Frank Ocean set himself up when he announced an album release date he could not live up to.
It had already been years since Ocean first amassed a fanbase after his career-launching mixtape and Grammy-award winning album. To his credit, he’s one of the few men with music rooted in the rhythm and blues tradition who sings about love tenderly, feelings honestly, and desire earnestly—a stark contrast from his contemporaries who write songs for dance and escape, but don’t necessarily offer much in the way of emotional intelligence. Ocean, by and large, was part of a trinity: him, Miguel, and The Weeknd, who were pushing the genre forward sonically but lyrically helping it return to a time when men had something to say besides, “I secretly wish I were a rapper.” But the other members of said trinity have released new music since their breakout work—Ocean is the only one seemingly dragging his feet with that new-new.
Ocean could have easily been like Sade and effectively release new music whenever he felt compelled to, but he didn’t. Instead, he announced not only a new album, but a release date and some sort of publication to go with it. Revelations such as those only stoke the fire of anticipation. Simply skipping out on those obligations doesn’t make fans any less anxious. If anything, it ups the ante on Ocean to deliver music to satisfy their needs.
Still, when it comes to what artists owe their fans, I don’t think Frank Ocean owes us anything besides his best. But when you maintain dual identities—Black and artist—there are typically additional expectations assigned to you.
Ocean is a Black man, and in the year he’s taken to release his anticipated sophomore effort, Boys Don’t Cry, a lot has happened to America’s socio-political landscape, prompting some to wonder whether or not these issues will be tackled on the album.
Yet, that question feels more like projection. Has Frank Ocean really given us any reason to believe he would dive deeply into racial unrest and other political issues of the day? Granted, he has written Tumblr posts about Donald Trump and homophobia related to the Orlando shooting at Pulse nightclub, but 1) that’s Tumblr, and 2) there’s no indication that’ll be reflected in his music. That expectation speaks to one that Black artists of every medium face: that we are to engage in the Black body, our Black bodies, as political all the time.
That we, as Black people in a world that so often shows value in Black culture but disdain for actual Black people, must speak on whatever injustice or oppression is happening.
Just this morning, I was tweeted about an article I wrote largely in jest, “Don’t you have something more important to write on?” My writing ranges from the serious to the very-much-less-than in subject matter, but make no mistake: I owe nobody anything but what I give them. The same applies to Frank Ocean and every other Black artist.
Read the rest at Complex.