18 Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean is an American hip-hop artist who found popularity in debut mixtape Nostalgia Ultra which got him a record deal with Def Jam Records. But like a lot of other young musicians, Ocean had made a misstep by signing himself away after having his first bit of commercial success. The producer and songwriter, Tricky Steward, who had help bring Ocean into the deal said, “Frank came in with the best intentions of being a great artist to a label. He was looking at it with an open mind. But bringing him into Def Jam was a little bit of a disaster. […] The label wasn’t motivated by the signing. They didn’t give him the respect that I thought he deserved” (Strauss 2016). Ocean was upset at how Def Jam had signed him and refused to give him any attention for over a year. He decided that he would treat Def Jam the same way they had treated him and came up with a plan on how to release his next album.

From 2013 to 2015 Ocean spent his time preparing for the next release, letting people know more about it, bit by bit,  over time. When he finally announced a release date, he let people know there would be two versions of the album, as well as a limited magazine titled Boys Don’t Cry that would go along with them. At 3 a.m on August 1st, 2016, a live stream started on boysdontcry.co showing Ocean woodworking, slowly building what the viewer would come to realize was a set of stairs in the middle of a warehouse, all while playing instruments and sounds that would be on the album. The stream would last for 140 hours and ended with the release of a visual album on iTunes titled Endless.

Tom Sachs, a visual artist whose approach to consumer culture mirrors that of Murakami, was one of Ocean’s collaborators on the piece. Of the project, he stated, “[…] there’s a transparency to the building that is the same as the transparency in the music […] Frank’s music is simultaneously complex and simple. But no matter how you slice it you can hear what’s going on. And there are sounds that are not musical sounds that are used musically to convey a mood. And all of that stuff is transparent and helps communicate how the music was made.” With this album release Ocean was now free of his contract with Def Jam Records and would go on to release the second version, or the “real” version of his album titled Blonde, completely independent of the label. Ocean used the Endless stream as a performance art piece to symbolize his hand crafted exit from Def Jam. He slowly and meticulously builds up these stairs as an exit up and out of the situation he had been unfortunately placed in. Much like how Murakami uses fine art to help bridge the gap in music, Ocean uses his situation and music to bridge the gap into fine art.


Opening Contemporary Art Copyright © by Sarah Parrish. All Rights Reserved.

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