Frank Ocean's new album making waves

WASHINGTON • Avant-garde R&B artist Frank Ocean's album Blond dropped last Saturday night on Apple Music and topped the streaming service's charts by Sunday morning.

But this is not like most releases. Fans and the industry had been waiting four years for this moment, which came after numerous rumoured and reported release dates passed by without new music.

Ocean's first major label album, 2012's Channel Orange, became one of the most critically acclaimed releases that year, earning two Grammys.

Since last Thursday, Ocean has released, in effect, two new albums - Blond and a "visual album" called Endless, both exclusive to Apple Music - a video for the song Nikes and an oversize art magazine, Boys Don't Cry, which includes interviews, short stories and a poem about McDonald's written by rap superstar Kanye West.

Earlier this month, a cryptic, black-and-white live feed showing a barren warehouse with studio equipment appeared on boys dontcry.co, Ocean's Tumblr connected to the project.

The New York Times reported that Boys Don't Cry, accompanied by a major video and publication, was to drop on Aug 5. Then, nothing.

But the enthusiasm for new work by Ocean was such that hordes of people on Twitter immediately noticed last Thursday night when the feed began showing him building a structure in that warehouse, as new music played in the background. Moments later, Apple Music released Endless, a 45-minute video of Ocean building a staircase.

But Endless was not the long-awaited album. That came last Saturday night when Ocean released the 17-track Blond.

He had become a pop-culture icon of sorts when he revealed that his first love was a man, writing about the experience in an open letter after a journalist noted that Ocean addresses a male love interest on Channel Orange.

The Los Angeles-based artist is more forthright on sexuality on Blond. On Good Guy, he speaks of his frustration when he visits New York and is set up on a blind date with a garrulous man at a gay bar. "I know you don't need me right now/And to you it's just a late night out," he sings.

He also contributed a poem, Boyfriend, to his magazine. In it, he touches on a recent milestone for the gay community - the right to marry across the United States - and how he has instead been consumed by the minutiae of a day-to-day relationship. "I could say that I'm happy/They let me and my boyfriend become married/I could say that I'm happy/But cross my heart I didn't notice," he writes.

The list of contributors on Ocean's sophomore project, as reported by Billboard's Steven Horowitz, is varied and includes musical heavyweights such as Beyonce, David Bowie, Rick Rubin and Kendrick Lamar.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2016, with the headline 'Frank Ocean's new album making waves'. Print Edition | Subscribe