On July 10th, 2012, Frank Ocean released his stunning debut album channel ORANGE. A look back at a soul/R&B/hip-hop classic.
Christopher Edwin Breaux was born on October 28th, 1987, in Long Beach, California. In 1992 the family moved to New Orleans, where Breaux went to school and enlisted at the university to study English in 2005. When Hurricane Katrina demolished New Orleans Breaux lost his home and recording opportunities. Soon after, his focus was geared towards a musical career.
In 2006 Breaux moved to Los Angeles to fulfill his big dream. He quickly established his name under the moniker Lonny Breaux, composing and writing songs. His songs were quite popular, and were used by big artists like Justin Bieber, Beyoncé, John Legend and Brandy. But, if those songs worked for others, why not use them for himself?
He decided to change his name to Frank Ocean, a combination of Frank Sinatra’s name and the movie he played in in 1960, Ocean’s 11. Ocean joined the hip-hop collective Odd Future (which also held Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler, The Creator in its ranks). By the end of 2009 he signed a contract with Def Jam Recordings, but initially it was an unhappy marriage. Ocean felt neglected and started work on a mixtape, which he paid for himself and independently released online on February 16th, 2011, for free. The result, nostalgia,ULTRA., is a great introduction to Frank Ocean and was lauded by critics.
And, miraculously, the relationship with Def Jam improved considerably, when they realized Frank Ocean could really be a valuable asset to the label. In June 2011 Ocean announced he would cooperate on the upcoming Kanye West / Jay-Z album Watch The Throne. He co-wrote and sang on two songs off that album, which was hugefully successful.
In June 2012 reporters started asking questions to lyrics of the upcoming channel ORANGE album, which they had already heard during ‘pre-release listening events’, but questions also arose regarding Ocean’s sexual preference (which is important when reviewing an album?). In December 2011 Ocean had written a text addressing his feelings for a man as a 19 year old and labelling it his first true love. The initial plan was to publish the text as part of the booklet with channel ORANGE. Due to the questions being asked, Ocean changed his plan and published the text on his Tumblr blog on July 4th, 2012. The piece was unique within the world of hip-hop, which wasn’t used to these kinds of revelations. Ocean made himself vulnerable and was praised for it. Not only by Def Jam, but also by many colleagues, musicians and Odd Future members.
See Frank Ocean – Tumblr blog 07/04/2012 for the full text written by Frank Ocean.
The projected release date for Frank Ocean’s (debut) album was July 17th, 2012. However, to prevent early leaking via internet, the album was internally scheduled for a July 10th release, the day the album was made available on streaming services.
Ocean had started work on songs for channel ORANGE in February 2011. Later, Ocean declared that all songs were written over a period of just two weeks, after which Ocean placed them in the right order (as they would end up on the album) and started recording them in that order. The recording process was influenced by old records, which Ocean and his producers listened to religiously. It set the mood for the album as well.
Contrary to predecessor nostalgia,ULTRA., this album had an emphasis on instruments, rather than sampling, and live drums were used in a number of songs. Ocean’s name was on the rise, so many artists were eager to work with him, like Pharrell Williams, John Mayer and Outkast rapper André 3000, who provides a rap and guitar playing on Pink Matter.
While working on the new album Ocean posted an early version of Thinkin About You on his Tumblr blog, the first proof to the outside world that Ocean was indeed working on new music. In September 2011 a video to Thinkin Bout You was released.
The cover was designed by Thomas Mastorakos, Aaron Martinez and Phil Toselli. The photos were shot by Dave Eggar. The color orange is a deliberate choice; it’s the color of summer to Ocean, it refers to the time he experienced his first love. Ocean didn’t want to see his name on the album cover.
I don’t know exactly how I acquired the album. I know I bought it during the summer of 2012 and was an immediate admirer. It’s an intimate, subtle, moving and very musical album, filled with beautiful musical finds, vocals and lyrics. And, it was one of those rare albums, where all guests indeed add to the whole, without overshadowing the main artist. It’s hip-hop with soul, funk and pop influences. Highlights abound on this album.
