Frank Ocean is one of the more reclusive people to top Billboard charts; his mass appeal is not so much in his persona, but somewhat anomalously in the detail orientation (the very kind that led fans to be impatient about the four year gap between his most recent, Blonde, and Channel Orange) and emotional weight of his songwriting. As such, he hadn’t even done any interviews leading up to or following the release of Blonde and his visual album, Endless.
But ultimately, the New York Times, being the New York Times, landed a very long, and now just-published interview feature opportunity with Ocean, meeting him in one of the many hotels he’s been staying in for over a year since “he’s had a steady home.”
If you’re looking for a glimpse into Ocean’s process for the albums, on his own fame, or on his personal life, this is probably the only interview you’ll see for quite a while. The interview itself is a testament to the lifestyle he prefers — even as he’s revealing things about himself, he’s often revealing just how little he likes to reveal, noting, for example, his envy about how Daft Punk “can wear helmets and be one of the most famous bands in the world.”
One thing that’s already drawn a lot of attention from other sites in the interview is his decision to eschew the Grammys altogether, having chosen not to submit his music for consideration after it was solicited. Ocean tells the Times, noting the rarity with which black artists have won album of the year recently, “That institution certainly has nostalgic importance. It just doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from, and hold down what I hold down. I’d rather this be my Colin Kaepernick moment for the Grammys than sit there in the audience.”
The interview offers insight into the recording process, particularly Ocean’s meticulousness; he describes having made 50 versions of “White Ferrari,” and waiting to select one that would “give [him] peace.” He also would only back up his recordings to hard drives that he carried with him at all times. He said, “I’d rather the plane goes down in flames and the drives go down with me than somebody put out a weird posthumous release.”
For future releases, he says that the kind of artistic freedom he’s demanded of his career could mean that whatever comes next may not be a typical album; because he doesn’t have a record deal, he notes, his next release could, if he chose, come in the “half-a-song format” rather than an album format. Or, he says, he could just get a visual arts degree at the New School. He adds:
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. It’s more interesting for me to figure out how to be superior in areas where I’m naïve, where I’m a novice.