This album has been lauded with praise and I simply cannot get enough of this fucking guy. For those that may be uninitiated, Frank Ocean is perhaps the only openly gay hip hop star in the entire world right now. “Channel Orange” is, as described by the man himself, an open letter of sorts to the man that he first fell in love with. The love was unrequited, however, and so the album is gorgeous. It is heartbreaking, smooth and cool as fucking shit, the only thing a rap album based on a broken heart can be.
I am not alone in thinking that adhering to strict genre lines is stupid and mundane, as it should not matter that this is a good ‘rap album’. If it’s a good album, it’s just a fucking good album. This album, however, does things that a lot of rap albums don’t and it is absolutely worth noting. The heartbreak comes not from being raised by a single mother, or from backbreaking social issues or even from living with violence and social indifference. This album has pain that comes directly from Ocean’s heart. He tears himself apart and drips all over this record with an emotional sincerity that, to be honest, I have a hard time quantifying.
Please do not misunderstand me. “Channel Orange” is an amazing rap album for all the reasons you like rap albums. The beats are sick, the flow is outrageous and everything is dripping with swagger. The interesting part of this album is that it uses some kind of magical gay alchemy to combine the best of Kanye and Jay-Z with the tastiest bits from Neutral Milk Hotel and The Fleet Foxes.
The environments that are created on this album are unrivaled. I don’t know that Bon Iver himself could have wrapped these songs more around my heart, and that motherfucker has the devil’s grip on me. But while all of that emotionality exists, the ability of co-writer and producer Malay (John Legend, Big Boi) to bring it all back to the vibe and mentality of a hip hop record is ludicrous. I don’t know if there’s a person alive that could have done what he did. The writing of the songs on this rap album rival that of Fiona Apple’s record from earlier in the year and put “Tempest” by Bob Dylan to fucking shame. Read that last sentence again and let it sink in. Yeah, this album is fucking stellar.
I want to tell you that while the album is amazing, the skits and shorter songs are garbage. Unfortunately, I can’t even say that. Somehow, Ocean delivers his commentary, message and vibe even through these traditionally shitty parts of a rap album. Again, while this is an incredible rap album, it finds ways to do things that other rap albums either refuse to or, more likely, simply cannot do.
I had to think long and hard about why I can’t give this album 4 stars. Then I realized that I can because fuck you, I can do whatever I want. And that’s exactly what I am going to do. The only album that even comes close to rivaling it this year is Fiona Apple’s “The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do”, and that album nearly moved me to allow salt water to leak from my eyes. If you haven’t listened to “Channel Orange”, you are wrong. You need to make better decisions. Just fucking listen to it. I know you’re busy, so I’ll be expecting my thank you note in the mail whenever.
Track to Dig: All
Track to Miss: None
Jason R. Noble