Famously reclusive musical superstar Frank Ocean gave a rare interview to the New York Times this week, speaking publicly for the first time since the twin release of his Def Jam-promoted visual album, Endless, and his self-released Blonde earlier this year. In the process, Ocean talked about skipping this year’s Grammys, cutting ties with Def Jam and his former management team, and his over-riding desire for control of his creative life.
“I had, in the midst of all of this, this feeling of isolation,” Ocean told his interviewer, referring to the days after Channel Orange made him a household name in the R&B world. “Within my circle, there was a lot of places I thought I could turn that I felt like I couldn’t turn to anymore.” Later, when asked if his retreat to London, out of the public spotlight, constituted running away, he replied, “I never thought about it like that. I always thought about it like, if your house is on fire, you need to get out of the house.“
Ocean has made it clear that part of the reason for releasing Endless ahead of Blonde was to navigate out of his contract with Def Jam, which had distribution rights to his “next” album. Once Endless cleared that obligation, Blonde was self-released (with an assist from Apple Music), something Ocean takes obvious pride in: “Well, we doubled Channel Orange first week,” he said, referring to streaming numbers for the album. “I’m always gonna be like, ‘We could have done a little bit better.’ 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.”
Ocean chose not to submit his music for Grammy consideration this year, despite being reached out to by representatives for the awards. “I think the infrastructure of the awarding system and the nomination system and screening system is dated,” he said. “I’d rather this be my Colin Kaepernick moment for the Grammys than sit there in the audience.” (To be fair, Ocean already has two of them, both for Channel Orange.)
Meanwhile, he’s not ready to answer the always-insistent “Where’s the next album?” question—or even to confirm that there’s one coming, suggesting he might do something in the visual arts instead. When his mother asked him about making a mid-career switch, Ocean apparently tried to ease her mind, telling her, “Mom, I’m rich!” Not that he was necessarily bragging; rather, Ocean said, it was “A personal service announcement to me, to just be like ‘Wait, look at your position, you have the luxury of choice.’”