When channel ORANGE dropped a year ago today, it was one of the most anticipated albums of the year. The idea of a young black man embraced by hip-hop music and culture singing about being in love with another man was polarizing. Frank Ocean’s sexuality was as much a driving force behind the success of the album as the music.
The album was perfect for the mid-summer weather made for riding with the top down. Debuting at number 2 with 131,000 in copies sold, the album was well-received by audiences despite limited radio airplay. The early release to iTunes prompted Target to decline in stocking it, to backlash that it was due to Frank’s sexuality, a charge which the company vehemently denied. But, that was the energy that swirled around channel ORANGE: controversy. There still remain people who have never heard the album because they can’t get past the fact that there is one song that is about being in love with a man.
The controversial nature of the release almost ruined the excitement of the music. channel ORANGE was like nothing we had ever heard before. The melodies were unique and spacey, almost sleepy in their delivery. The album features hazy electronic effects, muted drums, synthesizers, vamps and hard-shifting song transitions making for a pop-soul sound that is reminiscent of some of the greats. Also featuring sound effects like white noise, waves, and dialogue the album seems to reflect Frank’s artistic mind. The themes of longing and unrequited love (Pink Matter, Forest Gump) permeate the album and were reinforced by the note that Frank wrote on his Tumblr about an unrequited love affair with a man. The themes of decadent spending, excess, and religion (Sweet Life, Super Rich Kids, Bad Religion) were topics that he had sung about in his work with Watch the Throne.
As for this writer, channel ORANGE was a revelation. It was sold out all over Atlanta and it was over a week after the album was released before I could purchase it. My craving for the music could only be fulfilled by Spotify. But, once I had it, I was head over heels in love with it. “Sweet Life” became the anthem for my existence and “White” was an instrumental that would make a great ringtone. Then there was “Forrest Gump.” When asked about the song and if it bothers me to hear a man profess his love for another man, my immediate answer is no. Truly, I really don’t care what people do in their intimate time. But, who Frank is singing to doesn’t even occur to me when I hear it, what I hear is loving someone who doesn’t love you. And that, is something I am familiar with.
The album was and should be considered a revolutionary and exciting debut. From its amazing themes to its phenomenal understated production. channel ORANGE has earned the status of a classic and incomparable debut. Wonder what Frank has for us next?