Frank Ocean, Kanye West and the art of the surprise album

frank

Originally published by The Skinny.

We want new music, and we want it now! But what’s worse? Frank Ocean’s ridiculously postponed record drop, or Kanye’s confusion over The Life of Pablo?

Over a year ago Frank Ocean posted the first of many cryptic hints on his website, suggesting a follow-up to 2012’s masterpiece channel ORANGE was on its way. It was a picture of Ocean sitting next to a stack of magazines entitled Boys Don’t Cry, captioned: “I got two versions. I got twoooo versions. #ISSUE1 #ALBUM3 #JULY2015 #BOYSDONTCRY.

Since then, the wait for Boys Don’t Cry has been an emotional rollercoaster and Frank Ocean fans have had no chill. The ex-Odd Future member and R’n’B god has been so elusive that fans resorted to putting up ‘Missing: Frank Ocean’ posters across New York. Any sightings can be directed to “808-WYA-BRUH.”

Malay, Ocean’s close collaborator and co-producer of channel ORANGE, recently addressed Ocean’s new album – or lack thereof – in a Reddit AMA. He told fans that “art cannot be rushed”; an age-old expression we have begun to ignore when it comes to albums. This urgency seems to stem from a generation of impatient fans who are used to finding new music instantly available online.

And on to the weekend’s big reveal: Ocean has finally dropped not one, but two new albums. The first, a visual album entitled Endless, makes sense of the live-streamed art installation that has been running on his website since the beginning of August. What’s more, Ocean revealed that Boys Don’t Cry is the title of his new magazine, and that his long-awaited full album is actually titled Blonde. Who knew?

We finally have the two versions we were promised (or does that make it three?), with the streamed version of the record differing from Blonde‘s physical release. The lyrics to opening track Nikes make it official: “Special shout out to the icon dynasty, Slip-N-Slide Records / I got two versions, I got two versions, I got two versions.”

But is it really important for fans to remain informed throughout the album making process? Should we be kept out of the loop? Compare the release of Blonde to the release of Kanye West’s 2016 album The Life of Pablo; in terms of hype levels there are similarities between the two, but the latter was a complete circus.

Even before TLOP even dropped, there was a great deal of confusion over its title. Yeezy changed the name a grand total of four times prior to the record’s release. We were first led to believe it would be called So Help Me God, then it was re-announced asSWISH, after that it was changed to Waves, before he finally settled on The Life of Pablo.  Initially the album was released as a Tidal exclusive, and featured just ten tracks. Over the course of four months, as Kanye added, re-recorded and replaced tracks on the album, TLOP eventually reached a peak at 20 tracks. In theory, an interesting way of breaking the conventional album release format and showing Kanye’s dedication to involving his fans in the process – in practice, it all just got messy.

There is a clear differentiation between Frank Ocean, who has been working tirelessly for years, shrouded in mystery, in order to achieve perfection and Kanye West, who referred to The Life of Pablo as “a living, breathing, changing creative expression,” and constantly updated fans about the album via Twitter. Essentially it all comes down to a matter of preference; do we prefer to have every tiny detail about an album fed to us, or are we quite happy to sit back and wait for a new release to drop? Both processes are rollercoasters, it just depends which one we would rather ride.

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