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On D’Angelo, Frank Ocean And The Veil Of Anonymity

By J. Tinsley / 06.26.14

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Beauty resides in anonymity. Frustration does, too. And somehow, both have come to define two of music’s most notorious enigmas, D’Angelo and Frank Ocean.

Last week, Kevin Liles confirmed to Billboard’s Jem Aswad, the secluded singer’s long-awaited new album would see a release date well before New Year’s Eve. As in NYE 2014. Meanwhile, news emerged yesterday of Frank Ocean firing both his publicist and management team as the equally mysterious crooner continues to prep his own much-anticipated new body of work.

Again, there’s frustration in Frank and D’s anonymity. The pledges of confirmed dates which traditionally fail to hold weight or months (years in D’Angelo’s case) seemingly without an ounce of information become taxing.

Yet, there is beauty.

On the surface, we know very little about Frank Ocean outside nostalgia, ultra, Channel Orange, a sporadic feature and one hilarious check. As for D’Angelo, he’s become sort of R&B/neo-soul’s boogie man, a mythical figure who once dominated tastes, life soundtracks and one with lingering hints of a return teasing fans just enough to still care. Brown Sugar and Voodoo serve their purpose, two largely accepted bonafide groundbreaking contributions defining its era of music.

But, like his younger esoteric neophyte, the man once dubbed potentially the Marvin Gaye of his generation is largely relegated as music’s equivalent to a Twitter account with an egg profile photo.

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Because we operate under today’s 24/7 news cycle, every facet of many artists’ lives are handcrafted under the public’s overwhelmingly unforgiving and judgmental lenses. By the time an album drops, 75% of the inspiration behind the music has already been documented through social media and other avenues of the sort, albeit voluntarily or through an entity in the vein of TMZ or MediaTakeOut employing eyes seemingly in every major city, club, restaurant and elevator shaft in America.

Not the case for D or Frank.

Methinks a level of appreciation should reside in that nuance. The element of surprise is all but gone in music for reasons stated and more that weren’t. There’s nothing wrong with going into an album blindfolded (especially when we’re allowed to stream it beforehand). There’s nothing wrong with having an artist explain his or her passions, achievements, downfalls and insecurities firsthand without the narration of an outside party or media conglomerate whose sole purpose is to tag the word “exclusive” in their headlines.

There’s nothing wrong with not knowing every waking detail of an artist’s life, much of which has jack shit to do with their music.

Of course, Frank and D’Angelo must follow through on their part and deliver the goods. Nabil Elderkin directed the initial clip for Ocean’s “Pyramids” and has reportedly been working with him on new material. He isn’t doing much to dispel the anticipation either.

“Everyone should be excited about this new album — that shit is fire,” said the director. “He’s making a great record. It blows the sophomore-album myth out of the water.”

As for Liles, he’s a businessman and understands the power of marketing said business.

“…it’s very melodic and there’s an influence of all the things he loves: there’s James Brown, there’s Prince, and everything people grew up loving D’Angelo for, from ‘Brown Sugar’ to ‘Voodoo.’ “It’s a mixture and an evolution of where he is right now,” he said. “And you have to think that when you have the opportunity to work 10 years on an album, that album’s truly gonna be what you want it to be. Is it limited to the kind of sound that he did with the earlier records? No, it’s not.”

Hopefully 2014 is the year. Because see that over there? That’s a pitcher of Kool-Aid. I’m sipping. Countless others are, too. Communion-like sips, but we’re sipping nonetheless.

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Previously: “Only Bad Religion Could Have Me Feeling The Way I Do…” | On D’Angelo, Questlove And An Album 13 Years In The Making


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