Understanding Frank Ocean’s “Nights” Beat Switch

Vitória Arantes

It takes guts to expose vulnerability, and Frank Ocean managed to pull it off beautifully.

You might know Frank Ocean from his notorious hip-hop music collective, Odd Future (OFWGKTA), or you might simply be able to associate the remarkable green hair to the former Def Jam artist. However, as far as a hype for musicians goes, Frank Ocean managed to unapologetically finesse his way into Daft Punk levels of buzz since the launch of Blonde -his second studio album released in 2016-. 

To say the least, Frank was seriously ahead of his time when he released Blonde; an ethereal melodic compilation containing a myriad of revolutionary tracks. The album’s tracks range from simple syllabic structures to remarkable pitch shifted vocals, all of which are included within the genres of alternative R&B, avant-garde soul and psychedelic pop. Blonde is a highly acclaimed album, as it presents Ocean’s introspective lyricism and a rather unconventional, progressive sound.

Each song from Blonde contains its own unique background history, forever holding a spot in the space-time continuum musical realm. The genre-defying Nights track, for instance, plays a major role in the album -one might say it is one of the most significant compositions of the album.- The sudden beat switch in Nights and its unparalleled manifesting powers is complex to the extent of becoming a field of study to Frank Ocean stans. 

The beat switch in Nights defines literal change in the mood for the entire album. The album is exactly one hour long, and the transition in Nights is at the halfway mark of the album at 30 minutes within its stream. The beat switch represents a turning point for the album. It is not only a switch in the song, but a switch in the album. Such musical switches are part of a theory known as musical frisson, which, as per described by Huron and Margulis (2011) is “a musically-induced effect that shows close links to musical surprise,” and is associated with a “pleasant tingling feeling,” through raised body hairs. In other words, you literally get goosebumps as a psychophysiological response to the auditory stimulus in Nights. One might even call it an emotional thrill, as it links emotional intensity to tangible sensations localized on any region of the body. Frank Ocean is not the only musician to utilize such a musical phenomenon. Similar patterns can be seen on songs like SICKO MODE by Travis Scott and Drake or New Slaves by Kanye West.

The reason this beat switch sounds so good is because it comes from absolute calamity. The distorted guitars, the string section, the collection of string instruments, and the reversed drum sections all arise from this beautifully chaotic place, where everything is presented in a crazy congested manner. It goes from zero to one hundred in a matter of seconds, and you never expect it, which is why it is so good.

Throughout the entire album, Ocean seeks to portray the motif of duality; which continues to be seen in the tracklist. For instance, if you count Nights as being both the last song of the first half of the album and the first song of the second half, you also realize that the beginning of Nights goes more along with songs like Pink + White and Ivy, whereas the second part after the beat change matches up with Siegfried and Futura Free regarding production style and lyrics. Another interesting concept to look at is the fact that the album listing is called Blonde, however, the album cover spells Blond. Going back to the theme of duality, some fans speculate that Ocean intended on changing the spelling of both names in order to emphasize the themes of duality between masculinity and femininity in his life; with regards to the singer’s sexual experiences. 

The album’s atmospheric tone brings to life Frank Ocean’s most vulnerable. It is almost as if Ocean is standing in front of his fans at his rawest spiritual form, -emotions unsugarcoated-  and saying “this is me, love it or leave it.” Must they love his strength and courage to throw himself out there in such an unshielded form. Must they praise his audacity to show his true and authentic self to the eye of the public. It takes guts to expose vulnerability, and Frank Ocean managed to pull it off beautifully.

Frank Ocean - Blonde Lyrics and Tracklist | Genius

Frank Ocean’s alternate Blonde cover

Top 10 R&B Albums You Should Check Out (Age-Ordered)

By Vitória Arantes

In light of the recent (faulty and unjustly served I might add) Grammy nominations that came out last week, how about we check out some R&B albums that in my opinion, served the music scenario well. These are few from many top notch R&B albums that made history, take a look…

1 – The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill by Ms. Lauryn Hill (1998)

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2 – Voodoo by D’angelo (2000)

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3 – Take Care by Drake (2011)

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4 – A Seat At The Table by Solange (2016)

A Seat At The Table by Solange (2016)

5 – Blonde by Frank Ocean (2016)

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6 – Anti by Rihanna (2016)

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7 – CTRL by SZA (2017)

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8 – Sonder Son by Brent Faiyaz (2017)

Sonder Son by Brent Faiyaz (2017)

9 – After Hours by The Weeknd (2020)

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10 – Chilombo Jhené Aiko (2020)

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Mental Illness in the Music Industry: Is There Hope?

By Vitória Arantes

It is crucial for the musician to have an oasis; an escape in the midst of chaos. Those who are lucky enough, find their nirvana in the process of music making. 

