To fans, the long, arduous wait for Frank Ocean's new album has felt like being stuck in an infinite, looping line: hopeless, frustrating, and a little confusing. However, after suffering through countless rumors, teasing Instagram posts and false expectations of an album release date, the singer has finally released some new music — and it's still pretty amazing. Ocean released 45-minute visual album Endless via Apple Music late on Thursday night / early on Friday morning (depending on your time zone), and if rumors are to be believed, Ocean may still be releasing Boy's Don't Cry this weekend. But all of this is besides the point, because there's one particular song on Endless that fans can't stop talking about, and it's Ocean's touching cover of Aaliyah's "At Your Best (You Are Love)." But why? What makes it so special?
Well, let's take this from the top. First, the track isn't actually an Aaliyah song, but rather a cover of the original version of "At Your Best (You Are Love)" by the Isley Brothers. Back in 1994, Aaliyah's cover version of the song was featured on her album, Age Ain't Nothing But A Number. It was R. Kelly's chart-friendly remix of the song, though, which eventually made the song a hit that same year. Six years later, on August 25, 2001, Aailyah would tragically die in a plane crash, leaving a musical legacy that continues to be celebrated to this day.
In fact, Ocean isn't the first artist to pay tribute to the singer with her cover of "At Your Best (You Are Love)." In 2010, Drake sampled Aaliyah's song in "Unforgettable," featuring Jeezy, and in 2013 Gucci Mane then also sampled it for his song, "Activist." But none of these artists delivered the song in quite the same touching manner as Ocean has. Though there's a version on Endless (featuring music production from James Blake and Radiohead's Johnny Greenwood), Ocean actually released a stripped back cover version of the song titled, "At Your Best (You Are Luhh)" via his Tumblr on January 17, 2015. And why is that date notable? Because January 17 was Aaliyah's birthday, and, in 2015, she would have been 36.
The song's placement within Ocean's Endless also appears to be just as timely a tribute, with the visual album being released just a week before the 15th anniversary of Aaliyah's death. Part of me even wants to believe that the significance of that date may have played some part in delaying the release of the Endless (but surely, that's just the wishful thinking of an Aaliyah fan). Still, just let a fangirl dream, eh?
There's something else notable about Ocean's clear love for this song and his decision to include it on Endless, which goes beyond his love for Aaliyah. Reading the lyrics, there's a sentiment within the track that seems to echo the powerful ideas of Ocean's recent Tumblr note concerning homophobia, religion, the nature of hate crimes, and the deep, essential need for love and understanding. From Ocean's note:
Many hate us and wish we didn’t exist. Many are annoyed by our wanting to be married like everyone else or use the correct restroom like everyone else. Many don’t see anything wrong with passing down the same old values that send thousands of kids into suicidal depression each year. So we say pride and we express love for who and what we are. Because who else will in earnest?
And from the first verse of "At Your Best (You Are Luhh)":
When I feel what I feelSometimes it's hard to tell you soYou may not be in the mood to learnWhat you think you knowThere are times when I findYou wanna keep yourself from meWhen I don't have the strengthI'm just a mirror of what I see
Taken within the context of Ocean's Tumblr note and proudly open attitude towards his sexuality, it's easy to see why these lyrics perhaps resonate so strongly with him. They appear to reflect the ideas of his note perfectly, discussing the feeling of being at odds with a portion of the world that is unwilling to accept or even understand homosexuality. The lyrics also appear to perfectly demonstrate how toxic these attitudes are when you feel like you don't have the strength to fight back — sometimes you can internalize the hatred that you witness around you.
Ultimately, the song dispenses with these feelings to pay tribute to positive influences, with a chorus that promotes love, support and drive:
Cause when you're at your best you are love, you're a positive motivating force within my life
Considering the significance of the dates with which the song has twice been released, it's possible that the track could still be little else but a tribute to Aaliyah, and her continuing impact and influence on Ocean as an artist. The other option, though, is that the song is also a tribute to his fans. This makes sense when considering that "At Your Best (You Are Luhh)" is the first full track on Endless (following "Device Control," which acts as something of an intro), but also when you think about the potential message that Ocean may be sending with Endless.
With rumors currently rampant that the visual album is a mere precursor to the release of Boys Don't Cry, Endless definitely feels like a stunning thank you note delivered to fans for their patience. And when fans are at their best, they're definitely a positive, motivating force — full of love. This visual-album could well be our reward for that.