I wish I knew at 16, 17, 18, 19 and 29 years old, that this album would be made. This is black adolescence and pubescence at it's most beautiful, dark, and twisted. Subscribing to the black male archetype except, women won't be used in the traditional manner of bolstering a fragile masculine identity. This is the feeling of the fantasy unfulfilled. This is the countless amount of conversations never had. The silence that so many of us in between, latched onto. The emotion in the silence. The gazes we added definition to. The pains of love that we romanticized. Flowers that couldn't bloom because it was lacking. Lacking light. Lacking space.
Listening to this album has carried me backwards through a wave of emotions. The past now current again. But now, even the past is current again. Waves of these adolescent times still rippling. So many lines of this album just take my breath away. I hesitate to call this a review. The musical arrangement is grand and necessary, but I'm listening to Frank. Listening to what he says. Listening to how he says it. Listening to the why. A few lines make me sad as I reminisce upon them, but then I'm hit with a line that follows, that changes my mind, and facial expression like that super shared meme of Alonzo Mourning having his Eureka moment while sitting on the bench, looking off into the distance.
I realize that I listen to this record on repeat, because much of my heart is still here. This is a journey through emotions. Through memories. Flashbacks. So well executed even through the sadness. We remember. We remember forgetting the ones that loved us while we chased the ones who wouldn't, or couldn't rather. Ocean is a wounded warrior. A Prince of a man. A flawlessly lazy rapper. An adult. A decision maker. I question it piece by piece and as a whole. How this man, so flawed in love, creates an artistic masterpiece. I cried. I put my hand over my heart. Emotion rushed to the top of my neck and got stuck there as I relive emotions that I thought I set afire long ago and watched the wind carry the ashes away. I write letters and send hugs to young Roy and young Frank.
He questions, "did you call me from a seance? You are from my past life," and I sent applause in the direction of his scrotum. The moment he stepped out of the cloud of un-love, to speak to a once love in such a tone. "Where the fuck did you come from? I thought I was over you and over this." The master of the disappearing act has reappeared? Again. I mean it was the cuntiest, most clever thing I heard on a record. It's graceful, well placed, shade. "Hope you're doing well Bruh." The use of Bruh underlines our interaction and simultaneously undermines it. This masking label I overuse to acknowledge you as my friend though my heart beats for you. There's nothing shadier than wishing your past well. It's grown, it's forgiving and the same time dismissive. Right when you thought you were over that love. Over and done with your past. Over that friend. They reemerge to rifle through their old things. You are their old things.
The forgiveness in the love is what surprised me. The compromise of an infatuation. "Keep a place for me. I'll sleep between y'all, it's nothing." Can you fathom having esteem so low that you would actually consider being someone's number 2, instead of trying to be someones number 1? Would they ever know the pain of finding out the one you love has a baby on the way. He has experienced this. I've experienced this. Just to have you, I will settle for a piece of you if I cannot have the whole you. Real thoughts that I once considered. A young boy, operating as a number 2 because he has never been number 1, and never considers being number 1. Silly. These were thoughts I once had. My heart.
We listen to Mama's voicemail, warning us about getting hooked on drugs in college. "Listen, stop trying to be someone else. Be secure with yourself!" But Mama, "there's hell on Earth and the city's on fire, inhale, inhale, there's heaven." That part killed me. The realest rebuttal. We often think of the state of many black men, and images in hip hop that reflect a culture of self-medication. Here we understand self-medication in a way we ignorantly dismissed. Let's do a quick exercise. Raise your hand if you have medicated yourself to heal wounds of a lost love. Raise your hand if you have medicated yourself because you have seen the world burning around you. Because you felt unsafe. You needed a healing. Even if it was just a band-aid. From police brutality, and feeling unsafe, you inhaled, in hell, to feel heaven. We hear those stern words from our mothers, telling us that being ourselves is enough. But she just saying that. She doesn't know the pain of sending love to a place that would never return. Is Mama talking about my sexuality when she tells me that being myself is just enough? Will she always be there or will I have to find a new family? Does Mama know that I'm hurting as a black man who is gay in America? That it wasn't me, but society that has made me insecure in the first place. I have to heal wounds that I did not create. Does she know that it's so hard for me to find the most basic things on Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs? Love, Safety, Shelter. There is nothing more terrifying than growing older in this world and finding that you're alone.
This is the teen, gay, version of Lemonade. I keep referring to adolescence because at 23, I came out. Late. Still loving like a teenager. I felt as though, that hiding life, that untruthful life, had grown childish. There are many of men, communities, who never know the feeling of reciprocity. Who will never be able to be free enough to desire more. Of being loved properly. Of loving someone available. Of dating a man that loves you back, publicly. I always referred to being gay as everything but the sexual act. There are men who have sex with men. I always wanted to live with a man. I always wanted to have a family with a man. I've always wanted a man to come home to me, and a man to come home to. Romance with a man. Public displays of affection with a man. I still want that. All of the seeds we've dropped that become un-flowers. Hearts too cold? Not enough sun? Frank calls this the start of nothing.
I wonder who wonders about me. About us. About what we do to find love. About how despite us becoming professional seekers, love has continued to become a master hider. How we make love to those who we are not in love with. It happens. They ask how. We make love to strangers all the time. All the love we have inside of us, that seeps from our secret eyes. To secret corners. Meets at secret times. Passion, and love, and excitement, and adrenaline, and fear, all rolled into one act, that we will cherish for longer than we need to. This album is the urban Brokeback Mountain.
This album touches me. It fucks me, fucks me up and then hugs me. This album is emotions unresolved. In an embrace it whispers, "it's okay." Throughout. "It's okay." The album I wish I had when I was 16. The album I am most grateful for at 30. The heartbreak and healing that will start and end when it is supposed to. No unnecessary ellipses. No adolescent view will have to be carried into adulthood. It makes me feel sexy. It excites me. As I remember that dangerous love that one raced my heart so fast. The excitement of might. Thinking of late nights on the phone, not talking about anything in particular. All of the thwarted meetings and plans that fell through. The black, gay, coming of age story. I wonder if the world ever understood that we, young, black, gay boys had first loves too. We also experienced the wonder years. We also met the fate and felt the sting. For too long, because it was a secret. A secret we polish and replay. He yells, "I'm not brave!" I recall the days I wasn't. Days I'm still not. "It's okay Roy." He knows both roles/all roles so well. From the baby gay to the vet. Never big on talking, he feels. He articulates those conversations un-had so well. How did he find words to those feelings that I never told anyone about? How is he, this album, a friend to me where friends that have known me for years could never be? I coached friends through their loves, while having to coach myself through my own.
"I'd do anything for you. In the dark," repeats until it becomes less and less of an absolute and more and more of a question. Will I be there for you? Even in the dark? What about when I need to come to the light? Will I still be able to be there for you in the dark? And even then, he throws around phrases that needed to be said. That "it's all good." "That I still love you." That my/his "part of the deal, was to love you." Forever. I will. Near and far. This album is what I wish I had during the supposed Golden era hip-hop. It is honest. It's challenging. It brings to the surface a much needed conversation and acknowledgement in contemporary gay history. He's given a voice to the voiceless. This album spoke to me, and will speak to and free generations to come.
I feel like I did when To Pimp A Butterfly dropped.