By Andrew Barr (@weeandreww)
When fans and critics were predicting who this year’s most prolific artists would be, you would’ve been hard pressed to find anyone willing to throw Frank Ocean’s name into the hat. The New Orleans crooner is known to be an enigma or even a full-on reclusive, depending on who you ask. After making fans wait an agonising four years for a follow-up to the acclaimed Channel Orange, he released visual album Endless and “main” album Blonde in 2016, so all smart bets were on more radio silence from Ocean.
However, this couldn’t have been more wrong. Instead of radio silence Ocean gave fans blonded RADIO, a show that appeared sporadically on Apple Music’s Beats 1 at very short notice. On this show, the R&B superstar would debut one-off singles, which he would play alongside some of his favourite tracks. Apparently this wasn’t enough for the newly restless Ocean, who also played a handful of festivals in summer 2017. Unfortunately, at Ontario’s WayHome festival, he appeared to confirm that the now-aired blonded 007 would be the last in his blonded RADIO series. As ever with the maverick songwriter, we can never be 100% certain that blonded is no more but for now it looks like his hot streak is over, so this feels like an appropriate time to rank the show’s offerings.
Quick disclaimer: this list will only include tracks which were played on blonded RADIO. Ocean also appeared on 2 tracks from Tyler, the Creator’s Flower Boy and on Jay-Z’s Caught Their Eyes in 2017, but these will not be included in the list.
- RAF – ASAP Rocky ft. Quavo, Playboi Carti, Lil Uzi Vert and Frank Ocean
This was a strange track for Ocean to appear on. There is nothing “wrong” with this song as such, the beat is great, the hook is catchy and every guest verse is enjoyable. However, RAF is just a posse rap track and the lyrical subjects rarely veer from fashion and women. With the emotional depth Ocean’s songwriting usually contains, especially post-Blonde, it was strange to see him appear on this track alongside the likes of Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert. Still, Ocean’s delivery is so good that he still manages to shine, it’s just odd to hear him in this vein – especially when Ocean has proved he can produce “bangers” with more lyrical complexity and depth.
- Slide – Calvin Harris ft. Frank Ocean and Migos
Who would have predicted Frank Ocean would have had song of the summer? On the lead single from Calvin Harris’ Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1, he staked a claim for exactly that. This is credited as Harris’ track but Ocean really steals the show as he jams Slide full of his own trademarks, such as the pitched-up vocals that appeared all over Blonde as well as one of his favourite lyrical themes – materialism. Ocean shows real chemistry with two-thirds of Migos and even references his magnum opus, all on top of one of the most tropical instrumentals pop has heard in recent years.
- Lens – Frank Ocean
The first solo track to appear on this list, Lens might be the biggest risk Ocean has ever taken on a track. The minimal keyboard that carries this track seems to evoke Blonde’s Good Guy interlude meaning, as ever, Ocean’s vocals are front and centre. The vocals in Lens seem to be massively Kanye inspired as Frank’s voice is dripping in auto-tune, which is certainly an interesting concept for Ocean to experiment with. While it would be harsh to call this a massive flop, it seems unnecessary for Frank to use so much autotune especially knowing how gorgeous his vocals are. The fragile lyricism of the track may have been better suited to his natural voice.
- Slide on Me – Frank Ocean ft. Young Thug
While not strictly a new track, one of the biggest surprises from blonded RADIO came when Ocean debuted a new version of Endless highlight Slide on Me, featuring none other than Young Thug. The track itself is a gorgeous ballad where Ocean’s delivery falls somewhere between singing and rapping in an ode to a partner in a tumultuous on-off relationship. Not known for lyrical depth, Young Thug may seem like a strange addition to this track but his divisive delivery suits this track perfectly – his voice conveys more than enough fragility to compliment Slide on Me’s atmosphere beautifully. While this collaboration could have understandably raised some eyebrows, it has proved another Ocean masterstroke as Young Thug may even have enhanced this track from its Endless iteration.
- Biking – Frank Ocean ft. JAY Z and Tyler, the Creator
Arguably the track with the strongest feature list in Frank Ocean’s discography so far, Biking is another track which is built on acoustic guitar, although this has far more of a hip-hop feel. On this non-linear track, Ocean’s verse is sandwiched between what must be called a disappointing Jay Z feature and a verse from Tyler which more than gives Frank’s a run for its money. Lyrically, all 3 artists approach cycling – or Biking – in different forms which Tyler and Frank manage to pull off; however, Jay Z’s verse just feels so surface level. Perhaps the best part of the track comes after Tyler’s verse when Ocean mimics Young Thug’s off-kilter flow and ends the track on a bang.
- Provider – Frank Ocean
The last ever blonded RADIO track? If so, what a send-off. Provider is a chameleon of a track, constantly changing genre and structure right under the listener’s nose. It starts in the same vein as Lens with a minimal keyboard sound while a soothing drum machine soon takes centre stage for the chorus, fading as soon as it appears and leaving little more than Frank’s voice – featuring autotune but in a far subtler way than Lens. Ocean namedrops his boyfriend on Provider,and it certainly feels like his most romantic track, dedicating the chorus to, “feelings you provide” before declaring, “tonight I might change my life / all for you”.
- Chanel – Frank Ocean
As it was the first track to be debuted on blonded RADIO, it would be easy to assume Chanel has only gained the #1 spot due to how much of a shock it was; however, this track more than speaks for itself. Chanel features a perfect combination of Ocean’s rapping and singing, and both are on top form. Not to mention this is the track where Ocean has most blatantly paraded his sexuality, with the mic-drop of the opening couplet, “my guy pretty like a girl / and he got fight stories to tell” before flipping hip-hop’s materialistic obsession with designer brands on its head, using the iconic Chanel logo as a metaphor for his bisexuality and duality (“I see both sides like Chanel”) on possibly the catchiest and most iconic hook Frank Ocean has penned so far.