People always tell me they are looking for something new, but when something new legitimately pops up, they are never ready.
Frank Ocean’s stint on the Grammys was a cap off to a pretty remarkable evening winning Best Urban Contemporary album and best Rap/Sung Collaboration for The Throne’s ‘No Church in the Wild’. Ocean’s performance of his ‘Channel Orange’ breakout hit “Forrest Gump” featured him running onto an augmented reality stage with images of his legs still running, as if he’s burst out of the screen of cheerleaders and skateboarders behind him at an inhuman speed to the sound of distorted guitars, then slows down so we can catch up. Right up front was Chris Brown in angelic white. It was hard to read what exactly was going through Brown’s mind at the time as these two were allegedly involved in some scuffle weeks before the Grammys. Now here was Ocean on stage, winning.
Christopher Breaux aka Frank Ocean first dropped this ‘Forrest Gump’ at Coachella in April 2012. Much has been made of the song’s subsequent, homosexual overtones. Many in the R&B and Hip Hop community praise its bravery, but many more still deplore its directness. But ‘Forrest Gump,’ in its stripped-down form at the Grammys along with the dazzling visuals behind it, (including Ocean’s mutant “Odd Future” crew) seemed like a message of defiance.
The ’50s, ’60s and ’90s ended with accidents and assassinations. When you look at the landscape of music then, you could throw a rock and if it landed on a genre of music you were unfamiliar with, you’d be hard-pressed to not find something that didn’t catch your ear. The ’90s, for instance, was once referred to as most segregated time in music. But by the end of the decade, artists like Tupac, Biggie, Cobain, Mia Zapata, Buckley (I could go on) could have been colossal losses by themselves, but were part of a collective that boasted a superhero-quality roster. Music during that time was being cross-bred, mutated and dealt with faster then the suits could adapt to. Then like everything else, it peaked and ran out of gas.
So while Gen-X’ers took bites out of their realities, some of generation Y grew up on an MTV and saw Shaq rapping with the Fu-Schnickens and ten seconds later ‘Belly’ demanding you “put your hands up boy when you’re talking to me.” The effect was profound.
Fast forward and here we are. We’ve lost our Soul. With D’Angelo imprisoned in Brian Wilson-jail, Badu and Grohl were left to carry the freak flags alone. The Man shot rock ‘n’ roll in the head, pimped out hip hop, took the wheel and fed the kids Mouseketeers and American Idols. Now sounding “perfect” is the new integrity and faking it with auto-tune is the norm.
With rock ‘n’ roll, however, there is definitely an underground bubble, ’cause Jack White can’t do it alone and I thank THE Lord it’s starting in hip hop and r&b. And it’s happening the right way. Though Kanye is definitely Morpheus, Frank Ocean is shaping up to be Neo. Time for a change, time to switch it up. Talking ’bout revolution. Black pop can be more conservative then congress when it comes to change, ask Prince or Tricky. Fishbone might as well be polka for some black folks and though black folk big-up him now, Bob Marley died wondering what the hell he had to do to get black Americans on-board his Zion train.
Now here we are in 2013 and the youth are getting restless again. Too many brothas on BET are looking the same and singing the same song. Rappers are talking about nothin’ and the lost tradition of making great music and getting paid, has turned into “let’s just get paid”.
Enter Kendrick Lamar, Janelle Monáe, Odd Future, Childish Gambino and up-front Mr. Ocean slapping genres of music, pop references and haunting vocals into a song that not only plays with the wide scope of young love, but brings a twist on perspective. We hear Jenny’s feelings about her love for Forrest; one we don’t really see in the movie, but one that should be vocalized.
All perspectives matter. The fact that the freak kids have voices in these artists means more young folks will feel brave enough to beat their own drums.
After a few tries in the ’70s, Bowie finally got a tune written for a struggling “Mott the Hoople.” ‘All the Young Dudes’ was a galvanizing anthem for the glam kids rebelling against their now rich and comfortable ’60s heroes like the Beatles and the Stones. Bowie later claimed that he wrote it as continuation of the theme from his song ‘Five Years’ where a newscaster warns of the coming Apocalypse.
These young dudes are bringing the news. To me it all comes out in the wash. When Ocean ends ‘Forrest Gump’ at the Grammys, he begins to whistle the melody, turns and morphs back into the images behind him. Sometime later that night Chris Brown was interviewed. He was skittish about the elephants in the room he helped create, but was adamant about how much he enjoyed hearing real music, sighting a few acoustic and indie performances.
Hope is in the air.