Frank Ocean, ‘Blonde’ and Why We Shouldn’t Rush Art

 

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Frank Ocean | Blonde album artwork c/o Boys Don’t Cry |
additional editing by Brad

 

“In the four years spent away from being an active performing artist, Frank Ocean lived.”

I wrote a piece for Billboard about the crazy anticipation and rush fans put on Frank Ocean to release new music after being relatively silent since his Channel Orange debut in 2012.

Frank Ocean’s ‘Blonde’ Proves Why Artists Shouldn’t Be Rushed

Over the weekend, Frank dropped new two projects–a proper sophomore album called Blonde  and a visual album, Endless. My story essentially is about how good things come to those who wait when you’re dealing with an artist the caliber of Ocean. Here’s an excerpt from it:

These things take time. And now that it’s out (finally!), it’s clear that Ocean’s was well-spent. In those exaggerated, agonizing years that fans complained about what he was doing while not feeding their voracious appetites for his particular brand of mood music, it’s clear that his travels, explorations, extensive introspection and, yes, even the moments that he seemed to just be goofing off, equated to him making another masterpiece.

Can you tell that like the album? Well, it’s pretty damn great. I’m still digging into it, Genuising lyrics, hearing interesting sounds in the background and trying to piece together storylines. If I have to wait another four years for his third album, I gladly will knowing it’ll be Orange or Blonde quality (though I, of course, hope it doesn’t take that long).

Here’s a bit that was left on the editing floor of the Billboard story about Frank’s artistic growth:

In all that time “off,” he was growing, if not in that obvious way of a wider octave range, definitely in terms of self-assurance and confidence in his own skin. Look no further than the “Nikes” video for evidence. Ocean sits in front of his car dressed casually, except that he’s wearing eye liner dramatically stylized around his lids. Later in the visual he wears a white Balmain jumpsuit adorned in pearls.

Frank Ocean Nikes Video

“Nikes” video still c/o Boys Don’t Cry

His faces shimmers with sweat glueing gold glitter all over. He’s an angelic figure of sorts rolling on a theater stage as the devil tap-dances in the balcony (it’s worth noting that Frank’s lips appear to have smudged rouge lipstick on them). He’s making grander statements, revealing more of himself than ever before through his art. Certainly more than he could or would have years ago. In that regard, Frank’s return yields a greater result than that of, say, a Justin Timberlake or an Adele, who both took several years off before releasing albums.

My current favorites from Blonde are “Nights,”  “Self Control” and “Close to You.” I’m sure that’ll change in due time. Go give it a listen a let me know what you think of it.

 

PartyNextDoor Px3 Review for Billboard

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Px3 album cover

 

Here’s the Billboard review I did for Party’s new album. Excerpt below: 

On his latest studio effort PARTYNEXTDOOR3 (P3), Party is picking up where he left off two years ago when he dropped his PARTYNEXTDOOR TWO (the follow-up to his self-titled 2013 mixtape). To say he’s matured would be an overstatement. PND’s remained the same topically, keeping his subject matter acutely focused on his relationships with the opposite sex. He’s three projects in, but a fan probably couldn’t tell you much about his family or political views from his catalog. Thankfully, he continues to do what he does well — lifestyle music with vibes fit for chic, chill nightspots where downtown studs and beauties collide, be it in his native Toronto or Los Angeles.

Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Revisionist History’ Has More Gems Than A Jeweler

 

I’m really impressed by how Malcolm Gladwell uses unique entry points to tell stories on his podcast series Revisionist History.

Carlos Doesn’t Remember” starts off as a story about a child gifted with intelligence that lives in a crappy LA neighborhood, but turns into a lesson on how some of America’s smartest kids will never get an opportunity to realize their potential, because they’re impoverished and don’t have an advocate or solid service fighter for them.

Food Fight” starts as a piece about cafeteria food and universities, then becomes a well-done exposé on how, typically, a college with 5-star cafeteria and fancy dorms likely is syphoning funds from the school that could be better used to help enroll students that need financial aid (though Bowdoin College doesn’t much like how they were represented).

The Big Man Can’t Shoot” begins as a story about notoriously abysmal NBA free throw shooters, then whirls into a lesson on how those that care the most about how they’re perceived by others (“Am I cool?” “Do people like me?” “Am I the only person doing this?”) limits their willingness to be their best selves. Wilt Chamberlain shot free throws underhanded  (“grandma style”) for one season and it was an immense help, resulting in his best year percentage-wise from the line. And then the next season, it plummeted back to the horrendous percentage of yore because he decide that he’d rather shoot overhead, be “cool” and miss than underhand, be “uncool” and make. Amazing.

