Frank Ocean defies categorization. Whether in genre, medium, sexuality, or personal ethos, the reclusive artist has nimbly resisted both binaries and boundaries throughout his career. Ocean has been a singer, songwriter, producer, rapper, visual artist, photographer, model, and muse. For the four years between his debut studio album channel ORANGE and his almost impossibly delayed 2016 followup blond(e), Frank was also something of a fugitive.
For those who remember the dark days of the pre-blond(e) years, the newest installation of Cole Cuchna’s Dissect, an engrossing and critically beloved longform music-analysis podcast, is here to illuminate the backdrop of Ocean’s intermission. The first episode of Dissect’s third season, released Tuesday, begins by retreading the once-interminable timeline between channel ORANGE and blond(e). Cuchna, a music obsessive who began the podcast to give rap the type of analytical treatment most often reserved for classical music, endeavors not to taxonomize Ocean’s discography but rather to contextualize it.
Cuchna opens by mapping each pitstop along the “excruciatingly long” interval between records, reminding listeners of every cryptic Tumblr post, missed release deadline, and over-analyzed hint listeners obsessed over while holding their collective breath for the album that would become blond(e). The cumulative effect of this meticulous chronology is a sobering reminder of just how long Ocean kept listeners waiting (and how potent fans’ entitlement grew in the interim). We are reminded that Ocean began to disappear from the public shortly after the channel ORANGE tour, that celebrity weighed heavily on him, that July 2015—the first release date offered for the album Ocean then referred to as Boys Don’t Cry—seemed to stretch on endlessly. From the opening segment of this season’s Dissect, Cuchna approaches the enigma of Frank Ocean with curiosity and reverence.
Calling Ocean’s work “beautiful and thoughtful and authentic and full of sonic depth,” Cuchna explained to Pigeons and Planes why he selected the monastic R&B artist as Dissect’s newest subject: “Specifically, blond(e) was like a Radiohead Kid A moment for me. Here’s this artist with a massive commercial yet artistically pure album in channel ORANGE, and he follows it with a highly experimental, nuanced, and in many ways challenging album in blond(e).”
After itemizing the obstacles leading to blond(e), Cuchna steps back to invite listeners to trace a much longer timeline: the life story of Frank Ocean, née Christopher Edwin Breaux. The brief but thorough biography draws on details Ocean has shared previously: A