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8 Underrated Frank Ocean Lyrics

Carter Fife
Gary Coronado, LA Times

The Frank Ocean canon is just as long as it is interesting – a catalog shrouded in secrecy and mythos that few modern artists could cultivate. From his early days as a songwriter, to his time running with the Odd Future collective, to his eventual breakout success as a solo artist, Frank Ocean’s music has consistently remained a cultural focal point over the past decade. Whether or not you first heard him on an Odd Future deep-cut in 2010, or if you were just put on last week, here are some of our favorite Frank Ocean quotes.

1. “Said the dick long as a swan neck / Put some real swans in the pond then” - Frank Ocean, “Sideways,” Endless (2016)

To kick this list off, I felt it necessary to include one of my favorites. "Sideways" is a track full of tension and melancholic indifference, and the delivery in which Frank Ocean delivers this line is almost comical. With a deadpan earnestness, he delivers this sexual suggestion to an unknown subject in a way that occupies some space between classy and needlessly – frank (no pun intended). Though many of Frank Ocean’s lyrics require some amount of speculation, it seems fairly apparent that this line shares more in common with a sexual invitation than song lyrics, but you have to admire his confidence.

2. “Course you know the vibe's just as fly as the rhymes / On the song, cut and you could sample the feel / Headphone bleed, make this shit sound real” - Frank Ocean, “Oldie,” The OF Tape Vol. 2 (2012)

When I was a freshman in high school, I remember meeting a family-friend of a girl that I was into. When he saw the Odd Future sticker on my phone, he asked what my favorite track of theirs was, but when I responded with “Oldie” he said something shitty – I had failed his test. I know “Oldie” isn’t exactly a deep cut, but I do feel that despite its popularity this track is still severely underrated (video included). On a track featuring the majority of the OF crew, Frank Ocean would deliver his first rap performance filled with quotable lines, but none resonated with me as much as the one above. There was a genuine authenticity in the early OF discography, and though I wouldn’t say it was worth gatekeeping, it was definitely something unique that helped propel many of their members into stardom as time progressed. Frank’s use of organic imagery (cutting and blood) was appropriate because they really were pouring themselves into the music. In an industry marred by artifice and greed, Odd Future’s rare candor was what we desperately needed.

3. “I'm coating my lungs in the muddy / I'm cold like I'm sick with the flu / I cover my face and I'm bloody / That Spring / Summer 2002” - Frank Ocean, “RAF,” Cozy Tapes, Vol.2: Too Cozy (2017)

Though brand idolatry plagued hip-hop during it’s "bling-era’" tracks like this would work to transform this trend, catalyzing a modern fashion connoisseurship in hip-hop culture that did not exist before. That is not to say that there was no meaningful and political use of fashion prior to A$AP Rocky existing, but mainstream tracks like this helped normalize an interest in fashion and it’s history. Frank Ocean weaving together references to drug use, wealth, his fit, and Raf Simons’ infamous S/S ‘02 collection is nothing short of amazing, and the energy that he provides to this track is unparalleled. Whether or not you gave a shit about fashion, nobody could resist throwing their back out to this track.

4. “Pourin' this red, sky gettin' blue / We couldn't tell if it's IMAX or not / Butterfly hinges on a cocoon” - Frank Ocean, “Rolls Royce Bitch (Freestyle),” blonded RADIO (2017)

Debuted a year after the release of Blonde, Frank Ocean must have really been soaking up the success during the seventh episode of blonded RADIO. Because "Provider" was Frank’s big release from this episode, his remix of 2Chainz’s indie-rock flavored banger gets overlooked by even the most diehard fans. Ruminating on his past and ascent into the ‘sweet life’ (pun intended), Frank Ocean notes that life for him is presently idyllic, comparable to an IMAX film. He’s saying more than just “bro, my life’s a MOVIE” – he’s reflecting on the personal change and growth that has paved his path to fame. Even when in his ‘cocoon’ state, Frank was still optimistic and forward thinking with the "butterfly hinges" that allowed his escape. The final line is also a subtle reference to the butterfly doors that likely adorn one of the cars in his massive collection. Layers upon layers, but that seems pretty standard for Frank at this point.

