Frank Ocean surprises fans with two new albums

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Kanye, Beyoncé and Chance had all dropped albums earlier in the year. Some were expected, some were not, but the one common thread between the three is that they all were released before Frank Ocean’s new album. Rumors flew of a July release date, that our four-year-long wait would finally be over. But July 31st came and went with no new music from the soulful crooner, leaving us to wonder if the supposedly titled “Boys Don’t Cry” would ever arrive. Last week, our fears were put to rest when Frank surprised the public by releasing not one, but two albums. It was almost as if he knew that we were all preparing to start classes and wanted to give us a gift to make the transition back to school easier. And it, without a doubt, was a gift.

Both albums take us on a rollercoaster of emotions that showcase his musicality while strengthening the case for 2016 being the best year of hip-hop and R&B releases that we have seen in the past decade.

The first release, “Endless,” is in the vein of Kanye’s “Runaway” or Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” a visual experience that ignites not just the ears but the eyes as well. The visual aspect is one that isn’t overly exhilarating: Frank using power tools to build a small staircase in a workroom. And yet it is the perfect sight to see while listening, because “Endless” is the minimalistic counterpart to the second album, “Blonde.”

The majority of the album is nothing more than Frank’s voice, an acoustic guitar and some piano. This combination leads for the full attention to be directed to the beauty that is created when he is singing — specifically the falsetto that is center stage throughout “Endless.” Though I don’t fully understand the statement of a staircase being built, I can appreciate Frank thinking outside the box and stretching his artistic reach into the visual world. And while it is believed that this may have been made simply to fulfill Ocean’s contract with his record label Def Jam, it by no means should be overlooked.

The following day, Aug. 20, Ocean unveiled part two of his gift to the world, “Blonde.” Clocking in at just over an hour, “Blonde” is quite the event. It is exhilarating, saddening and beautiful all at the same time.

In a hip-hop community that often uses homophobic slurs, and a community and that would have shunned Ocean’s sexuality not too long ago (Ocean came out in 2012), “Blonde” challenges stereotypes while also challenging Ocean’s peers and listeners to open their minds to be accepting of all love.

The slow-strumming guitar on “Self Control” while Frank swoons about a relationship that never quite had the right timing is nothing short of a work of musical genius. It is one of those songs that cannot be described in any fashion that would do it justice. The song takes on an even more powerful tone upon the realization that it is quite possibly about another man — subject matter that takes hip-hop in a giant step towards being inclusive to all.

Another highlight of the album is “Ivy,” the second track on the album. Again discussing the topic of love, Ocean sings over a trippy guitar riff that creates a lucidity in which the listener feels like they’re dreaming — maybe an intentional allusion considering the line that Frank opens the song with: “I thought that I was dreaming.”

He showcases his vocal range that is absolutely bonkers in “Ivy,” and it feels like something special to simply listen to a singer who is so talented. Many people love The Weeknd’s style, but after listening to “Blonde,” one will realize that The Weeknd is simply the generic brand product to Frank’s name brand.

I could go through other album highlights, but “Blonde” is definitely an album that is best experienced front to back in one sitting. You get the interludes, the silliness of the sample in “Be Yourself,” the rareness of an Andre 3000 guest appearance on the reprise of “Solo” and all of the fading outro interview of “Futura Free.” After four years away from the spotlight, I began to wonder if Frank had lost some of his ability to make his listeners feel raw emotion better than any other artist could.

From here on out I will never doubt his ability again, because these two releases restored my faith as a believer in Frank Ocean.

So if you want to feel immense sadness, happiness and everything in between in just 61 minutes, listen to “Blonde.” I promise it will be worth the hassle that is signing up for a free trial subscription to Apple Music.