The songs Sweet Life and Super Rich Kids stand out for its theme: bored, spoiled rich children, who don’t know what to do with their life (anymore). Both are beautiful, empathetic songs, depicting wealth as an empty shell. A refreshing perspective. Ocean strikingly portrays the emptiness of existence:
You’ve had a landscaper and a house keeper since you were born
The starshine always kept you warm
So why see the world, when you got the beach?
Don’t know why see the world, when you got the beach?
© 2022, Sweet Life – Frank Ocean
And even more explicit:
Too many bottles of this wine we can’t pronounce
Too many bowls of that green, no Lucky Charms
The maids come around too much
Parents ain’t around enough
Too many joy rides in daddy’s Jaguar
Too many white lies and white lines
Super rich kids with nothing but loose ends
Super rich kids with nothing but fake friends
© 2022, Super Rich Kids – Frank Ocean
Crack Rock depicts the other side of American society: addiction, broken families, gun violence and the indifference of government, institutions and public opinion. The contradiction with the previous songs is distressing.
Many reviewers single out Pyramids as the album’s highlight and central theme. Rightfully so, I think. Pyramids sounds like nothing else I have ever heard. Cleopatra is staged as the Egyptian empress we all know as a historical figure, but a few minutes in Cleopatra is a stripper who works in a stripjoint named The Pyramid. An impressive, nearly 10 minutes long, work of art!
Lost is the most poppy song on the album, its refrain being exemplary for the way Ocean utilizes melody on this album.
Lost, lost in the heat of it all
Girl, you know you’re lost
Lost in the thrill of it all
Miami, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Spain, lost
Los Angeles, India, lost on a train, lost
© 2022, Lost – Frank Ocean
Bad Religion was the album’s big hit that was never released as a single. Ocean’s performance of this song on July 9th, 2012, at Jimmy Fallon’s TV show, preceded the album’s release. It was his first television performance and it made a big impact.
Pink Matter competes with Pyramids as ‘best song on the album’. André 3000’s role is a big part of it, as he effortlessly shows just how brilliant he is as a lyricist and rapper. And, he has taken guitar lessons, and how!
Forrest Gump is the song that addresses Ocean’s first true love, placing Ocean in the role of Jenny, the female opposite to Tom Hanks in the Forrest Gump movie.
It’s impossible to rate this album too high, it’s part of my definite highlights of the new millennium.
As stated before, Bad Religion was never released as a single, a missed opportunity. Instead, the next songs were released as singles:
- Thinkin Bout You
(released on April 17, 2012)
(released on June 8, 2012)
- Sweet Life
(released on July 6, 2012)
(released on December 17, 2012)
- Super Rich Kids
(released on March 17, 2013)
- Thinkin Bout You
- Sierra Leone
- Sweet Life
- Not Just Money
- Super Rich Kids (featuring Earl Sweatshirt)
- Pilot Jones
- Crack Rock
- White (featuring John Mayer)
- Bad Religion
- Pink Matter (featuring André 3000)
- Forrest Gump
The cd edition contained the following song as its last song:
- End / Golden Girl (featuring Tyler, The Creator)
All songs written by Christopher Breaux (Frank Ocean) and James Ho, except 2,8: Christopher Breaux and Shea Taylor, 3: James Fauntleroy and Reginald Perry (cover van James Fauntleroy’s Fertilizer), 5: Christopher Breaux and Pharrell Williams, 6: Rosie Watson, 7: Christopher Breaux, James Ho, Thebe Kgositsile, Mark Morales, Nathaniel Robinson Jr., Mark Rooney, Kirk Robinson and Roy Hammond, 11: Christopher Breaux, James Ho, Micah Otano and Edwin Paul Shelton II, 12: Christopher Breaux and Tyler Okonma, 14: Christopher Breaux, Monte Neuble, Charlie Gambetta, Kevin Risto and Waynne Nugent, 15: Christopher Breaux, James Ho and André Benjamin, 17: Christopher Breaux, James Ho, Pharrell Williams and Tyler Okonma
|Start||Sony – PlayStation Startup
Isao Abe, Shun Nishigaki and Yuki Iwai – Sound effects from Super Street Fighter II Turbo
|Sweet Life||Stevie Wonder – Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)|
