Frank Ocean Talks Snubbing Grammys, Ditching Labels in Rare Interview
Enigmatic musician opens up about making ‘Blonde,’ ‘Endless’ in first major chat in years
Speaking with The New York Times, Ocean opened up about the lengthy gap between his 2012 breakout, Channel Orange, and the two projects he released earlier this year. Ocean admitted that after Channel Orange, he felt both a personal isolation and a lack of control over his career, while he was simultaneously grappling with intense writers block. The latter, he said, didn’t break until he reconnected with a childhood friend from New Orleans, saying their conversation “made me feel as though I should talk about the way I grew up more.”
Still, Ocean’s meticulous perfectionism played a role in the delay as well: “When I was making the record, there was 50 versions of “White Ferrari,'” he said. “I have a 15-year-old little brother, and he heard one of the versions, and he’s like, ‘You gotta put that one out, that’s the one.’ And I was like, ‘Naw, that’s not the version,’ because it didn’t give me peace yet.”
During this time, Ocean also replaced his entire management team, began negotiations to free himself from his contract with Def Jam and ultimately bought back all of his masters with his own money. “It started to weigh on me that I was responsible for the moves that had made me successful, but I wasn’t reaping the lion’s share of the profits, and that was problematic for me,” he said.
While Def Jam remained the distributor on Endless, Ocean had complete control of Blonde, which arrived days after the former’s release. Blonde debuted atop the Billboard charts, but Ocean said having that control allowed him to feel less pressure about how the album would perform.
Still he cheekily admitted, “I guess there’s a satisfaction that comes with looking at numbers like that, and I’m making, like, No Limit-type of equity, Master P-type of equity on my record.”
Despite the critical and commercial success of Blonde, Ocean decided not to submit the album for Grammy consideration, saying the institution “doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from, and hold down what I hold down.” He added: “I think the infrastructure of the awarding system and the nomination system and screening system is dated. I’d rather this be my Colin Kaepernick moment for the Grammys than sit there in the audience.”
Ocean also opened up a bit about the future, briefly mentioning the possibility of live performances and pop-up shops while discussing the listenership data obtained from downloads and streams of Blonde and Endless. As for his next musical project, Ocean fittingly offered few details. Though he spoke about having unlimited options now that he was out of a record deal — and the article ended with him arriving at a recording studio — Ocean said he might step back from music and focus on learning a new craft.
“I believe that I’m one of the best in the world at what I do, and that’s all I’ve ever wanted to be,” Ocean said. “It’s more interesting for me to figure out how to be superior in areas where I’m naïve, where I’m a novice.”