Just today, I listened to him talk about a pastor that was dumped by his church because his son is gay and an acclaimed university that has a building named after a racist U.S. president. But the message within those stories is that communicating thoughtfully and tactfully lends itself to achieving the change you’d like to see in people that are in the wrong. It’s so good.

When my dad is telling lengthy, long-winded stories—as entertaining as they often are—my mom often says, “Land the plane!” She means, “Get to the point.” But as I’ve learned, if you stick around for whatever he’s talking about, everything will make sense in the end and there will be numerous gems and lessons to pull from. The journey/story is worth it. Revisionist History reminds me of that.

So this is me endorsing Revisionist History. Enjoy.

It’s Great That Michael Jordan Spoke Up, But He Did Not Owe You That

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Celebrities don’t owe you anything past whatever made them famous. This weekend, when I go see the new Jason Bourne at the movies, lead actor Matt Damon will owe me a great performance. When I see the Saint Pablo tour this fall, Kanye West will owe me a dynamic concert. I invest time and money in you, you owe me a good job. That’s how it works.

That said, let’s talk about Michael Jordan, who recently released an impassioned statement about the rampant shootings of African Americans by police officers and the social unrest that comes with it.

“I can no longer stay silent,” he says before expressing disappointment about our nation’s inability to “find solutions that ensure people of color receive fair and equal treatment AND that police officers – who put their lives on the line every day to protect us all – are respected and supported.” He put a load of money behind his words and writes that he’s split $2 million and donated it to the International Association of Chiefs of Police’s newly established Institute for Community-Police Relations and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

That “silent” part is arguably (and unfortunately) the most noteworthy of the statement, because, to many, Jordan has skipped several chances to talk about social issues during his more than 30 years in the limelight as a star athlete. Unlike other Black sports icons like Muhammad Ali, Jim Brown, Bill Russell, Jordan was quiet.

He’s infamous for allegedly responding, “Republicans buy sneakers, too.” when asked to support North Carolina democrat Harvey Gantt for a seat on the Senate in the early ‘90s (his reps have denied this vehemently), thus beginning the storyline of a businessman so shrewd that he’d ignore issues bigger than basketball for the sake Air Jordan sales.

I get it: That’s a bad look. While Jordan paired with Gatorade and campaigned for us to be “Like Mike,” others bristled at the thought and wished he’d be like Ali.

Yes, it’d be nice if he was. However, the discussion ends there. It would have been nice and impactful. But Michael Jordan did not owe anyone that. There are arguments, sure, to be made about whether his moral compass should have guided Michael—a man that was easily one of the top five most famous people on Earth during his heyday—to use his platform to make the lives of people less fortunate (his people) better. Like Spiderman’s Uncle Ben said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” True.

But understanding that being Spiderman means that you’ll likely get your ass kicked on a nightly basis, would you fault Peter Parker if he just said, “Fuck this shit” and quit the hero game? It’s both silly and easy to be an armchair general and say what you’d do if given the same opportunities as Michael Jordan or any marquee figure. Would you have had the balls to raise the Black Power fist at the podium like Tommie Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico? Would you have refused to enlist in the army like Muhammad Ali did for the Vietnam War and lose years from your career to serve time in jail? Would you risk movie roles or mega advertising dollars to stand up with the #BlackLivesMatter movement? Maybe? Definitely? Hopefully. But I wouldn’t fault someone who answered “No.” That takes a unique type of courage. Even current NBA star Carmelo Anthony said “it’s about time” Michael spoke out.

 

Also, it’s terrible to diminish the philanthropic efforts of a man of means, because it doesn’t benefit the specific issue or cause you want them to support. What’s wrong with Jordan donating millions to the Boys & Girls Clubs of America, like he has? What about him being the majority owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Bobcats and the organization always having a Black president under his watch (currently Fred Whitfield)? And his Michael Jordan Celebrity Invitational golf tournament has raised millions for several charities. What about that? Still, social media timelines and sports pundits alike became cynics when Jordan broke his “silence.” Some said he’s too late. Others clowned and wondered if it was more of a business move than a show of humanity.

I’ll admit that I laughed at that one. But my point remains: Michael Jordan doesn’t owe us shit. He’s not a member of a government office or some pseudo freedom fighter. Those people are out there. Count on them in these moments of brutal racial injustice.

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When Michael Jordan was a player and we watched in hopes of being awed, he owed you savage dunks and artful fade-away jumpers. Lock-down defense. If your pockets are deep enough, he still owes you sneakers that are so gorgeous and heralded that they make you feel you’re as fly as His Airness himself was then.

Alton Sterling & The Talk

But to be an outspoken leader and political advocate for African Americans whose impact was as great as it was when he hooped on the court? No. He didn’t. Never did. He still doesn’t. So instead of criticizing him for responsibilities he never accepted, let’s just appreciate that he’s here now. He did something extra good.

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