Frank Ocean’s Real Love

Frank Ocean is the R&B singer of the moment. Does he merit all they hype? There’s no doubt but that the man can sing. I first heard him in Jay-Z and Kanye West’s tremendous “No Church In The Wild,” which owes a lot of its intensity to Ocean’s vocals. He’s been releasing some good mixtapes too. Some of his sudden fame is also due to his implicit coming-out moment, a remarkable Tumblr post talking openly about his feelings for another man. In a world where Jay-Z’s voicing ambiguous support for gay marriage is headline news, Ocean’s open love letter is bold indeed.

The online Frank Ocean buzz reached such a pitch that I finally took the plunge on his first major-label release, Channel Orange. It’s the first full album of new music I’ve bought since The Archandroid by Janelle Monáe. Does it merit the hype? I don’t know yet. I think so. It’s strange and idiosyncratic. Some of it is boilerplate R&B, some of it is wildly experimental. Most falls somewhere in between. One song that jumps out at me is “Super Rich Kids,” featuring the utterly affectless rapping of Earl Sweatshirt.

Two minutes in, Frank quotes the classic “Real Love” by Mary J Blige. A familiar quote or sample is always a good entry into unfamiliar work.

“Real Love” track was written and produced by Mark Rooney and Mark Morales of the Fat Boys. (The Fat Boys!) The distinctive beat is sampled from “Top Billin’” by Audio Two.

“Top Billin'” is a foundational text of hip-hop. lists over a hundred different quotes or samples of it. Jay-Z both samples and quotes the chorus in “What More Can I Say” — here’s the Grey Album version:

Jay and Ye also quote Audio Two’s chorus in “Otis,” at 2:28.

The Audio Two beat is a chopped-up, rearranged version of the classic drum break that kicks off “Impeach The President” by The Honeydrippers. DJ Nat “Gizmo” Robinson, the beat’s creator, achieved the sound by slicing up the Honeydrippers beat in his sampler and playing back the slices out of order.

Like “Top Billin’,” the Impeach break is a highly viral meme, inserting itself into the genome of uncountably many hip-hop and dance tracks. The chain of progeniture from the Honeydrippers to Audio Two to Mary J Blige to Frank Ocean perfectly illustrates the genetic nature of musical evolution. Originality is overrated; the best music comes from the hybridization of existing musical memes.

Here’s my mashup of many of the above tracks, enjoy.

Update: Frank Ocean is being sued by the rightsholders to “Impeach The President,” even though no whiff of “Impeach” remains in “Super Rich Kids.” In related news, De La Soul is giving away all their classic albums because they can’t sell them. Copyright is not encouraging creativity right now.