Frank Ocean Doesn't Talk A Lot, Is Obsessed With BMWs

02.07.13 14 Comments

This weekend’s Sunday New York Times features a big profile of Frank Ocean in the Times Magazine. Because I am a mostly good person, I have read the entire piece and digested it all for you. With that said, here are the 5 things I found most interesting in the profile.

1. Frank Ocean listens to himself concerning all matters Franks Ocean

He’s 25, but he speaks like somebody who expects to be listened to. His managers, Christian and Kelly Clancy, told me the night before — by way of explaining that anything could happen, or not, interview-wise — that Frank Ocean makes the decisions where Frank Ocean is concerned. They help him steer, but he goes only if he wants to.

2. He has a thing for BMWs and is currently having a custom refurbishing done on a vintage 1990 BMW E30 sedan

He pointed to the shiny metallic exhaust tips that were about to be welded at the back of the car and said: “No. Black. I don’t want it shiny.” Perfectly courteous, but firm. A technician removed the tips. When he made it around to the front of the car, he noticed a piece of black metalwork with an insignia on it. “What’s up with the language?” he asked. “Do we need the language on it?” The owner of the garage said he could get Ocean a plain black one, but he didn’t think it was necessary because once the engine was complete you’d never see it. “It doesn’t matter if you can see it,” Ocean said.

This was clearly the same man who produced “Channel Orange,” one of the most meticulously constructed records of 2012. “I have no delusions about my likability, in every scenario,” he told me earlier. “I know that in order to get things done the way you want them, oftentimes your position will be unpopular.” The BMW that he is rebuilding will have the steering wheel on the right-hand side, because he wants it that way, and the engine and body of the car will be as quiet and as light as possible. “You won’t even hear me,” he said, looking into the glow of the garage. “I want it to be a sleeper. I’ll pull up next to you, and you won’t even know I’m there” — a smile came on his face — “and then as soon as the light turns, I’m gone.”

3. Ocean is acutely aware of the image he projects

Sometimes songs mean more to us when we don’t totally grasp the lyrics. Ocean is acutely aware of this. He knows that, as much as anything, he is selling an idea. “That’s why image is so important,” he said. “That’s why you’ve got to practice brevity when you do interviews like this. I could try to make myself likable to you so you could write a piece that keeps my image in good standing, because I’m still selling this, or I could just say, ‘My art speaks for itself.’ ” He practices brevity in most things. He curates and updates his image on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr deftly and consistently, but he never overshares. “As a writer, as a creator, I’m giving you my experiences,” he said in the GQ interview. “But just take what I give you. You ain’t got to pry beyond that.” To me, he said, “I don’t know if it’s a shield or whatever, but I want to deflect as much as I can onto my work.”

4. He’s going off the grid for a while after he performs at the Grammys..

Ocean told me he was headed to Shanghai after the Grammys with his equipment in tow, some new recordings already in hand, and plans to write “in remote locations for the next two years.” In previous interviews he mentioned also wanting to write a book. “I’ve started writing the book,” he told me. “You can say that. It’s fiction, and it’s about brothers. That’s all I’m going to say.”

5. He doesn’t talk a lot, at work or at home

To write the songs for “Channel Orange,” Ocean turned to James Ryan Ho, a producer who goes by the name Malay. He would become Ocean’s most creative partner in the making of the record. As Ocean remembers it, on their first day together, with Malay at the console and Ocean in the vocal booth, they came up with “Super Rich Kids,” one of the fan favorites from the record. Over the next two days, they wrote the 10-minute track “Pyramids.”

There was very little talking in the studio. This is a common refrain for people who work with Ocean. (Da’Jon, a young cousin from New Orleans who was living with Ocean when I visited, said that they sometimes go days without speaking to each other, and that he would occasionally ask Ocean if everything was O.K., just to be sure.) While Malay created the musical beds, Ocean would type on his laptop, humming melodies and trying out combinations. For mood they sometimes had an old movie playing in the background with no sound, and in later stages Ocean put up posters of Pink Floyd and Bruce Lee for inspiration.

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