To be fair, I did say "I would LOVE to be proven wrong about this." I was wrong. I admit it. Now, let's talk about Blonde.
The most effective way to discuss a concept album like this is to break it in to two halves. The first half contains the production, instrumentation, and vocals; essentially, the musical side of it. The second, more difficult part to discuss and understand is the message behind it; the album's story, its concept. We'll start with part one.
The Music of Blonde
The production of Blonde is very understated. In very generalized terms, hip-hop's main components are verses (lyrics make bars, bars make verses) over the beats. In this way, Blonde doesn't do much. This isn't an Eminem album, where the rhyming scheme and the individual bars take priority. This isn't a Kanye album, where the production is perfect to a t. Blonde is going to be compared to Channel Orange, and Channel Orange's production is simply more involved and more impressive than Blonde's. A lot of the tracks on Blonde don't feature a traditional beat - there's many that don't have any drums in the background, and use a synth or bass guitar (such as "Ivy" or "Solo"). However, like his visual album Endless, guitar that's featured is used very well.
Rarely do the songs on Blonde rely on Frank rapping to drive the music. He raps with a disjointed cadence, taking pauses in between lyrics at will. This, mixed with the often ambiguous beat lead to a very dreamy, near-psychadelic feel, especially on tracks like "Nikes" and "White Ferrari." Fans that are looking for Channel Orange 2 are going to be disheartened that tracks like "Pink + White" and "Nights," which are the most reminiscent of Frank's debut, are few and far between.
Below, check out the video for "Nikes." Video is NSFW.
Blonde is the perfect evening to put on while you're hosting a close group of friends, or maybe that one special someone. It's an album that should be played once the sun has set, in the car on a long quiet drive home, with albums like M83's Hurry Up, We're Dreaming or Beck's Morning Phase. This is how you do a chill hip-hop album without it being super boring (Looking at you, Drake. Views is exactly how to NOT do this).
Putting me on a desert island with one Frank Ocean album, I'd take Channel Orange. But it's been four years since its release, and there's a fondness there that can't be quantified. Given four years, Blonde can have an incredible effect on its listeners, because it is telling a very personal story.
Discovering the Story
Blonde is a story of duality, of two selves. Frank Ocean "came out" in 2012, and that is quoted because he refused to put a label on it at the time, and out of respect to that we'll continue forward knowing that Frank Ocean has been in love with both men and women. These two sides of the spectrum of sexuality are at war in Blonde, which takes place after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
There are hints throughout the album that Frank is with a woman, Ivy, and falling out of love with her. This is not a totally true story, but more of a emotional summary of the time. A New Orleans native, he's lost his home and is relying on the woman he's staying with in Houston to support him.
Frank loves Ivy with every fiber of his being; she's done so much for him, and she's incredible. But, it's a love that he can't continue, because there's not an attraction. He drifts away, keeping his distance, smoking more and more weed to get away (Marijuana is a huge part of this album - "Be Yourself" pokes fun at the era's War-on-Drugs attitude for it through a phonecall from Frank's mother).
Frank finally leaves Ivy in "White Ferrari." It's summer now (Blonde in all of its former iterations was always billed as a summer album), and Frank is discovering who he is. "Good Guy" tells the story of Frank visiting New York, where he starts to break out of the mindset of only dating women. The timeline of Blonde is non-linear, but Frank is beginning to find success musically (he joined Odd Future in 2009, being featured on Tyler, The Creator's debut album Goblin in 2011), but he still is struggling with his sexual identity. He looks back at the pain he caused Ivy by ending their relationship, still in love with her but not being able to tell her why.
This internal debate is Blonde's strongest attribute, and it succeeds completely in portraying the conflicted mind of Frank at the time. It has voices shouting into the abyss throughout, and it's not a happy album when one starts to dive really deep. There's metaphor in Blonde that are going to take a lot longer to unpack than a day with a few listens. This is the story on a level just below the surface, filled with love, jealousy, anger, regret, and discovery.
It features an impressive list of featured artists (at time of writing, the official tracklist with features has not been released) including Beyoncé, Kendrick Lamar, and past contributor André 3000. The interludes really work very well: "Facebook Story" is such a strange but simple track, and "Be Yourself" is reminiscent of the "School Spirit" sketches from Kanye's College Dropout. There are songs on here that one day could be the next "Forrest Gump," "Bad Religion," or "Lost." There's references to Trayvon Martin and the Black Lives Matter movement, former bandmates including Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt, and idols including Michael Jackson and Tupac Shakur.
(Far from) Final Thoughts
Blonde is continuing the trend of interesting concept albums in 2016, and absolutely fits in with Kanye West's The Life of Pablo and Beyoncé's Lemonade. It's a powerful album that tells a difficult story in an abstract way, which might lessen its appeal among more casual fans of Frank. But for those who have been waiting four years, for those that have been watching the livestreams, and for those who have been reading Pop Volture's coverage of the leadup to Blonde, the album is a complete and total success. This is an album that won't be put down for a while, which makes it the perfect successor to Channel Orange.
It's been a long, difficult, and conflicted road to get here, but I'm glad I was here the entire way. This is the last Frank Ocean article Pop Volture will have for a while. It's not because any of us here are done talking about him, but the story of how Blonde came into existence is over. It's here.
You should go listen to it.