5. “I memorized your body exposed / I can fuck you all night long / From a memory alone” - Frank Ocean, “Memrise,” Tumblr (2014)

Frank Ocean fans are notoriously ravenous (see: Camp Flog Gnaw 2019), so if Frank Ocean deep-cuts even exist, then “Memrise” would have to be my favorite. Released randomly on his Tumblr while fans nervously awaited news on Frank Ocean’s then-titled Boys Don’t Cry, “Memrise” is a super lowkey and low fidelity track that sees Frank Ocean’s signature romantic language at work. Frank knows the way to their place and doesn’t need directions, but just in case he can’t come over, he knows them so well that he can simulate sex from memory alone. Frank is attached to this person, and he’s confident yet anxious, but through his pride listeners hear a hint of nervousness at the prospect of his lover switching up on him. His feelings are intense, so much so that they aren’t even dependent on the physical presence of another. Even the track’s title – ‘Memrise’ – could perhaps be a reference to the word ‘memories’, ‘memorize’, ‘mesmerized’, or all of the above.

6. “Whip ain’t got no gas tank / but it still got woodgrain” - Frank Ocean, “Pyramids,” Channel Orange (2012)

Once again, I’m well aware "Pyramids" is not a deep-cut, but this song is so incredible that no amount of popularity could make me think it was overrated. In our generation’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Frank Ocean moves through multiple acts detailing a complex relationship he has with a stripper who is “working at the pyramids”. When he wakes up, the Cleopatra comparisons end and he’s stuck with the reality in front of him. While he may be talking about an actual car – one that he admires for it’s futuristic lack of gas tank and classic woodgrain – he may also be using ‘whip’ as a metaphor for the women with whom he is currently falling for. Her lack of "gas tank" might suggest Frank Ocean does not detect longevity in their relationship, but he admires her for the surface-level pleasures she affords him. Though much of this is speculation, the song does sample the 1982 film Blade Runner, and thus the "pyramid" (where the powerful and evil corporation operates out of) where she works could reflect a conflicting sense of hopelessness and forward-thinking sageness. Frank Ocean loves spending time with her, but insecure about knowing things may end due to forces outside of his control.

7. “Is it a deathwish, to doze off helpless, / and leave myself at the mercy of you?” - Frank Ocean, “Deathwish [ASR],” Endless (2017)

"Deathwish" is a more somber-leaning track from Blonde’s sister album, which sees Frank Ocean piling on symbolic layers until we forget what the original line was. Is the line (and title) a reference to ASR steering, a function that prevents tires slipping when losing control of a car? Is Frank the driver dozing off, or is he the passenger? Is he talking to his potentially self-driving car, the driver, or God himself? Is the track instead another manifestation of Frank’s complicated relationship with substances, where he dozes off hoping he’ll recover and wake up the following morning? Would he be talking to himself then, or perhaps the drugs, or maybe God again? Is the line symbolic for a relationship, as he states he needs to trust the person to get a good sleep? Is this track post argument, where he hopes sleeping will alleviate their issues rather than intensify them? Nobody knows, but it is definitely something to think about next time you go for a long drive!

8. “Trophy case still light, body need a race stripe / And these minerals on my body break light / And these reds on my body brake light” - Frank Ocean, “Provider,” blonded RADIO (2017)

For the final underrated Frank Ocean lyric, we have a brief excerpt from his 2017 single “Provider.” Though this one isn’t incredibly profound, offering some seasoned wisdom about drugs or relationships, it is just a perfect example of the precise and careful wordplay that Frank Ocean fans may be overly accustomed to. The first line is a reference to the fact that despite his status, Frank Ocean is not an incredibly decorated artist when it comes to awards. With the only music of his submitted for Grammy consideration being Channel Orange, and his release schedule being dodgy at best, Frank has not won many awards in the conventional sense. Despite this, wealth has certainly not escaped him – as we see in this excerpt’s second line, an incredibly nuanced way to say that his diamonds/gems/jewels are sparkly as fuck. The last line is simply a reference to red brake lights and stop lights. There are a lot of moving parts to even the most overlooked Frank Ocean lyrics, so it is important that we pause every once in a while and look deeply into the music that is put in front of us. Though the future of Frank Ocean and his music is always uncertain, hopefully it won’t be long before he returns to music’s main stage and delivers fans another classic. Until then, it might be wise to dive into his back catalog, and check for things you may have missed.

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