For the past week, my mind has been functioning in 9 minute 57 second intervals. Over and over I’ve sat headphones in, attentive for story time with Frank Ocean. About three weeks ago, Frank Ocean released “Pyramids,” an intricate piece off of his upcoming album “Channel Orange.” The lengthy single tells a story of power, life, influence, and relationships using the character ‘Cleopatra as a central theme. Developed with historical influence, Cleo embodies beauty, power, skill, and appeal, creating the archetype that pieces this story together. Ocean showcases a perfect balance of his stellar musicianship and narrative skill in this captivating album debut.
Fans were given a glimpse of Frank Ocean’s balancing act in “American Wedding,” from Ocean’s nostalgia.ultra mixtape, where he used The Eagle’s “Hotel California” instrumental to tell an American love story. Then, he introduced his ability to build both harmonies and suspense in his songs; now, a musically matured Ocean graces his fans with another musical tale rooted in strong production and intricate writing.
The lyrics of the new single, “Pyramids” are packed with allusions to history, gender relations, power, and social influences. I could spend paragraphs dissecting the content of Ocean’s new single, but what is striking is the R&B singer’s ability to hold together this subtle content in a well developed musical piece.
The track is split into two extremes: the first content heavy, and the second ambiguous. Ocean holds together his story line using crafty beats, various points of view, strong Hip-hop influences, strong harmonies, and smooth transitions; creating a well rounded masterpiece.
Frank Ocean begins his piece with bold electronic harmonies, strong R&B vocals, and subtle blues overtones with Hip-hop flair. The unexpected blend sets the tone for musical layering and plot development. He begins with lyrics that introduce the listener to the purpose of the track and the problem in the tale. Ocean then transitions into the first verse with the help of a funky electronic breakdown; arousing musical senses and preparing for strong R&B verses and character evolution to come.
These verses shed light on Ocean’s lyrical ability. In the intro, he expresses an urgent problem, “The throne of our Queen is empty.” Using this theme, Ocean delivers the first verse using a point of view that seems to be explaining the positive side of this problem. Layering the plot and the song, the intro and lyrics are repeated; letting listeners know that the song isn’t over. Yet, the throne is still empty.
In the second verse, Ocean brings passion and strength into his vocals as he sings from an opposing point of view. He ends the verse with the lyrics “Bad dream, Cleopatra,” and a striking minor chord. Alluding to an end of the song and of Cleopatra as he has introduced her.
The first half of the song comes to an end using the same lyrical frame of the introduction with a subtle lyric change. “He has killed, Cleopatra. Cleopatra,” marks Frank Ocean’s vocal exit from this half of the song, the end of Cleopatra, and the beginning of another uncanny transition. The original beat of the song continues when suddenly, the bass line is taken away and listeners are in the midst of a slow, spacey, electronic trance. While listeners are traveling through time, Frank Ocean revives the R and B flow (equipped with a brass riff) to continue the tale of Cleopatra. He layers descriptive lyrics to create a setting for listeners and for a “…girl, for now let’s call her Cleopatra.” And tops it with the introduction of a sexy, slow, pulsating beat.