I have to start this by saying, I’ve listened to Odd Future’s Frank Ocean’s debut album easily over 30 times in its entirety since it came out. The first 29 times I accepted it for what it is, a great body of work. This past listening experience though, was something far different. Maybe 30 is the lucky charm.
I have a theory, emphasis on theory. “Channel Orange” is far more than just a great album but actually an auto biographical masterpiece put to music.
As everyone who doesn’t live under a rock knows, the singer/song writer recently came out about his sexuality via his tumblr. I wondered to myself why he felt the need to do so around the same time that his album was coming out, no pun intended.
At first I thought it was for publicity, then I just thought it was something he felt he had to do for himself. Now while either or both of those things could be true, I believe that the story he told in his open scribe to the people actually is the perfect preface to the story he tells within the album.
In my opinion “Channel Orange” describes his experience which led him to his revelation about his sexuality. The opening track is the already popular “thinking about you” which seems to be about him reflecting on the situations he’s been through. The album then effortlessly flows into the tracks “sierra leone”, “sweet life” and “super rich kids” featuring fellow Odd Future artist, Earl Sweatshirt. They are all mellow and dreamlike songs about being young living in the suburbs and the shenanigans that can occur when excess and freedom at a young age meet. Lines like “we’re behaving like teenagers, still inside our parents homes” in “Sierra Leone”, “You’ve had a landscaper and house keeper since you were born” in “Sweet Life” and even “Maids come around enough, parents ain’t around enough” in “Super Rich Kids” describe just that. He refers to a her/she throughout these songs which leads me to believe this is where the story begins.
The following tracks are “Pilot Jones” and “Crack Rock”, songs which describe the unglamorous side to drug abuse. The references about the mysterious she continue with lines such as “she’s the dealer and the stoner” and “I don’t know why I keep on trying to make a grown woman sober” in Pilot Jones. From the sound of the following: “you never know how little you matter until you’re all alone in the middle of Arkansas, with a little glass rock in that glass dick.” from “Crack Rock” it seems as though her spiral only continued downward.
From there the album continues into “Pyramids”. A song which was released before his tumblr confession. It’s 9 and a 1/2 minutes long and is actually the longest song on “Channel Orange”, though it doesn’t feel like it because it splits and becomes two separate entities within one track. Coinciding with the continuation of my theory, it seems as though “pyramids” is from two different perspectives. The first being him seeing this woman he obviously cares for “the black queen cleopatra” fall from her throne and become a slave to her vices. “Now you’re laying down with Samson with his full head of hair”. The second part of the song however I believe is from the perspective of a pimp who is using her. With lines like “she’s working at the pyramid tonight”, “got your girl workin’ for me, hit the strip and my bills paid, keep a niggas bills paid” and the ever so blatant “but your love ain’t free no more” it seems clear that there is more than just a division within the melody.
The song “Lost” sounds like a Robin Thicke track with its bass guitar and simple funky sound. The title describes the lyrics to the song perfectly. The mysterious woman seems to be completely lost within her own demise. “The boss aint been working you like this, he can’t take care of you like this. Lost in the heat of it all, lost in the thrill of it all..” Even going further to say “She’s got a stove, can’t believe I got her out here cooking dope.”
The interlude “White” featuring singer/songwriter John Mayer I found to be rather interesting more so because of the title than the 45 seconds of the blissful guitar solo I got to enjoy. White typically tends to represent clarity, purity, and all things anew, so for him to place the interlude in that part of the album amidst all of this chaos happening is fascinating to me.
“Monks” is the follow up after “White” and seems as though it’s the second act after intermission. The beat sounds like prince and Pharell came together and had a jam session. It also sounds as if it would be amazing live. The lyrics make it seem as though this woman escaped her demons, with Franks help, and then meets a guy and “runs away”, “what a great escape, there’s a long way still in fact..”
“Bad Religion” is a heart breaking ending to a story that seemed doomed from the start. With the melody of nothing more than a church organ and violin and drums Frank vents to his taxi driver about his heartbreak with such lines as “this unrequited love to me is nothing more than a one man cause, cyanid in my styrofoam cup, I could never make ’em love me..” and “it’s a bad religion to be in love with someone who could never love you.”
After the rain there is always a rainbow, once again, no pun intended. “Forrest Gump” is what I believe to be the summer he referenced to in his tumblr post, when he fell in love with a man. “you’re on my mind boy, running through my mind” “Forrest green, Forrest blue, I’ll remember you. This is love, I know this is true, I won’t forget you.” We all know this didnt end on such a happy note either but at least he doesnt seem so distraught.
Until “Pink Matter” featuring thr insanely talented Andre 3000 that is. It seems as though Frank was having an extreme conflict within himself, talking to his “sensai” about women and their purpose, more specifically in his life. “What is a woman, just a container for a child..?” He also refers to her vagina as cotton candy and Majin Buu in the same line. For anyone who doesn’t know about Majin Buu, he was a big pink villain on Dragon Ball Z.
The Album ends with his never released single “VooDoo” playing softly in the background amongst miscellaneous noise that like the rest of the album is open to interpretation. Like I said that is just my theory on “Channel Orange”, take a listen to it, and draw your own conclusion. Regardless of whether this is what happened to him, if it was just a creative concept for an album or if I’m reading far too deep into it, two things can’t be debated. Frank Ocean is an amazing writer and “Channel Orange” is a piece of musical and artistic genius.