Odd Future are a group of 5 year olds. They say and do stupid stuff for attention. Yet this ‘alternative’ hip hop collective receive a worrying amount of heat. Cultural commentators ranging from The Guardian to Newsnight do head spins when attempting to intellectualise what is just another mob with microphones.
Odd Future’s Frank Ocean, however, does deserve attention. As the group’s sole RnB arm, Mr Ocean immediately stands out – both that and the fact that he is an accomplished African American song writer who boldly decided to reveal details of his homosexuality in the run up to the critically acclaimed Channel Orange. Listening to Channel Orange is a psychedelic out of body experience, with Ocean’s challenging lyricism making this debut studio album one of the most insightful RnB offerings in recent history. Creeping in at track 10 is Pyramids, a song so incredible that it takes two paragraphs before one can begin reviewing it.
Ocean’s ten-minute long magnum opus proves a tasty journey into the mind of a musical genius. Ocean appears acquainted with his Shakespeare – with the track doubling up as a mini tragedy. Using the last pharaoh of Egypt Cleopatra as his allegorical plaything, Ocean explores themes of desire and betrayal. As Ocean’s desperate voice echoes around Egyptian palaces in a sorrowful attempt to locate his missing Queen, the funk-inspired beat snuggles around his cries. Incidentally, this first half of Pyramids also provides fertile ground for Afrocentric debate. With many YouTubers heralding references to Cleopatra’s “bronze skin” as irrefutable proof of her blackness.
More interesting is Cleopatra’s escape from her lofty Egyptian palace to the seedy depths of a Los Angeles strip joint – via Ocean’s motel room. Many props go to Malay, the producer, who managed to dig out some intergalactic samples to take listeners through the ages. Yet, as was the case with part one, the beauty of part two lays in Ocean’s ability to display sordid imagery so beautifully. Ocean is both confused and mesmerised by his stripper friend. Whilst “keeping my bills paid” he also speaks innocently of making love to her.
As the 1:30 minute guitar solo draws this mythological story to an end two questions remain. Will another RnB artist be able to reproduce such work anytime soon? And, also, what is Frank still doing with Odd Future?