Frank Ocean Doesn’t Owe Us Anything

Frank Ocean’s album Boys Don’t Cry was rumored to be released back in 2014 (key word: rumored), just 2 years after his mainstream debut Channel Orange showed us what the future of r&b looks like. As many of us eagerly anticipate his sophomore album, is it fair to say the process might be just as liberating as it is frustrating? After all, he is challenging our complacency; he’s disrupting our take-music-for-granted attitude that we’ve had since the inception of Limewire’s free downloads. Music has become so immediately accessible that we balk at anything that isn’t. The unpredictable release of Boys Don’t Cry makes fans feel like they’re sitting through a rain delay in the 5th inning of a baseball game: Will the game be postponed? Will it even finish? How long do we wait to find out? But it’s exactly this sort of anticipation that makes Frank Ocean’s new project even more desirable. We’re on his schedule, he’s not on ours.

It’s 7:22 on August 5th, 2016 right now, and Apple Music hasn’t yet served the year’s most anticipated release. The New York Times reported the album would be out today, confirming fan’s hopes following a cryptic video posted on Frank’s tumblr on Monday. The video featured a livestream of him working in a wood shop in a cavernous warehouse, building (supposedly) a staircase. Background music played throughout the stream, which has been captured by a blessed soul here: Stream. Given that the Apple logo appears in the top right of the website, we know that the album will most likely be exclusively available through Apple Music, at least for the first couple weeks, similar to Drake and Chance’s recent EPs. #streamwars continue.

Boys Don’t Cry will be released on Apple Music and that’s that. If you really want to hear it and don’t have Apple Music, then do what your parents did (and I will do) and buy the cd or the mp3 version. Isn’t the music you love worth it? Frank’s process asks us that directly. If you care so much about the holistic experience, from the livestream video and the accompanying publication, to the Memrise snippet and his open letters— then it’s worth the wait. He’s a reclusive guy who intentionally avoids the spotlight, and it’s refreshing for a popular artist to exist outside the public’s 24/7 glass house domain in 2016. It’s nice not to know exactly what he’s thinking and doing all the time. Overexposure to an artist and their music can have unintended consequences. But Frank isn’t an artist who relies on publicity anyway—his process is antithetical to populist music culture. Rest assured the music will be dope when it drops—and it will drop. For now, remember that we can enjoy 99% (okay, maybe 95%) of all the music we’ve ever wanted for only $9.99/month, which is a convenient and economic bargain for the listener.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably thinking about some of the stuff you can’t get on the major streaming services. Frank’s profound mixtape nostalgia,ULTRA (listen free here) is one of those. It came out in 2011, inspired by his relocation to LA from NOLA, following Hurricane Katrina. While in LA, he became part of the Odd Future (OFWGKTA) collective, which put their stamp on punk rap and art rap forever, and launched many promising solo careers. nostalgia,ULTRA is a beautiful sonic experience from a well-rounded and mature perspective, full of existential themes and tangible honesty. It elevates R&B, and challenges it to be less formulaic in approach. Throughout the album, it’s hard to tell if Frank is low-key rapping or casually singing. I couldn’t help but wonder, who is this album really for? Therein lies its ingenuity. He made it for himself, but welcomes the audience to experience his narrative, his thoughts, and his dilemmas. He found and conquered the true hybrid between hip hop and R&B on this album, before channeling its energy into an Orange landscape for his debut album. It doesn’t matter whether or not you listen to his music differently after you discover that his sexuality is fluid. The music has no gender and no preference. It doesn’t choose between male or female. It doesn’t choose between rap or hip hop or R&B. It’s not made for you or me. Trying to categorize it in the first place is probably a mistake, and will take away from the purity of the music. It’s just music.

No one knows when Boys will be released. The New York Times has 4 hours until it has to admit that it doesn’t know either. He’s saying boys don’t cry, but he knows better than anyone, wait much longer and there will be tears from his most loyal fans. If you’re a big fan of his music, you want the music now. But you’re not entitled to it and you’re not owed it. We’ll be lucky to have new music whenever it comes. And that goes for the rest of the music we love in general. We all feel entitled to music and entertainment in today’s digital world. It’s important to appreciate the process, the delays, the setbacks, the transformations, the developments, and everything else that comes along with it. We should care about the whole process rather than just the final product.

*2021 update: the album we thought was going to be called Boys Don’t Cry ended up being Endless, and was released on August 19th. There also never ended up being a CD version—the album still only exists as a visual album on Apple Music.

And since nostalgia,ULTRA was part of the larger paradigm-shifting mixtape movement, check out our article on How The Late 2000’s Hip Hop Mixtape Movement Became Immortalized

*Photo credit: Terry Richardson