps indicating the missed release dates. Following that, video footage on the same website showing Frank at work assembling some kind of sculpture. Interesting, but fat from satisfying. I'm not going to lie: I gave up, slowly stopping my daily efforts of looking upon Frank's Apple Music page thinking there was no way he'd have new music out anytime soon.
But last night: it happened. Frank Ocean released a 45-minute "visual album" called 'Endless.' It's incredible. Even more: there is another album out this weekend. But, it's still hard to ask ourselves: what took so long? I think it's simple: Frank was feeling the pressure. 'Channel Orange' was a landmark album, and one of the biggest cultural events of 2012. This is the man who moved from New Orleans to write for major recording artists like Justin Bieber, Beyoncé, and Brandy. This is the man who joined Odd Future as their smooth soul singing man. This is the man who departed from a comfortable life as a commercial songwriter for a life of truth, beauty, and unparalleled artistry. This is the man who cultivated a unique and crisp R&B sound with debut mixtape 'Nostalgia, Ultra' only to shatter it to find his inner truth, posting a letter to his Tumblr page (that made us ALL cry) confirming his homosexuality and releasing the year's best and most important album in 'Channel Orange.' He wasn't just hailed as a genius songwriter, he was hailed as one of the most important cultural figures, period. Just by being an artist he broke down some serious barriers. Prior to Frank Ocean, homosexuality was still taboo in both Hip-hop and R&B. But after 'Channel Orange,' no one cared. People loved his music THAT MUCH. This is a bonafide musical genius and undeniable Pop superstar. It feels like not since Stevie Wonder have we had such a unique musical and commercially appealing talent. Frank's music does more than just inspire, it makes you feel! His unique baritone, that he can drop to a soft falsetto in the blink of an eye, his intensely raw lyrics, and his lush production all speaks directly to the listener's humanity in a way that few artists have ever been able to achieve.
How in the hell do you follow that up? You take you time, of course. And now Frank finally has music and art that he is comfortable will satisfy the fevered hype. And even more impressive, Frank did not dumb anything down. In fact, it feels like he used his massive popularity to put more pressure on his audience to try and step outside their boxes and try new kinds of music. On 'Endless,' he has collaborated with P.T. Anderson collaborator and Radiohead multi-instrumentalist Jonny Greenwood, James Blake, experimental R&B performer Sampha, singer-songwriter Jazmine Sullivan, and experimental producer/budding go-to harsh electronics man Arca. Oh, and that German accent you hear at the beginning and end of 'Endless?' That would be none other than one of Autre Magazine's favorite fine art photographers Wolfgang Tillmans, who has been successfully dabbling in music this year having released music under his own name with his 1986 EP and with his band, Fragile (http://pitchfork.com/news/67666-wolfgang-tillmans-explains-how-his-techno-track-bookended-frank-oceans-endless/). On his admiration of Frank O, Tillmans said to Pitchfork, "As a gay man, I needless to say appreciate his openness, how he deals with the initial sensation of his coming out." While most of these performers have operated somewhere within the realm of popular music, they are all capital "A' Artists. Frank doesn't feel the need to dumb his music down, and respects his audience enough to know that art and pop culture make fitting bedfellows. I don't know about you, but I'm very excited to see what else Frank Ocean has up his sleeves this weekend. Let's get that new record.