Frank Ocean’s sophomore studio album has received massive acclaim from far and wide. Critics, fans, and fellow artists have lavished so many accolades upon “Blonde” that there’s nothing left to say that hasn’t already been said – so we’re taking a different approach.
Welcome to an in-depth visual re-telling of Frank Ocean’s entire creative process, from the 2013 Grammys to the day “Blonde” was released more than 3 years later. This curated multimedia experience is created by Habeel J himself, the man behind the most celebrated Frank Ocean blog on the internet.
The Road to Frank Ocean’s Blonde
August 20th, 2018 marked the second anniversary of the album the world was yearning for. An album which saw Frank Ocean tucked away in London at Abbey Road Studios working 16-hour shifts. Away from the spotlight and music industry, Frank was quietly crafting his sophomore album, Blonde.
Production started after the 2013 Grammys as Frank flew in high-profile producers, artists and sound engineers from all over the world. Highlights amongst the star-studded cast included French movie composer Christophe Chassol, multi-instrumentalist Jon Brion, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, and ex Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanglij. Long time peers Malay Ho and Om’Mas Keith were called up once again to forefront the direction. The project was recorded internationally in New York, London, Tokyo and Paris and costing over $2 million to create. As the album slowly brewed for four years, expectations rose and Frank ensured every element would be meticulously crafted to meet his vision.
Blonde : The Beginning
More than anything, Frank Ocean is an artist whose minimalist approach leads him to prefer to have his music speak for him. Moving halfway across the world from the sunny mornings of Los Angeles to the gloomy nights of London, Frank went from driving customized BMW E30’s to riding electric bikes while quietly navigating through the city. The European streets of London provided a source of solace, a place where he could hide from the underbelly of the industry and the glamour that came with it.
As everyone waited for his return, the reclusive artist would mind his own business. He’d travel to Tokyo and meet RWB founder Akira Nakai, work with Maiham Media, play music in underground clubs in Tokyo, visit the slums of Senegal and art exhibitions in LA & Paris. All the while, a single hard drive, located in his backpack carried his music, country to country (a habit that dates all the way back to Frank’s songwriting days as Lonny Breaux).
The first sign of a new album came via a Q&A on Frank’s Tumblr in the fall of 2013. Multiple updates were briefly given throughout 2014 and a summer release was widely expected:
In the Spring of 2014, “Swim Good” director Nabil Elderkin gave the first update in months:
One week later, Nabil stated that an album was coming and that it was going to be followed by a music video:
Frank followed up by posting a message on his Tumblr subtly hinting that the album was being wrapped up:
In April of 2014, Frank attended the Time 100 event in New York City – his first public appearance since the 2013 Grammys. The following month, Frank made an appearance at the 2014 Met Gala, where he performed “Super Rich Kids” and “Thinkin Bout You” with a live orchestra. The rest of Frank’s year consisted of 3 festivals: Bonnaroo, Pemberton and Camp Flog Gnaw. These festivals would be Frank’s final live appearances for the next three years.
Frank’s First Release
In November 2014, after appearing on Converse’s “Hero” and John Mayer’s “Wildfire”, Frank released his first solo song in 2 years, titled “Memrise”, on his Tumblr. A month later, Frank made an extremely rare appearance on social media through Lil B’s Instagram:
In December 2014, beautiful visuals for “Memrise” were uploaded by director Francis Soriano. These visuals were from Frank Ocean’s 2013 “You’re Not Dead” tour.
Frank Ocean’s 2015
On January 17th, 2015, Frank uploaded a cover of the Isley Brothers “At Your Best” titled “You Are Luhh” to commemorate Aaliyah. Frank had heard the song at a party in London and immediately felt that he had to cover it. The original version featured an acoustic guitar but was removed to allow the song to breathe and be more cinematic, a theme that would feature heavily on Blonde.
BOYS DON’T CRY MAGAZINE: Issue 1
After 4 months of silence, Frank returned to Tumblr on April 6th, 2015 to announce an upcoming project. In the now-notorious picture, he sat on a stool with stacks of magazines and captioned it with “#ISSUE1 #ALBUM 3 #BOYSDONTCRY” leading media blogs and fans to believe his album was called “Boys Don’t Cry”. When Frank realized the public misunderstood the caption and thought the album was called “Boys Don’t Cry”, he altered it. Unbeknownst to the majority, the caption was changed to “#BOYSDONTCRYMAGAZINE”. Frank’s team made a brief statement regarding the name, however, “Boys Don’t Cry” became a working title amongst the media and fans. In reality, Blonde was unnamed until weeks prior to release.
“Nikes” Music Video
One week later, the first unveiling of “Nikes” came to be via several behind-the-scenes pictures that were leaked on Reddit on April 14th.
As time went on, information about the music video slowly started to trickle out, courtesy of the video’s director.
Model Vasilla Forbes later confirmed her involvement on Instagram. The post received hundreds of frantic questions from fans trying to track Frank’s progress on the album.
