After four long years, Frank Ocean fans can finally stop asking where the new album is. “Blonde” was released a little over a month ago—a 17-track record featuring impressive collaborations and perspective that could help redefine hip-hop culture.
Before Ocean’s debut album “Channel Orange” was released in 2012, he posted a letter on his Tumblr. Through poetic, nostalgic prose, Ocean told the story of meeting his first love years ago. He explained this love caused him heartache but he’s thankful it happened. The letter acted as a platform for Ocean to openly address his bisexuality—blatantly stating that this love was between him and another man.
In the world of hip-hop, songs are often cluttered with homophobic lyrics, overt masculinity and hypersexualization; making it incredibly daunting for any artist in the genre to admit they’re anything but heterosexual.
Frank Ocean was the first mainstream black hip-hop artist to ever come out—a courageous act that led to the support of thousands of fans and fellow musicians.
After the release of “Channel Orange,” Frank Ocean skyrocketed to success, eventually winning a Grammy for the album. The record is a beautiful blend of genres, each song filled with flowing, eloquent lyrics on addiction, love and heartbreak.
The album’s prominent tracks featured smooth, retrospective verses in “Thinkin’ Bout You”, highlighted Ocean’s issues with materialism in “Super Rich Kids” and put Ocean’s personal life on display in “Forrest Gump”—a track written from the perspective of a character from the film—but deeply rooted in metaphors that are speculated to be about Ocean’s sexuality.
In the four years between albums, Ocean collaborated with artists ranging from John Mayer to Beyoncé, proving his talent is diverse. Ocean began teasing his new record as early as 2013, getting fans all riled up following his critically acclaimed debut. The internet heard little from Ocean until he updated his website last year, hinting at new material.
Time went by with no record in sight. Ocean kept very quiet as rumors continued to spread regarding potential release dates. Fans started getting irritated because there seemed to be a constant cycle of excitement followed by disappointment. Many started to wonder: is there really even a new album at all?
On Aug 19, 2016, fans finally got something new from Ocean. He released “Endless”, a 45-minute-long visual album. The next day, Ocean advertised shops in major cities such as London and Los Angeles. The shops contained free magazines with CD’s included, limited to only one per person.
Later that day, Ocean’s sophomore album “Blonde” was finally released on Apple Music. Fans around the world rejoiced and people who weren’t fans were just happy people stopped complaining about the wait.
Following the release, many noticed variations on how the album title was spelled. Ocean is a master at hidden meanings, which clearly inspired the route he took with this album. People realized that the male version of the word “blonde” has no “e”. Ocean used the male version—“Blond”—on the album cover and the female version—“Blonde”—on the album listing, speculating a reference to his bisexuality and struggles with maintaining that hyped-up, masculine image that is so common in hip-hop.
The name of the record along with the lyrical content has sparked important conversations about homophobia in hip-hop and pop culture. Ocean’s successful role in a traditionally straight genre is important for representation, proving that people struggling with their identities have the potential to do great things.
“Blonde” is much like “Channel Orange” in the sense that it’s incredibly personal, weaving together stories about relationships, drug use and sexuality throughout. The album seems to stray even more from Ocean’s R&B roots, incorporating styles of different genres and constantly keeping the listener on their toes. The lyrics on this record are mysterious, symbolic and elegant. Ocean sings with distinct velvety vocals and raps with grace, never seeming to run out of sheer emotion.
“Blonde” is an album that will undoubtedly be discussed for a long time, not only because of its music, but for its spotlight on identity and the hardships that go into forming your sense of self. Let’s just hope we don’t have to wait another four years for the next one.