In 2016, Black artists are expressing themselves in many different forms and fashions, and in my opinion, it’s a beautiful era to experience. Whether one prefers mainstream or underground music, there are a multitude of artists creating and existing through music that aligns with the rhythm of their own beat. Their work is inspiring and socially challenging. It lifts and centers; it is their truth, their oppression, and their fight.
Consider these two projects; Solange’s A Seat at the Table and Frank Ocean’s Blonde. I’m currently living through these two bodies of work. By living, I mean breathing, being motivated by, waking up with, falling asleep to, and finding peace in these gifts. I feel as if they were personally wrapped and packaged just for me as both of these albums have arrived in my life during a time of much uncertainty. I’m battling interpersonal feelings of displacement, an urge to wander, confusion, impatience, imbalance, complacency, and love. I’m at a time in my life where I’m yearning to delve deeper into myself, my maleness and blackness, and my creativity. This strange moment, where I’m actually finding the courage and path to explore what I truly love and feel as though I’m gifted in, is here and I want to cease it. This feeling is like a plague that takes over my body more and more each day. I’m finally at a place where I don’t want to cleanse myself of this growing desire, but instead embrace it; just use this fuel to finally ignite the flame that I’ve needed in order to burn through all of this toxic self-doubt, fear, and anxiety.
Frank Ocean and Solange’s pieces have simultaneously served as my anthems, my friends, and my comfort. I’ve found solace in their lyrics and peace in their vulnerability. I’ve felt myself become immersed within the melodious waves of experience, emotion, sensualness, and individuality that exist as particles of their music.
A Seat at the Table is, for me at least, a source of validation and understanding. A corroboration of my blackness, my right to be mad and to keep certain treasures for myself and my community. It’s a testament to my feeling exhibited and disrespected. The purity in Solange’s tracks shocks my blood flow with bolts of raging calmness (an oxymoron, I understand, technically), a state of which is necessary for my sanity. One that acknowledges my intersectional position as a black, creative, socially anxious, and educated young man trying to steer his way through a deranged society.
My favorite song on the album is listed at number 18, titled Don’t Wish me Well. The chorus offers a mesh of harmonies that repeat the term “away.” I interpret her lyrics as a sort of reclamation of the self; one that involves departure and firmness in one’s own frustration and standpoint. Solange gives up testimony and language. She provides me with a remedy for my worst mornings when I awake feeling subpar and inadequate. And because of that, I feel very much welcomed to “The Table”.
Blonde is the album that Frank Ocean lovers have anticipated for about 4 years now. We’ve relished his projects Nostalgia, Ultra and Channel Orange for as long as we possibly could. And though these two genius banks of music will always stand the test of time, we were ready for a fresh Frank-the present Frank. The Frank that appeared on more recent projects with Kanye and Beyonce. The 28-year old Frank and his vulnerable, metaphorical lyrics of love, sexuality, and life. We needed Frank to check in with us, and finally, he did.
We saw the birth of Blonde on August 20th of this year, a day after Frank released his visual album, Endless. Laced with tracks that exude a very euphoric aura, Blonde teaches us how to love and live by and for ourselves, to let go when you have to, to be patient yet honest with others, and to be unique and tender with one’s self. It offers the very Frank-like unorthodox flows and rhythms, sporadic voice-pitch and instrumental changes, short scenes and, similar to Channel Orange, a feature from Andre 3 Stacks himself.
In my opinion, the top track on this project is Nights, a song that, to me, feels like a personal battle with or conversation about routine. In the song, Frank Ocean speaks to and about both his past and present selves, detailing the joys and struggles of the normalities of his everyday life. He explains everything as “Every day s**t, every night s**t.” For me, it’s a simple reminder to live day by day and resist impatience; to live life, for even the simplest of moments, and to love people for themselves with an understanding that not everyone will remain in your life forever.
Currently, I feel that I’m in a very stagnant place of anxiousness. I can see where I want to be and the process that it will take to get there. It’s blurry still, but I see it. My life isn’t being completely fulfilled at the moment and I know for sure that it’s due to me not allowing myself to exist in my own creative spirit. For so long I’ve felt the need to abide some sort of constructed standard of what’s admirable or stable, and I have not allowed myself to explore what I may truly love. I’ve tried to adjust myself to align with masculine, ‘professional,’ and even stereotyped ‘authentically black’ standards. I’ve outstretched myself to please people and always be available and liked. I’m exhausted from it all, but in turn I’m finally finding the fire and urgency to take my life into my own hands and seek fulfillment.
A Seat at the Table and Blonde have managed to breathe words of encouragement into my soul. They’ve provided me with words and colors and energy. If I could, I’d tell both Solange and Frank Ocean just how grateful I am of them for the time and the emotional and physical productivity that went into creating this music. It revitalizes my creative dreams, and it gives me rhythm to sway to while I go after the things that I love and want in life.