Flirting with the Public Eye
In early April, James Blake caused a stir when he announced that Frank would be going on tour with him and 1-800-Dinosaur in London. As the event began Frank was in attendance, although he was only there to document the London night-life rather than play music, causing an uproar from fans. James later cleared the air on Facebook:
In May of 2015, Frank created a Snapchat. His account name is ‘arealglitterboy’. This was Frank’s first and only post on Snapchat:
Later in May, a mysterious playlist titled “states” was found on Frank’s SoundCloud. Unfortunately, nothing would ever come to be from this playlist.
As July 2015 concluded, neither the album nor magazine came to fruition. However, merch was discovered hidden deep in the code on Frank’s website. The hidden code revealed featured hoodies, shirts and shoes that would never be officially released, although they would make an appearance in Frank’s artwork for Blonde later on.
Frank in Japan
As the eyes of the world were trying to find Frank Ocean, he remained elusive. Across the world in Japan, Frank was still working, without a single update, interview or a comment from his representatives. He would spend much of the year in Tokyo living in hotels and writing music. He worked closely with Akira Nakai from RWB and Luke Huxam from Maiham Media, driving around Japan and finding the best car spots, and scouring abandoned stores for souvenirs to take back to London. During this time, the alternate cover of Blonde was also shot in Japan by photographer Michael Mayren.
The final picture from this photoshoot with Mayren ended up being the alternate cover to Blonde and also one of the three covers for the “Boys Don’t Cry” magazine:
Frank’s love for Sofia Coppola’s movie ‘Lost in Translation’ (which took place in Tokyo) led him to stay at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Shinjuku during his stay in Japan: the same hotel in which Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson’s characters Bob Harris and Charlotte stayed at in the movie.
In August of 2015, Frank moved back to London and was spotted at a photoshoot for the “Boys Don’t Cry” magazine:
Frank Gets Into the Studio
Upon his return to the UK, Frank spent the majority of his time with A$AP Mob – frequently visiting underground clubs, learning rap cadences from members like A$AP Rocky and A$AP Ferg, and shopping in Soho. He became a local favorite, often spending hours of his time speaking with local residents.
On his 27th birthday, Frank got a haircut from longtime friend and barber Rodney, who had major news regarding the long awaited album:
In November 2015, Frank was spotted working with London-based electronic singer-songwriter Khushi. Khushi was neither credited on Endless nor on Blonde. Their work together remains unreleased to this day.
Later that month, a tweet by producer A-Trak caught the attention of media and fans…
Considering Frank’s well-documented love for cars , many thought that “White Ferrari” may be an unreleased song of his. The song title seemingly linked back to a picture Frank posted on Tumblr a year prior, where the letters “RARI” were visible on the blackboard in the background:
In December, a Frank track named “Drive In” was found on film producer Rohan Scully‘s resume:
On December 10th, several beats Hudson Mohawke had allegedly made for Frank Ocean were leaked online. The beats surfaced on Reddit in a file called “frank o0000oocean”. Eventually, Mohawke would use these beats on projects with other artists.
2016: The Build-Up to Blonde and Endless
In January 2016, an image was leaked on snapchat showing Frank in the middle of a photo shoot:
Later that same week, Rich the Kidd posted a screenshot of a FaceTime conversation with Frank Ocean. In an interview with XXL, Rich explained the story behind the picture: “I reached out to him. I called him on FaceTime and I was like “Where you at?” and he was like, “I’m in L.A. at the studio. And it’s time to cook.”
After many months without making a public appearance, Frank attended Kanye West’s listening party for The Life of Pablo at Madison Square Garden in February 2016.
Frank and Malay + New Music
The first preview of new music came in February 2016, when several tracks from a secret listening party in New York City were leaked online. This would mark the first time original music would be heard since 2014’s ‘Memrise’. All the tracks heard would be featured on Endless 6 months later. These tracks were “U-N-I-T-Y”, “Comme Des Garcons”, and “Higgs”.
In March 2016, producer Malay Ho gave an update to Pitchfork:
I always tell people: When he’s ready, the world is gonna get it. It could be tomorrow… well not tomorrow but maybe a month [laughs]. We’ve all been working hard. He’s been working super hard. I feel like he’s working harder than he’s ever worked in his life. I’m excited for everyone to hear it. I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised, for sure.”
The following month, Malay went on Periscope to give another update, stating:
Frank is coming back soon, real soon… He’s coming back real soon, and when he does, shit will get wild…”
In May 2016, James Blake released his album The Colour in Anything and stated that Frank was a major influence for the project. The two spent a great deal of time together after Frank moved to London and had become great friends. In the liner notes, it was revealed that James had interpolated an unreleased Frank Ocean track named “Godspeed”.
It’s an interpolation of a song that he wrote that hasn’t come out yet,” Blake notes. “It was nice of him to let me use it.” Credits for the album identify the track as “Godspeed,” which Ocean hasn’t released and which Blake says “may or may not” appear on the singer’s next album. “We did” work on other music together, adds Blake, “but I can’t [share any details] because I don’t know any. Nobody knows. You could probably talk to almost anybody involved in that record and I’m not sure anybody would be able to tell you what’s happening.” But he says what Ocean has played him sounds phenomenal: “He is going to make people very happy.” – Entertainment Weekly
In June 2016, Frank was spotted with A$AP Ferg. While there was speculation that a collaboration between the two might be included on Frank’s forthcoming album, no such collaboration has surfaced.
