Collection: 10. Frank Ocean - Channel Orange

Christopher Breaux began the decade as a recent transplant to Los Angeles who’d written a few minor songs for Justin Bieber and Brandy. He will end it as Frank Ocean, not just one of the most acclaimed musicians of his time but a trailblazer for artists’ autonomy and their freedom to express their sexuality. His legacy on the former was secured when he delivered one album to Def Jam and sold another immediately to Apple. The latter came years earlier when he published an open letter on Tumblr in which he came out as queer, one of the first men in R&B and rap to do so. But the album that accompanied that letter, Channel Orange, was not crafted to echo what ended up becoming a major cultural moment.

Instead, Ocean’s studio debut is an unassuming, languid record; its drums shuffle along softly, cushioning Ocean's weightless vocals. It’s queer, too, in its own pure, nascent way: Across the span of an hour, Ocean slips into different narrative roles, including father, trust-funder, drug addict, Egyptian king, rock star. The act of inhabiting someone you are not is inherent to the queer experience; after all, pretending to be straight is nothing if not the assumption of a persona. Perhaps this informs Ocean’s richly observed characters, especially the subversive closer: On “Forrest Gump,” Ocean imagines himself within that movie’s universe, cheering on the well-meaning galoot playing running back. He sings of his fingertips and lips burning as he chain-smokes through his nerves, ending with a lilting outro—“Forrest green, Forrest blues/I’m remembering you/If this is love, I know it’s true/I won’t forget you”—that captures the peculiar, melancholic longing of the closet. His tenderness is unforgettable; even the second half of “Pyramids,” told from a pimp’s perspective, foregrounds the humanity of the woman who works for him. Channel Orange, above all, suggests the work of a profound empath, and in the seven years since its release, Ocean has shown himself to be nothing if not that. –Jordan Sargent / Pitchfork.com
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