Five years ago, the world was a very different place. Blue Ivy was the sole heir to Beyonce's throne, Girls
was still relevant, and Barack Obama was coming up on re-election. Maybe most important, though, was the rise of Frank Ocean
. When Channel Orange
dropped, everything changed. Those 17 tracks spanned every genre imaginable, paving the way for future generations of artists to boldly experiment with traditional R&B storytelling.
Frank Ocean is past, present, and future. The dreamy, electro-funk sound of Channel Orange
instantly recalls Prince
's Purple Rain
, with strong ties to the classic soul sounds of Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. But at the same time, the record was unlike anything we had ever heard before. The title alone is proof of Ocean's complexity and intelligence as an artist - it's a reference to synesthesia, a neurological condition that causes a person to associate colors and sounds. Before it was even a trend, and without even being a film, Frank Ocean created a conceptually stunning visual album.
With "Forrest Gump" and "Thinkin Bout You" responsible for catapulting Ocean's career, it would have been easy to approach Channel Orange
thinking you already knew how it would sound. Nothing about this album is predictable, though. Common themes of unrequited love and longing are explored in such an uncommon way. You get swept up in the mythology of "Pyramids," the sepia-toned imagery of "Sweet Life," the haunting organ of "Bad Religion." Every song flows so easily into the next, but each song has its own personality.
Maybe even more groundbreaking than the music itself was the open letter
Ocean posted to his Tumblr in the weeks before Channel Orange
was released. Simply titled "thank you's," the post described the inspiration behind the album - his first love. The letter was beautifully honest, giving us a deeper understanding of Ocean's artistic vision and identity. At the time, the thought of an openly bisexual artist in the hip-hop scene seemed like a fantasy. Frank Ocean made it a reality. In just a few elegant paragraphs, he turned a genre marked by a history of homophobia completely upside down.
In that open letter, Frank Ocean wrote to his muse: "I won't forget you. I won't forget the summer. I'll remember who I was when I met you." That's how it feels to look back at the first time you listened to Channel Orange
five years ago. Frank Ocean is building an empire with starry-eyed nostalgia and unflinching honesty, and Channel Orange
provides the perfect foundation.