There is no doubt that modern day musicians are in an endless game against anxiety. Money problems, self medication, and the pressure to please the public are life changing factors that might become great issues in the artist’s life if not treated correctly. Being a musician is a rather emotional rollercoaster, filled with the ups and downs of the thrills of life. However, it is also very exhausting and takes up most of the artist’s energy. According to Genius Magazine, in 2019, the digital distribution platform Record Union conducted a research regarding the music industry. The survey stated that more than 73 percent of independent music makers suffer from symptoms of mental illness, and that anxiety and depression were the most common conditions mentioned in the songs. It is crucial for the musician to have an oasis; an escape in the midst of chaos. Those who are lucky enough, find their nirvana in the process of music making. 

In light of the news that Kid Cudi’s and Kanye West’s Kids See Ghosts collaborative album is possibly making a comeback, it is only fair to analyze a successful example of how music managed to heal a musician’s wounds. 

“I was ecstatic to be alive,” says Cudi to Esquire Magazine when discussing Kids See Ghosts, a collaborative album launched in July 2018 with the rapper Kanye West. Followed by some time spent in rehab in 2016 and a year off making music due to depression, Scott premiered his comeback alongside Ye, who was not only a shoulder to Cudi, but also a mentor who was crucial in Cudi’s path to recovery through music. “I felt a little bit more confident because I had my friend lifting me up,” Kid Cudi stated when questioned about the role that Kanye played during the music making process. The self titled album was released through the label imprints, GOOD Music (an American record label founded by Kanye in 2004, co-signed by Def Jam Recordings), and Wicked Awesome Records. It also has a total of seven songs all produced by Kanye and Kid Cudi, along with the collaboration of worldwide known artists like André 3000, Justin Vernon, Cashmere Cat, and so on.

Mental Illness in the Music Industry: Is There Hope?

“Kids See Ghosts”: a hip hop duo formed by Kid Cudi (left) and Kanye West (right).

The album is filled with messages and symbols that reflect on Cudi’s journey and how he managed to emerge from a catastrophe, stronger and better than ever. In the song “Reborn,” for instance, the hip-hop duo sing about rising above their errors and overcoming the “lemons” that life gives you with lyrics like “I’m movin’ forward,” and “peace is somethin’ that starts with me.” Clearly, the rappers grew a very fruitful harvest with those “lemons,” because two Gold-certified singles (“Feel the Love” & “4th Dimension”), one Platinum track (“Reborn”) and a No. 2 debut on the Billboard 200 albums chart does not grow on trees.

Mental Illness in the Music Industry; Is There Hope?

Album cover of “Kids See Ghosts” debut album. Artwork designed by the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami.

On most “recent” events, during an interview with Complex in September 2019, Cudi confirmed his and Kanye’s plan to develop more Kids See Ghosts projects. “There will be more Kids See Ghosts albums. Kanye already told me he wants to start working on the second one,” affirms Cudi. Although this might seem like it is not happening anymore because it was announced over a year ago, an artist’s work should never be rushed. Furthermore, a fan that encountered Cudi on the streets in December 2019, made a tweet testifying that the rapper stated he was working on the album during that time. Could there be hope, after all?

Mental Illness in the Music Industry; Is There Hope?

Tweet made by a fan when encountering Kid Cudi. Via Twitter.

“I’m really learning the art of pacing myself. I don’t think I knew how to pace myself before. I was always just like, ‘Work, work, work, work, work. This is my dream. Ain’t no telling how long it’s going to last.’ …Whenever we feel like we’ve seen it all in life, or there’s nothing more to do, God tells you, ‘Yo, you’re not done here. You still have more work to do here.’” Kid Cudi, on how collaborating with Yeezus helped him balance his work mentality and take one step at a time. 

Thankfully, Scott Mescudi managed to release himself from the chains that his mental illness pinned him into and consequently, showed to the world that there is always light at the end of the tunnel. Kid Cudi’s breakthrough served as an example to the world that embracing what holds you down is better than trying to blind yourself from it. Kid See Ghosts is a clear example that there are always better and healthier alternatives to overcoming your obstacles. Cudi used his passion – music – as a way out, and the commitment he made to living in alignment with what makes his heart skip beats played a significant role in his healing. After all, this is what we should all live for: passion. It is what tingles our sense of individuality and stimulates us towards innovation. 

Mental Illness in the Music Industry; Is There Hope?

The album’s “price tag” showing its tracklist, awards, collaborators, producers and release date.

Sources

https://www.complex.com/music/2018/12/kid-cudi-mental-health-red-table-talk

https://artists.spotify.com/blog/a-psychologists-take-on-mental-health-for-musicians

https://www.complex.com/music/2020/10/kid-cudi-says-recording-kids-see-ghosts-with-kanye-west-saved-him

https://genius.com/a/kid-cudi-speaks-on-how-kids-see-ghosts-helped-him-overcome-self-doubt-after-rehab

https://genius.com/a/kid-cudi-confirms-kids-see-ghosts-2-explains-why-he-didn-t-want-kanye-west-too-involved-in-his-early-music#:~:text=Learn%20More-,Kid%20Cudi%20Confirms%20’Kids%20See%20Ghosts%202’%20%26%20Explains%20Why,Involved%20In%20His%20Early%20Music&text=%22I%20had%20my%20single%20with,my%20albums%20were%20all%20me.%22