Future Classic: Frank Ocean “Crack Rock” + “Pyramids”
When estimating the longevity of a new release, powerful two-song sequences are perhaps the clearest indicator of that album’s potential. Think I Would Die 4 U/Baby I’m A Star on Purple Rain or Beat It/Billie Jean off of Thriller. Those kind of one-two punches will have anyone kissing the canvas with the quickness. It’s one of the more challenging artforms to get a handle on. For example, MusiquePlus could never muster a decent two-song block back when their format was centered on playing actual music videos. It’s in that spirit that I examine what in my opinion is the closest we’ve gotten to Prince and MJ since their heyday: the often-enigmatic, always-entertaining, no-combination-of-cliched-superlatives-could-accurately-describe-how-dope-this-muthafucka-is Frank Ocean.
Sure, writing up the Internet’s current obsession at the zenith of the hype tsunami we’re splashing in is probably just stating the obvious. I’ll abstain from commenting on his liner notes or the whole of his major label debut (which hits retail today, as it turns out) to focus on one of the strongest two-song sequences in recent memory.
Crack Rock, the ninth song on channel ORANGE, is a breakbeat-driven ride through a series of vignettes which effectively illustrate the stigma of the drug-addled and downtrodden, even casually offering a bit of social commentary in the third verse:
Crooked cop, dead cop
How much dope can you push to me?
Crooked cop, dead cop
You’re no good for community
Fucking pig get shot
Three hundred men will search for me
My brother get popped
And don’t no one hear the sound
As we near the end of the track, the crackhead crosses paths with a girl and he asks her:
How you feeling, girl?
How’s the gutter doing?
The song ends abruptly after those questions are posed and we immediately find ourselves in the shimmery ambient that is the opening of Pyramids, a ten-minute opus that goes from this uptempo, vamp-ish funk that’s equal parts Snoop Dogg and Lady Gaga into an 808 stripper anthem, finally culminating in a spacial John Mayer guitar solo. In the cinematic tradition of intertwining storylines like Amores Perros and Crash, the narrative chronicles a young woman’s fall from grace and the pimp who loves/leeches off of her. The song offers no closure. It judges not. What it does is open a window for the repressed voyeur in all of us to peer into, a window only the greatest artists are able to crack.
Montreal gets its turn with Mr. Ocean on July 29, where we’ll see if his live presentation is on-par with the awe he’s inspired as of late. Whether he makes good on his promise or is doomed to ephemera has yet to be determined but if this sequence is any indication at all then maybe, just maybe, we are bearing witness to not only a rising star but the raising voice of a generation. In writing this article and placing him on such a pedestal, I’ve already made my bet. Check the over-under if you’re still unsure, but best believe that only high risks ever truly hit paydirt.