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Finally jumping in the Ocean

Six quick thoughts on an enigmatic appetizer of a visual album

Leave it to Frank Ocean to drop an album that’s not really the album … but still an album. Leave it to Frank Ocean to cause the internet to cave in on itself. Reason being? A Frank Ocean collection of instrumentals with his voice over top of them. I know, I know. Shocked the hell outta me, too.

After teasing fans for the better part of four years, the enigmatic, yet gifted singer has released a visual album, Endless, via Apple Music. Think Beyoncé’s self-titled 2013 album (on which he was featured). Except, where Beyoncé bounced from beaches to the back of luxury vehicles to immaculate dining rooms, Frank Ocean remains in one setting the entire time, hard at work on an interior design project — constructing his album’s most blatant symbol: stairs.

Not even 24-hours old, Endless has the new-car smell. And the car is winding around a barely paved road in the mind of a man who rarely allows in outsiders. It’s tough to pinpoint Endless theme. There are romantic moments, a la his narcotic cover of Aaliyah’s 1994 song At Your Best (which itself is a cover of The Isley Brothers’ 1976 original). There are moments of pure nostalgia — Comme Des Garçons revolves around relationships of yesteryear. And mysteriousness throughout.

Perhaps Frank Ocean is letting fans know there’s levels to this album rollout game and they have to take the stairs to get to his real album.

To be honest, I’m still giving the project a shake, but take these six random thoughts with you into the weekend:

  1. This can’t be stressed enough. Endless is not Boys Don’t Cry, the album title Frank Ocean wed himself to a year ago. In fact, Endless is the appetizer for a new album set to drop this weekend.
  2. There was a snowball’s chance in hell that Frank Ocean would still call the new album Boys Don’t Cry. As with Dr. Dre and the idea of Detox, at some point an album elevates past the “incredibly anticipated” stage to the “hype no one could live up to” stage. I mean, seriously, the imaginary Boys Don’t Cry could have a song called Black Lives Matter, featuring new vocals from Michael Jackson, Tupac and Aaliyah, and folks would still find a way to throw it under the bus. Change the name, (hopefully) change the mindset.
  3. A presidential term between albums is a long time to build stairs — and where exactly were these stairs leading to in Endless? A deeper form of symbolism exists, I’m sure. Perhaps his thinking is that he’s elevated past any artist he sees as a peer. Perhaps he’s letting fans know there’s levels to this album rollout game and they have to take the stairs to get to his real album. Perhaps he wants his own stairway to heaven. Or perhaps the brother just really likes the concept of stairs and what they mean in the game of life (which is pretty deep, when you think about it). I haven’t quite figured it out yet.
  4. R&B singer/frequent Drake antagonist Tory Lanez can’t catch a break. Not only did Twitter take buddy to town for releasing his 28-track debut album, I Told You, but now any buzz for the project is swallowed not only by Frank Ocean’s stairs, but by Young Thug’s mixtape Jeffrey — which is dropping Friday night. And another Frank Ocean project is coming this weekend. I don’t know if this is somehow a demonstration of pettiness — or the worst case of album release timing in recent memory, or a combination of the two. It now makes sense why rapper French Montana decided not to drop his album Friday.
  5. Piggybacking off of No. 4, what if Drake set the whole thing up? Because one thing’s for sure, two things for certain, no one does petty quite like our neighbor from the north whose entire summer diet consists of rosé and calamari. I mean, of course he didn’t, but … it’s not exactly far-fetched. All it’s going to take is for Aubrey to tweet Frank Ocean’s album with Tory Lanez’s album title as the hashtag for all hell to break loose.
  6. Finally and honestly, Endless just dropped, so any type of review is pointless. I like to live with my albums a little bit. On the train, walking around the city, seeing how others react — feel me? That being said, the front-runner for the coldest line on Endless thus far? From the song U-N-I-T-Y (which of course reminds me of this): I never, ever trust a pre-rolled / I never let a random motherf—– shoot the b-roll / I never ask advice from him ’cause what could he know? / Never f— someone you wouldn’t wanna be though. Now that’s vital information even Lori Beth Denberg would sign off on.

Enjoy your weekend, my compadres.

Justin Tinsley is a senior culture writer for Andscape. He firmly believes “Cash Money Records takin’ ova for da ’99 and da 2000” is the single most impactful statement of his generation.