Frank Ocean’s Channel Orange is one of our favorite albums of the year. Aside from the hype around his personal life, it’s an honest record of love and loss, rejection and courage in a context that matters.
What we’re seeing with Drake, what we have seen for years with Kanye, and what we’re seeing with Frank Ocean is the embrace of vulnerability, not out of weakness but as a vessel for truth. R&B and hip-hop have always been intertwined with lust and the pursuit of wealth to put it tamely, but there seems to be an openness—no, a willingness—of a rising generation of artists that liberates the genre in a way, breaking out from the strict confines of image. It’s blowing up the idea from within the life of excess and fortune, from a vantage point of keen, inside observation that projects as much doubt in a learned culture as it does in themselves.
It’s inconsequential the subject of who it is he loves, but the how—and someone once told me a writer, an unwavering writer’s force of language will resonate just the same for man, woman, and child—that isn’t filtered first through a prism of so-called masculinity, but one of humanity, and of candor.
It’s taken away restrictions on what is “okay” to be singing or rapping about in the hip-hop community, that’s creating a more complex portrait of maleness and its pitfalls, and subsequently to the masses of young men and women growing up listening to them. What does it mean to be a man? What are we allowed to feel, and how much do we allow ourselves to share? It’s artists choosing truth over image, with sincerity and exploration of the idea of self as the ultimate victor.
I say context matters because we’re seeing a slow but steady changing of the guard in a mainstream culture that hasn’t always embraced openhearted emotion, that acts as a sign of greater societal change at large. It means we’re still moving ahead and learning as a people to understand our shared space with one another, no matter what any fast food chain tells you, and that’s a good thing. Or do you not think so far ahead?
Check out album standout “Thinkin Bout You” below, as reworked by Ryan Hemsworth that adds a bit of bulk between confessions, and brings with it an overriding sense of freedom in expression.