We’ve become a very impatient culture.
We live in a time where advancements in technology have made things so instant, from watching movies on demand to listening to music via streaming-music platforms, that when something isn’t given to us immediately, we revert back to our 2-year-old selves, demanding that we either get it now or we’ll throw quite the temper tantrum.
Case in point: Frank Ocean. The reclusive, avant-garde R&B star was reportedly supposed to release his second album, “Boys Don’t Cry,” the follow-up to his 2012 debut “channel ORANGE,” earlier last month. This news surfaced after Ocean’s website began playing a black-and-white livestream, which showed Ocean in a workshop apparently building something. When The New York Times reported that Ocean’s album would be released on Aug. 5, people initially greeted the news with skepticism. After all, Ocean announced “Cry” would be out the year before. Ocean also posted a cryptic, library late slip on his site in July, with a number of stamped past dates, the last one being “July 2016.”
Anyway, Aug. 5 came and went, and no Frank Ocean album was released. Of course, people took to social media to voice their displeasure, wondering when Ocean is gonna stop whatever he’s doing in that workshop and drop some music. Sure enough, two weeks later, Ocean heard all the cries and spent a weekend releasing a lot of things.
First, he dropped “Endless,” a 45-minute “visual album” that was a combination of new Ocean material and a condensed version of the livestream (which is rumored to be 140 hours long), which has him building his very own staircase. Then, he came out with “Blonde,” an album which features guest appearances from Beyonce, Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar and others. A physical copy of “Blonde” was also distributed, along with a “Boys Don’t Cry” magazine, at four pop-up stores in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and London. Sure enough, “Blonde” eventually skyrocketed to No. 1 on the Billboard 200 charts.
So, it turns out Ocean wasn’t twiddling his thumbs – he was creating a full-fledged, multimedia assault. Artist Tom Sachs, who worked with Ocean on “Endless” and the magazine, told Pitchfork why Ocean took his sweet time coming up with everything. “We’re living in an age of non-handmade things,” said Sachs. “The iPhone is the best-made thing there is, but there’s no evidence of a human being involved with it. Frank’s music, which is very personal and literally has his voice, in the same way that all musicians have their voice, simply takes time.”
As someone who has waited for various artists to get their act together and churn out some new stuff, waiting for Ocean to come with the goods wasn’t a big deal for me. I couldn’t understand how people were freaking out just because he hadn’t released new music in four years. As a devoted D’Angelo fan, I had to wait a whole 14 years before he followed up his 2000 masterpiece “Voodoo” with his 2014 latest “Black Messiah.” However, during that time, D’Angelo was battling many inner demons. For example, his struggles with drug use (in 2005, after being sentenced on marijuana and cocaine charges, he was involved in a car crash) sent him to several stints in rehab.
For some reason, the neo-soul stars of the late ’90s and early aughts have always had trouble coming with consistent tunes. After Maxwell released his third album “Now” in 2001, he didn’t release new music until “BLACKsummers’night” in 2009. That was actually the first of a trilogy of albums, which were all supposed to be released over the span of three years. But the second chapter, “blackSUMMERS’night,” wasn’t released until earlier this summer. (When I interviewed him for The N&O a couple of months ago, Maxwell told me the delay was due to many songs he composed being altered as he was working on them: “They transformed in ways that I didn’t expect them to.”)
As a person fully immersed in middle age, I grew up understanding that, sometimes, you had to wait for people to come up with good music. I mean, Michael Jackson took five years to follow up “Thriller” with “Bad.” As much as people today love to complain about their favorite artists toying with their emotions and not properly dispensing material at a timely pace, perhaps they should understand that artists need to work on their projects until they feel it’s right – not just for them, but for their fans as well. As Sachs said, it simply takes time.