Frank Ocean. His music is soulful, holistic, and emotion metabolic. One thing I believe that goes unnoticed is Frank’s references to social justice and the plight of Black people. His references to social issues and it being overlooked isn’t the fault of the listener. Frank Ocean’s voice and music are so angelic that it’s easy to disregard what he’s talking about because the man makes pain and suffering sound so beautiful. I think that Frank does this on purpose to show that through all this suffering there is beauty in it all. But that’s a whole other topic on its own. What I want to do is analyze the beauty in Frank’s music when he discusses inequality and rise and fall of Black royalty.
Let us start with “Pyramids”. “Pyramids” is a near 10-minute-long song on his critically acclaimed album, Channel Orange. In the song, he tells the tale of the ancient history of the Black women. He uses Cleopatra, who brought dishonor to her country by becoming Marc Antony’s mistress, to symbolize the Black women. For those who don’t know, Marc Antony was a conqueror who wanted Egypt to become a Roman territory and achieved that goal through her. In part one of the song Ocean narrates about how Cleopatra has been stolen from the kingdom. The jewel of Africa. In the outro, he talks about how “our” queen has met her doom and that “He” has killed Cleopatra. “Our” is about the black man and how our queens have been stolen and killed by the White man, “He”. “He” has killed the image of our jewel, Cleopatra. “Cleopatra (black women) is no longer respected but she is instead used and abused by the men who would have risked their lives to protect her honor years ago. This is evident today as men have hypersexualized the black female body. We have made it an object of expenditure. We dishonor what should be honored.
In part two of the song, we fast forward to today’s world. Cleopatra has now been reduced to a stripper who is also taking care of her unemployed man. She now works at the Pyramids. This was very clever by Frank. He turned a symbol of the greatness of Africa, the Pyramids, and reduced it to the name of a strip club. The song is using history to tell the story of the fall of the Black man and woman in America. Particularly, the Black woman. They went from the worth of a blue moon diamond to a cubic zirconia.
Another song I want to play close attention to is “Crack Rock” off Channel Orange. The song talks about the so-called “War-On-Drugs” in America. In the bridge of the song, he refers to the crooked cops that fuel the drug trade by letting the dealers sell, as long as they get some of that money too. These types of cops are no good for the community.
Note: One thing I realized through my research of this song is the famous case of a crooked cop, Barry Seal. Seal is a former CIA operative who worked with cartels to ship cocaine to the town of Mena, Arkansas. Once again Frank Ocean is being very clever. In the first verse of the song he states:
“You don’t know how little you matter until you’re all alone”
“In the middle of Arkansas with a little rock left in that glass dick”
There are many things going on with this. First, Frank Ocean tied the crooked cops in the bridge with the state of Arkansas which happens to be the state one famous cop, Barry Seal, used to make money. Also, in the line “In the middle of Arkansas with a little rock left in that glass dick”, he references to the high use of crack that Arkansas is notorious for and the dealings that happen in Little Rock. It’s a double entendre because little rock is a name given to crack but also the capital of Arkansas.
Furthermore, in the bridge and outro, Frank states how if his brother- I believe he’s talking about black males in general- gets shot he wouldn’t get as much attention as a cop getting shot. For a cop, they will literally send out hundreds to look for the shooter, but there isn’t any justice for the average black male. And we have seen this being played out recently with police shootings of unarmed black people. It sets out the hypocrisy of America and the crooked cops in the justice system. A crooked cop will become remembered and revered if gunned down even though he/she is part of the issue.
There are many other songs that Frank Ocean talks about social injustice. For example, in Chanel he sings “Police think I’m of the underworld, 12 treat a nigga like he 12”. And his more popular reference in “Nikes”: “RIP Trayvon, that nigga look just like me”. To me these lines make Frank Ocean fall in the same line of other social justice artists. We should be looking at Frank Ocean the same way we look at Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and many others. It’s easy to overlook this because of the beauty of his music. I think that’s why Frank Ocean is my favorite artist. He talks about pain, suffering, corruption, and social justice in a stunning and angelic way. He shows there’s beauty in the struggle. But he also sings about the beauty of hope and how we can overcome our struggles.