After the release of Blonde, Frank Ocean is no stranger to wealth and fame. Free from the claws of record executives on his new album, Ocean is in his happiest, final form: “skipping showers and switching socks, sleeping good and long.” A departure from his artist-in-love, whimsical lenses he put on for his first album, Channel ORANGE, Ocean’s newest single, “Biking,” highlights the highs and lows of his life, featuring artists that have been present for all his downfalls and triumphs. First, Jay-Z raps, “‘fore it goes down, get you some ice.” His entire verse actually represents the cycle of wealth and poverty, warning listeners to preserve and enjoy their riches before life goes down.
Ocean has been on multiple tracks of Jay-Z’s, high from the buzz of Channel Orange’s success. Of course, Jay-Z’s verse is not random, or even uncalled for. Jay-Z’s journey to success, from selling CDs in Brooklyn, to having hundreds of millions of dollars at his disposal, speaks to the themes in “Biking.” After Jay-Z, Frank Ocean chimes in, lamenting about being unable to ask for help on problems unseen. However, the third verse comes in and he begins to talk about his successes: “Open the sky, get a handful.” With clever quips like “God gave what you could handle / I got a grip like the handle,” he summons Tyler, the Creator, who finishes the song with more concrete references to dirt bikes and wheels.
Jay-Z raps about the cycle of wealth, Ocean raps about the cycle of hardship, while Tyler raps about literally biking through California, his main domain. The song is brilliant, split into three modes of biking, of the ups and downs of a mountain. With clever delivery from Frank and his guests, the simplistic guitar music serves as a toned down foundation for the audience to be more focused on the lyrical content and delivery. While it may seem that Ocean may have gotten cocky with the success of Blonde, I think he’s truly being himself – relishing in the gold, but lamenting about the old cheap glitter of his younger, more desperate years.
“Biking” may be a major departure in attitude and flow from his work on Nostalgia, Ultra, Channel ORANGE and even Blonde/Endless. After four long years filled with false hopes and reports, he released Endless via music video and Blonde without a record label. Both of these albums are incredibly personal and emotionally heavy works of art.
Ocean references lost loves, losses of innocence, heartbreak, poverty, Hurricane Katrina and his struggles with his sexuality. But with songs like “Chanel” and even “Biking,” there is still the strange genius in his writing present that handles aspects of his life in a different, maybe materialistic, way. Now, he has material success while still trying to stay true to his independent image and artistry. He saw both sides like “Chanel” while exploring heavy issues like racial profiling and gender identity. Now, he’s on a million dollar bike while lamenting issues such as ephemerality of material and the cyclical struggles of life.
In ‘Biking,’ Ocean references lost loves, losses of innocence, heartbreak and poverty. Photo courtesy of XXL.mag.com