I have been consistently underwhelmed by Frank Ocean – “Back” and “Novacaine” excepted – since he entered the public consciousness. His mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra, felt unformed and pointlessly esoteric.
But if this is any indication of where he’s goin with his new material…
…then i’m in.
One of the things I’ve found striking in the best songwriting of black male millenials like Drake and Frank Ocean is this profoundly forthright admission that a woman’s sexual agency terrifies and fascinates them. These are young brothas negotiating a world where “bitch” and “ho” are omnipresent, but almost universally understood to be terrible things to say and think about women.
And yet, women do confound them. They have to express that. So they just admit it.
And it doesn’t feel to me like they are mad or even frustrated, so much as just in awe that they can be so cowed by their own desire for a woman who has every right to not want them back.
There’s a vulnerability there, a sense of powerlessness, that I think is an important turn from pre-millenial black music that often reduced these women to “ho.”
This notion that “his” Cleopatra is no longer a “jewel”, this notion of a woman as a prostitute, could be problematic if the song wasn’t really about male inadequacy. The lyric, “the way you say my name makes me feel like/I’m that nigga”, is key to making this song work, I think.