|Super Rich Kids||Mary J. Blige – Real Love
Jimmie Walker – The Black Prince Has Arrived
Creative Technology – Funky Creative Prodikeys Demonstration
Loopmasters – DD Vox JB 24 Woo.wav
|Crack Rock||Jimi Hendrix – Little Miss Lover|
|Pyramids (video version)||Frank Ocean – Pink Matter
Frank Ocean – End / Golden Girl
Frank Ocean – Start
|Lost||Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (movie) – One of God’s Own Prototypes|
|Pink Matter||The Last Dragon (movie) – audio clip|
|Forrest Gump||Stepford Wives – My Back’s Achin’, My Bra’s Too Tight|
|End||Frank Ocean – Voodoo
ATL (film) – You’re Special
- André 3000 – guitar
- Jeff Babko – keyboards
- Matt Chamberlain – programming, drums
- Dave Eggar – strings
- Charlie Hunter – bass, guitar
- Taylor Johnson – guitar
- Om’Mas Keith – keyboards
- Malay – programming, bass, brass keyboards, guitar
- John Mayer – guitar
- Irvin Mayfield – brass
- Frank Ocean – keyboards
- Chuck Palmer – strings
- Sara Parkins – strings
- Shea Taylor – keyboards
- Francisco Torres – brass
- Pharrell Williams – programming, keyboards
Additional vocals by Auntie Rosie (Rosie Watson), Stacy Barthe, Juliet Buck, Raymond Buck, Crimson Tide Cheerleaders, “Football game crowd”, Lalah Hathaway, Om’Mas Keith, Malay, Danielle Miranda-Simms and Elizabeth Paige.
After channel ORANGE
Following the album’s release Ocean went on a short American tour, a European tour was shortened and cancelled. In June 2013 Ocean still came to Europe with his You’re Not Dead … 2013 Tour. Unfortunately I had already bought tickets to another concert, so I didn’t go and see Frank Ocean. A very stupid decision…
On March 10, 2014, the song Hero was offered for free on SoundCloud, a cooperation with ex-Clash members Mick Jones and Paul Simonon and Diplo. After hinting at a new album a few times, and even naming planned release dates, Endless was released on August 19th, 2016, as a so-called visual album: an exclusive streaming-only video through Apple Music. It was his last release for Def Jam, where Ocean didn’t feel at home after all.
At midnight August 20th, 2016, Frank Ocean’s second studio album, Blonde (also known as blond), was released on iTunes and Apple Music. Physical releases of the album were delivered within the Boys Don’t Cry magazine, which were available at pop-up stores in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and London. Official pressings (magazine reprints with CD, CD and double LP) were orderable for one day on November 25th, 2016, on Frank Ocean’s website, boysdontcry.co. Needless to say, Blonde is a bonafide hit on the bootleg markets.
This album was also heralded and ended up in the top positions of all the end-of-years lists. Once again, rightfully so, it’s a stunning album by a very special artist.
Subsequently, Ocean started his Blonded Radio, where Ocean presented a number of collaborations over multiple broadcasts, but also new music under his own name. Performances were announced, but COVID-19 sadly prohibited them.
On August 8th, 2021, Frank Ocean announced his first fashion project, Homer, “an independent American luxury company founded by Frank Ocean”. On November 25th, 2021, a new song was made available, a 9 minute title-less song (a collaboration with Cory Henry).
In June 2022 news leaked that Frank Ocean was negotiating for his first movie.
When, or if at all, Frank Ocean will release a new album, is unclear at present.
What’s your take on Frank Ocean and channel ORANGE. Are you equally excited? Let me know in the comment section below.
This story contains an accompanying video. Click on the following link to see it: Video: Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE. The A Pop Life playlist on Spotify has been updated as well.
Frank Ocean live image: latimes.com
Frank Ocean – nostalgia,ULTRA. image: reddit.com
Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE image: spotify.com
Frank Ocean – Grammy for channel ORANGE image: rollingstone.com
Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE – The singles image: discogs.com
Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE – Ad image: a404prints.com
Frank Ocean – Blonde – Tumblr blog image: frankocean.tumblr.com