Musicians in the 20th Century might’ve had big dreams about going diamond.
Not because they cared about some record industry certification, but because selling 10 million copies of an album meant you had achieved monolithic success. A level of popularity so high, you were seen as everything to everyone.
And what artist wouldn’t want that?
In the 21st Century, that dream of going diamond was promptly shattered with a digital hammer. (It makes sense. Millennials don’t like real diamonds either.) In just 10 years, from 1999-2009, the idea of selling 10 million records became a pipe dream.
File sharing and streaming scattered artists across the internet. Music became a collection of unique fragments. Ultra-niche slivers and subgenres evolving at broadband speeds. Look away and you might miss one entirely.
For musicians of the 21st Century, to achieve that dream of being everything to everyone, you would have to be a million things at once.
And what artist could do that?
To navigate all the far-flung corners of modern music, you would have to be one hell of an explorer. Someone savvy enough to know where to look. But adaptive enough to be welcomed on arrival.
You would need to be that guy who got invited to every party because he was cool with every clique. A special kind of chameleon who could blend into any environment, chill in it for a while, and get a feel.
Once there, this someone would need to be the keenest of observers. Someone with the sensitivity and warmth to appreciate all of these small spaces. And the intelligence to see the grandeur in them.
Ultimately, they’d need to be an otherworldly talent. A multifaceted virtuoso dexterous enough to gather up all the fragments and put them back together again. It would take a musical genius to find the harmony amongst it all.
And like I said—who the hell could do all that?
For anyone who had met Frank Ocean, they might’ve pointed in his direction.
Listening to the incredible promise found on his literal/figurative coming out album, “Channel ORANGE”, Ocean seemed like our greatest hope to make all of modern music sing. “Thinkin’ ‘Bout You” made him the next coming. “Pyramids” made him the prince who was promised.
Or maybe just a modern-day Prince. The guy who was talented enough to play any tune. And cool enough to pull it off.
The hype was warranted. But so was the concern as the time between “Channel ORANGE” and his follow-up grew. In the long four years that ultimately led to the release of “Blonde” fans began to speculate (mostly out of love) that Ocean was buckling under the weight of expectations and deliberately ducking the spotlight.
But last August, those fears were quickly laid to rest. A single trip through the glorious labyrinth that is “Blonde” and it became clear what Ocean had been doing with his time off.
He had been listening. And planning for the future by permanently etching his place in it.
“We’ll let you guys prophesy,
We’ll let you guys prophesy,
We gon’ see the future first.” —Frank Ocean, “Nikes”
He took that half-decade and made a record that defined it. Something totally familiar, yet completely new. Something that sounded just like him, yet just like all of us.
He made a record that did a million things at once and made it all seem effortless.
From the moment the haunting, pitch-shifted vocals of “Nikes” step on your chest like a Cortez running shoe, to the moment Ocean looks back on the past with his momma on “Futura Free”—“Blonde” is a perfect record. From its quietest lows to its fantastic highs, there is no album more present, more of the time, than it.
On “Blonde” Frank Ocean is the millennial who has never been more connected, but is still feeling empty and alone.
He is the modern lover who longs for the affection of a man, but will also smash your chick.
Frank Ocean and his best album are the conversation of today. It’s what makes “Blonde” so worth talking about tomorrow.
“You look down on where you came from,
But you’ll have this place to call home,
Always.” —Frank Ocean, “Godspeed”
Make no mistake, this conversation is a personal one. More than any record I can remember, my notes on the album could never do its actual notes justice. You have to listen to its 60 minutes for yourself.
The guarantee is that there will be something in it that you love. A minute or two that blossoms into the most bewitching thing you’ve ever heard. A line or two that feels so specific to your experience you won’t believe he thought it too. A moment or ten that are so tender they make your heart physically ache, no matter who you are or who you love.
This is the album’s point. Its essence. Its incomparable strength.
And Ocean’s too.
In a time when the music scene has never been more scattered, he is able to gather an audience from room after different room and bring them together in one place. He can stand in front of a divided crowd and leave everyone swaying in unison. His music transcends divisions because it understands them. They are the same ones roiling inside him every day.
“It’s hell on Earth and the city’s on fire,
Inhale, inhale, there’s heaven.
There’s a bull and a matador dueling in the sky,
Inhale, in hell there’s heaven.” —Frank Ocean, “Solo”
It’s Ocean’s ability to identify this prism that makes him the rarest of gems. An artist who can see the value in having a million distinct sides that all meet in the same center.
It’s what makes him the embodiment of our time. Someone totally unique and wholly universal all at once.
In one album, Ocean crystallizes the music of our era into its most beautiful, shining form. “Blonde” may never go diamond, but it is forever. When it’s all said and done, it will be turned over in awe—the decade’s crown jewel.