What Does Frank Ocean's "Nikes" Mean? The Lyrics Are Deeply Powerful
"I got two versions," Frank Ocean sings, in an almost unrecognizably distorted voice at the top of his new track, "Nikes." The song debuted on Saturday, Aug. 20, via a NSFW, glitter infused, music video (which you can view on Apple Music or Ocean's website) that maybe marks the first single from Frank's new album. No, I'm not talking about Endless, the visual album he released on Friday. According to Rolling Stone , another album (aka, the album formerly known as "Boys Don't Cry,") will be coming out shortly, perhaps even on Aug. 20 or Aug. 21. Hence the "two versions," a phrase that originates all the way back to last year, when Ocean posted an image of himself on his Tumblr with two magazines, one titled "Boys Don't Cry." He seems to have known all along that he would be releasing two forms of one highly anticipated album, making Frank Ocean's "Nikes" lyrics all the more genius.
Though fans may have been frustrated by some delays, everything Frank's been doing for the past year will clearly culminate into one ultimate and ambitious piece of artistry. Like the images of Frank building a staircase in his visual album Endless, "Nikes" seems to be — amongst many other things — a comment on consumerism, love, human nature, and the systematic failings of the justice system that leave the lives of too many young African-Americans at risk — all in just under five minutes. Yes, "Nikes" is remarkable, particularly when it comes to its lyrics.
Frank starts off the track touching upon class, greed, and materialism. The girls he's singing about want "Nikes," they are "looking for a check," she "needs a ring like Carmelo" (aka Carmelo Anthony, the legendary New York Knicks player who has never secured an NBA championship ring). Then he brings up another type of greed — one for drugs, particularly cocaine — in the line, "must be on that white like Othello" before making a reference with "oh my, it's a real life angel" to a line in Shakepeare's play where Othello is speaking to his doomed wife Desdemona: "Lest, being like one of heaven, the devils themselves / Should fear to seize thee." The girls appear to be angels, but the devils themselves know better: They're after designer goods, fame, power, and fortune.
In one moment, Ocean's rapping about shoes: this time extremely expensive, designer ones. Giuseppe Zanottis are high-end, a far cry from the "basic." Additionally, Ocean's inclusion of the "this is heaven on earth" line in the same lyric seems to reference Ocean's previous Othello lyric — and could even be a reference to the "Heaven's Gate" cult which, in 1997, conducted a mass, communal suicide, after which the members where photographed in Nikes and covered in purple sheets. It's an image that's later replicated in the party scene of the video:
Frank continues his warning about hedonistic pleasures ("But if you're in the party don't bring your shotty, love everybody") and then pays tribute to a series of people: A$AP Yams, a rapper who died in 2015 from an accidental drug overdose, Pimp C who passed away in 2007 due to an accidental cough-medicine overdose, then, finally, Trayvon Martin. Ocean explains that Trayvon looks just like him, and then pleads to have his own sins forgiven.
As made clear by this verse, it's passion over everything else for Ocean. You can "roll in your bread" (money) and sell your soul to the devil — or in this case, your scales to a sea-witch like creature, like in The Little Mermaid when Ariel gave away her voice for love. But Ocean won't compromise himself: He has to keep his "scales," that's "rule number one." Then, "rule number two" is "don't take no photos in the party," which may reference the rules of many high-end clubs: No photos, no exceptions. Similarly, taking photos of the party is an inadvertent admission that the party exists — something that Ocean seems against.
Even the less narrative moments of the song showcase Ocean's lyrical abilities. It's good, he proposes, that no one cares for him, even though he feels comfortable in his own skin (because he's "been working on [his] bod"). After all, he doesn't want to be associated with anyone after material goods — he wants a good conversation, something that doesn't have to be "much," but isn't just about money.
Ocean explains that while others can wonder about the future ("let you guys prophesy,") he's going to see it first. He's been living the type of lifestyle that all blurs into one ("living so the last night feels like a past life") but is, at the same time, confounded by those around him. He questions what's "got into people," seeing all his peers be possessed by devils and demons, fame and fortune. Though he's wearing a Yarmulke (aka, the traditional Kippah worn by members of the Orthodox Jewish community that's meant to protect them from demons and devils) to protect himself, he's constantly bombarded with drugs (acid, weed) and lavish things (glitter).
Once again, Frank discusses materialism, but this time, he shows us it's all façade. The grass isn't grass, it's astro turf without the astro. Though the jeans are designer Balmain (could this perhaps be a shoutout to Kanye West, who is all decked out in Balmain during his glam Wolves video?) he's still sweaty under them. The lemonade isn't regular lemonade, it's pink-gold, which sounds so ludicrous, it's clearly also fake.
At the end of the song, the only thing that really seems important is whether or not Ocean means something to someone, or, in a broader sense, his music means something to someone. He's been putting together this staircase (as seen in Endless, of course) for years — four, to be exact — and as "Nikes" shows, each piece has been even more thoughtfully places than its predecessor. There's a great deal of method in Ocean's madness, and it's only awkward if we don't pay attention.
Images: Apple Music (8)