When Frank was announced as one of the new faces of Calvin Klein for their SS16 collection in Fall 2016, a special 30 second commercial directed by Tyrone Lebon marked his return to the public eye. This was Frank Ocean’s first video appearance since the 2014 Met Gala Interview. The video featured the track “Mitsubishi Sony” off of his forthcoming project, Endless :
Shortly after this photograph of Frank from the Calvin Klein after-party in Los Angeles was leaked, a message was found in Calvin Klein’s source code that suggested Frank would be issuing a multi-media release:
Here is an excerpt from the source code:
Frank Ocean is one of the most artistic and enigmatic musicians working today. Though it has been more than four years since he released his debut studio album, Channel Orange, interest in Ocean hasn’t waned. Instead, it’s increased.
He is known for being a perfectionist, and a pursuant of creativity in all forms. He resists pressure and follows his own vision. He has published a magazine and worked on a novel while continuing to perfect his highly anticipated second album.
Ocean shuns interviews and social media, and prefers instead to speak through his work. He has said that when it comes to understanding music, the most important thing is to just press play.
Ocean is a powerful storyteller, using his own openness and honesty to create an emotionally intimate world in each of his songs. With his craft, his aim is not money, power, or fame, but to grow, progress, evolve and eventually be the absolute best.
So while he continues to work on that, we’ll continue to wait, as long as it takes, because when Frank Ocean does something, he does it right. The wait will be worth it.”
In July of 2016, Frank Ocean’s website Boysdontcry.co (now blonded.co) was updated after one year and featured a library card with the title “Due Date”.
Despite the library card’s implications, July would pass with no music, announcements, or updates for the second consecutive year.
On August 1st, Frank’s website was updated with a live stream of a video that featured a black and white warehouse with an Apple logo in the top right corner of the screen. Soon after, Apple Music confirmed their involvement on Twitter.
To relive the Endless sessions, check out the video below.
On August 5th, pages from the magazine were leaked online by a Tumblr user:
After a New York Times article leaked the initial release date of August 5th, Frank delayed the project by a couple weeks because he wanted the release to remain a surprise. On August 19th, 2016, Frank Ocean finally released his visual project Endless exclusively on Apple Music.
Many were confused whether or not the Endless video was the long-awaited follow up to Channel ORANGE, but a rep from Apple Music soon confirmed that there would be more Frank content over the weekend. At 3 am EST, the “Nikes” music video was finally released on Apple Music.
During the early morning of August 20th, Frank posted a picture highlighting 4 cities where a pop-up store would open:
The pop-up shops gave away Frank’s “Boys Don’t Cry” magazine for free, with a copy of Blonde hidden inside. The 3 covers included acid, helmet, and shower versions of the cover art.
As part of the release, stores in the four cities were completely rehauled with Blonde and “Boys Don’t Cry” designs, stickers, and wallpapers:
At approximately 4:30 PM EST that same day, the long-awaited album by Frank Ocean, titled Blonde, was released exclusively through Apple Music.
— Apple Music (@AppleMusic) August 20, 2016
Blonde was critically acclaimed and appeared on many year-end lists. It was also a commercial success selling 275,000 copies in its first week. The music industry responded to the release immediately with many artists in total awe.
The Influence of Frank Ocean’s Blonde
Two years later, the amount of influence Blonde has had is apparent in some of the biggest projects heard since its release.
James Blake talks about the influence Blonde had on his album with Pigeons & Planes:
Lorde Says Frank Ocean’s Blonde Inspired Her Album Melodrama with The Spinoff:
Kendrick Lamar on how Blonde inspired DAMN with Rolling Stone:
Lil Yachty on what albums influenced him with XXL:
Tyler, the Creator talks about the beauty of Blonde with GQ:
Blonde : The Making of a Masterpiece
The true artistry in Endless and Blonde lies in the little amount of information which was made public. Frank Ocean vanished from the face of the Earth to the rainy pavilions of London where he’d spend much of his time writing and driving. He’d walk down Shibuya, soaking in the culture and mastery of the Japanese. A little hard-drive housed the album the world was waiting for and Frank, well Frank didn’t care what the world was waiting for. He was going to move at his own pace, at his own will. It’s been said that he’d wake up in the middle of the night full of panic, knocking on his neighbor’s door and inviting them to listen to his music to hear their comments. Frank was on a mission to create the best possible project he could. To him, Blonde was more than just an album, it was a chance to relive the 29 years of his life. From experiencing his first love to the acceptance of letting them go, Frank steers Blonde in a direction that’s rich with content, honesty, and vulnerability. Blonde feels authentic. It’s dreamy and spacey. A project that’s built on the foundations of tragedy and layered with realizations found while coming to terms with oneself.
Two years later, Blonde has pushed the boundaries of virtuosity and demand. It has reminded us that sometimes, less is more.