Channel Orange is an ‘important’ album for a few reasons. The first is that is the first fully-formed solo release by Frank Ocean, the current flavour of the month for the majority of the music press. The second reason is that Frank Ocean recently posted an open letter on Tumblr that exposed his unrequited feelings for someone in his past. That person happened to be male.
I’m sure we all know how violently homophobic many popular hip-hop/R&B stars have been in the past, and how that has leant a certain intolerant air to the whole genre. Whether or not Frank Ocean is accepted by the wider R&B community, it’s rather edifying that he has released an album genre to so much critical acclaim. Of course, this won’t be the cure for homophobia in hip-hop. This won’t stop various high profile ambassadors for the genre using terms relating to the LGBTQ community as a catch-all term for lameness. It won’t stop the hate and it won’t stop the abuse, but it’s a start. If audiences really take to Frank Ocean, and the hip-hop establishment allows him a place at the top table, that’s a step in the right direction.
There’s no reason why that shouldn’t happen. There’s always the chance that an artist under so much scrutiny (in both professional and personal capacities) will disappoint. Ocean has managed to put together a debut album that is exceedingly professional, yet distinctive. His voice is his greatest asset – the falsetto on tracks such as ‘Thinkin Bout You’ is pure and unforced (and therefore, nowhere near as annoying as falsetto can often be). His chilled-out tracks convey a sense of ennui that is often overlooked in favour of more flashy fare. Although there are missteps, (a track entitled ‘Forrest Gump’ is never a good idea to begin with, and it doesn’t sound much better than the title suggests), these are in the minority.
Frank Ocean is one to watch. Not just because of what his success means, but because of his precocious talent and potential.