Frank’s State of the Ocean
Jack Riedy | Wednesday, March 22, 2017
Like everything he does these days, Frank Ocean’s new single “Chanel” appeared suddenly. Now streaming universally, the song feels equally appropriate on Friday night and on Monday morning. Other than his breezy appearance on Calvin Harris’ “Slide,” it is the reclusive singer’s first release since last year’s double-album whammy. Frank delivers his version of a State of the Union address behind the podium of the clattering beat.
This is the return of the rarely glimpsed “Rapping Frank,” though it might take a few listens to notice. Unlike the clipped flow of “Oldie” and “Blue Whale,” Frank’s bars unspool erratically. He yelps the rhymes rather than spitting them. But make no mistake, the wordplay is pure hip-hop. With punchlines like, “Put a zoom on that stick, Noe,” Ocean aligns himself with the Argentinian director’s unorthodoxy in both cinematography and subject matter.
Ocean’s queerness is newly prominent. His lyrics have featured homoeroticism even before his famous Tumblr post confessing love for another man, but he has never been this, ahem, frank. Over the course of the phrase, “My guy pretty like a girl,” Ocean’s pitch descends from excitement to contentment. Throughout the track, Ocean alludes to a lover; his references splay wildly and include Dennis Rodman, a famous black bisexual who dabbled in drag when he was not winning championships. He’s straight acting now, but there might be a designer dress in the Aston Martin trunk.
The need to act straight can never be entirely ignored. This partner has fight stories, plural. In “Chanel,” Tokyo police accost Ocean himself, even though he hid his tattoos. All the while, drones and phones film everything. “I know you need to try for my belt,” he says to us all. As an after-thought, he adds, “I know you seen it driving itself.” Is there a better status symbol in 2017 than using your streaming exclusive payday to buy Jetsons-core luxury transportation? Peter Thiel, eat your technocratic vampire heart out.
Of course, Ocean has thoughts on the Trump administration. In the hook that repeats to the end, Ocean wails, “They banned my visa.” We are now in the midst of destructive immigration policy, take two. He follows with, “My Amex and Mastercards,” flipping the topic from travel to finance. When he does flex about his wealth, it comes in airline miles. Considering the opportunity that lures so many migrants to this country, the two no longer seem distinct: Denying one affects the other. Otherwise, Ocean is wise to keep his new money in cash. As he reminds us, it’s more than enough to spend on vices like smoking and sipping; he even claims to cop his whole team real diamonds and “show them how to shine by theyselves.”
The success of the artist born Christopher Breaux has allowed him to break completely independent from labels, but he still takes the time to shout out a filmmaker from the Odd Future days. While his friend Tyler, the Creator designs high-fashion lines, Ocean has supplemented his music with appearances in Calvin Klein ads. Clearly, the game has now changed for Ocean. The song’s eponymous designer-fashion brand took only six days to feature the song’s lyrics in Instagram posts. While they insist they are merely returning his nod, Ocean declined to comment.
On “Chanel,” Ocean sees both sides of everything like the two letters of the titular logo: straight or gay, black or white, money or politics. The clacking drums and downbeat keys meander like the lyrics, but together they progress towards what stands for a resolution. “Chanel” find Ocean moving forward despite obstacles new and old. The State of the Ocean is strong.