See, I love a lot of r&b, and I love, love Frank. I think if anything the reason why he’s popular with people who don’t like the genre, and not so beloved by some purists is because he really transcends it. Sure, Nostalgia, Ultra was a modern r&b album, very much in the mould of what you’d expect to hear in 2011. The sound wasn’t anything special, but his songwriting crept up on me, and it became one of my favourites of that year.
But Channel Orange was already a major departure from what everyone else was doing for me. Like the leap from Section.80 to GKMC for Kendrick, it just put him streets ahead of the game in terms of ambition and execution. Others will go into what his coming out meant culturally, but lyrically his characters are so richly realised, his voice so malleable (he has a great voice IMO but only uses it when he has to, preferring a crack in the voice or an almost spoken passage to get the vibe across), emotive and relatable. And the music wasn’t the autotune post-808s modern r&b, it was a rich genre sweeping, lush and yet languid journey through soul music.
By the time Blonde drops, he’s barely making r&b music anymore. If someone says they like Blonde, you’re as likely to point them in the way of Dean Blunt or King Krule as Tinashe or Kehlani. I found the album, like a lot of people, pretty jarring at first. But it’s an incredibly bold move from a guy who was more or less positioned to be the biggest male pop star in the world after CO had he wanted to be. They’re bedroom/outsider pop anthems for a youth who are anxious, spend too much time holed up in their own space and stuck on their phones. They resonate with rock fans, fans of hypnagogic pop, ambient, avant garde etc. as well as pop and r&b, and by crossing boundaries they mean a lot to a lot of people. And like it or not, he did it completely on his terms and didn’t care whether people followed him.
So I really understand if fans of r&b don’t get him. I don’t think he’s too fussed in appealing to that crowd, or any particular crowd at this point. He’s just out there doing his own thing and mostly making wonderful music in his own image, and it’s thrilling to hear someone with all the tools in the world at their disposal doing that. When I hear his voice, like on ‘New Slaves’, it cuts through all the noise and speaks right to me. Whether or not he has the body of work yet to fully deserve it, it’s a 5/5 from me.