Unless you've been living under a rock, then you know that right now the world only has time for two things: the Olympics and Frank Ocean's new song and music video, "Nikes." While the former may be closing up shop in a few days time, the buzz about Ocean's track "Nikes" is far from fizzling out. Not only is "Nikes" a straight-up anthem that's one of our first tastes of Ocean's new music in four years, it's worth repeated visits. Each time you listen, you're sure to pick up on a new lyric or connect with a different image. In fact, the same allure that fuels "Nikes" also fuels Endless, Ocean's visual album that dropped on Aug. 19, just one day prior to "Nikes" on Aug. 20. While the narrative of Endless is simple —a young man builds a staircase to leads him heavenward, playing on a loop — it's the haunting shoegaze/electronic/alternative soundtrack that keeps viewers rapt. When you stop and think about it, "Nikes" and Endless were totally worth the four year wait.
With these releases, Ocean isn't simply churning out by-the-numbers music and expecting us to lap it up. Quite the contrary. What's being gifted to us is complex new music. In both "Nikes" and Endless, Ocean is experimenting with a different (in his specific case) sound, molding electronic and ambient beats to fit a hip-hop format. He's meshing visuals with music, teasing out themes of identity, power, permanence vs. ephemerality in the pop consciousness and even visions of the future. Ocean is in an exploratory phase of his career; we are now seeing the result of his very personal four year journey. In this way, Endless and "Nikes" cement his own greatness because he is pushing boundaries and doing it so very well. He has given us art but he's also given us undeniably good music.
The 28-year-old singer has essentially returned to form with these masterpieces — and do I mean masterpieces. He has given credence to the visual album as a legitimate musical format (in the vein of Beyoncé and Lemonade) with Endless. As a visual album, Endless openly contemplates the future: Where do we go from here? What are we working towards? Will all of this waiting result in a work worth listening to? The music, so innately differently from anything Ocean has done before, scores this contemplative work to perfection.
Then, by also delivering at our feet the flawless "Nikes," so hefty in its themes but so light in its musicality, he's got fans spellbound. The video puts materialism at odds with mortality, asking if it's worth it to define ourselves as consumers rather than deeply-realized humans. All of this is shown through the eyes of a version of Ocean that seems to be questioning it all. He is burning up old personas and inhabiting newer, more angelic ones. He puts death (the tragic, pointless deaths of Trayon Martin, Pimp C, and A$AP Yams) in the center of the epitome of life (a booming club), and asks us to reconcile it all while still keeping our consciences intact. It's impossible.
If this is a mere portion of Ocean's work that he created during his four year absence, then I can't wait to see what happens next, and I'm happy to wait as long as necessary for it. Oh, which reminds me: he still has to drop another album (yes, in addition to Endless) in our laps, aka, the album formerly known as Boys Don't Cry.
It was very tough going for a while. While fans of any particular artist are used to waiting a few years for an artist to put out a new album, the wait for Ocean's sophomore effort felt like one long troll. As the months passed on and it seemed like Ocean would never release another album, we became hopeless. When we had just one website with a library card full of dates as a clue, we pored over it relentlessly for answers. Our fatigue worsened. All the goodwill seemed to have dried up. But August 19 will be a day that lives in infamy, because that's the day we were gifted with Endless; "Nikes" arrived on August 20 and the world damn near imploded with joy.
If Endless and "Nikes" were all I had to listen to in the way of new work from Ocean for the next 4+ years, I can safely say I'd be a very happy woman. Sure, I got to such a state of heightened impatience that I contemplated swearing him off for ever as the teasers of a new album loomed. Did we all at one point or another? But now, with these works available, it's clear to me that Ocean is more in tune with his musical soul that ever before; I'm all about it. Thanks for making us wait, Frank Ocean. It was worth it.
Images: Apple Music (3)