The Art of the Heist- Frank Ocean, Big K.R.I.T. & the Importance of Pursuing Your Own Destiny

The Art of The Heist: Frank Ocean, Big K.R.I.T. & The Importance of Pursuing Your Own Destiny

An Article by Eóin Donnelly

In life there are only three certainties: death, taxes and everybody loves Friday. From the infectious aura of positivity as the end of the week draws near, to the casual clothes, the promise of late nights and lie-ins and right down to crafting weekend plans with friends, if your endorphins aren’t sparked into action by the ticking clock of a Friday afternoon I suggest shooting yourself… or maybe try smelling some vanilla. Apparently that works.

 

For an audiophile-in layman’s terms, a nerd- like me, the day takes on added significance as every Friday marks New Music Day, a weekly treat of new albums for my ravenous ears to feast on. This week brought Lana Del Rey, Foster The People, Dizzee Rascal and, most excitingly of all, a brand-new Tyler, The Creator album which is among this year’s best. There are more artists to pique my interest in a new album than there are notches on Charlie Sheen’s bed; however, as surely as a line can be drawn between when Two and A Half Men was and wasn’t funny (clue: it rhymes with Lashton Butcher), there is always a distinction to be made between musicians who merely ‘pique our interest’ to those whose artistry is stitched ineffably into the tapestry of our hearts, those whose melodies, lyrics and instrumentals are not merely ‘vibes’ to get us through the day or party through the night, rather they are part and parcel of the DNA that makes us who we are. The feeling of finding an artist who we feel is speaking both to us and for us through every key change and lyric is a rare one. There is no hidden formula or secret sound that separates music of the moment from the immortal songs and albums which speak to our pasts and forge our futures. If any, the one common denominator of all of these creations is that the artists behind them know who they are in all of their splendour and all of their vulgarity, and they can expertly communicate it through sound. As in everything else in life, that first time we find it is always the most special, and each new experience represents what we feel must surely be the last, and that’s exactly what makes it so exhilarating.

 

Stuck between the pages of a Haruki Murakami novel on Thursday night, I made the foolish mistake of falling asleep before I had set my alarm for the morning. Stricken by the existential dread and panic that tends to accompany awakening face-down on a book with the numbers “08:58” on a too-bright iPhone glaring back at my bleary, confused eyes, I hopped out of the bed and quickly marched the familiar walk into the office as quickly as I could manage. For once, Friday did not promise to be one filled with melody and thought-provoking artistry, but I managed to escape reprimand and the day went like any other. As always, the main challenge posed of my mind was what to listen to. For whatever reason, the usual suspects on Spotify and my favourite albums of 2017 to date weren’t going to cut it. As exciting as a magic carpet ride through hidden spaces and sounds can be, sometimes we crave the comfort and familiarity of a road trip with a friend. With that in mind, I turned to two of my favourite artists.

 

Despite undoubtedly being one of my personal favourites of the ‘new school’ of rappers, Big K.R.I.T. is largely an unknown quantity outside the self-contained world of hip-hop, and even for me he is not someone I regularly listen to. With just two studio albums under his belt, the last of which was in 2014, the bulk (and the best) of his discography can be located only on mixtape hosting sites such as Mixtape Monkey, where I promptly visited on Friday morning under the incessant duress of my ears demanding to hear some soulful production, introspective content and bouncy Southern rhymes. In this sense, Big K.R.I.T. is both a victim and a profiteer of the streaming-dominant music culture that has now enveloped the industry. For every fruitful path travelled on the online route to music stardom, there exists another roadblock to negotiate. Without the ready-made radio singles and instant name recognition to slot alongside the Drake’s, Kendrick Lamar’s, J.Cole’s, A$AP Rocky’s, Future’s, Travis Scott’s, Chance The Rapper’s, Big Sean’s and Macklemore’s (ugghhh..) of the world on popular, zeitgeist-defining Spotify playlists, rap’s Terry Malloy has been left to languish in the shadow of inferior rhyme-spitters. However, in lieu of mainstream commercial success Big K.R.I.T. has been able to cultivate a devoted online following with a critically-acclaimed series of free mixtapes, the best of which is Return of 4eva. It was this 2011 mixtape that blessed my ears again on Friday, and I had to chuckle to myself when the opening track (‘R4 Intro’) ended with an alarm clock and the sound of Big K.R.I.T.’s cousin imploring him to “cut that fucking alarm off” and get out of bed. How I could’ve done with such a cousin that morning…

 

Autobiographical details like this are part of the reason why I fell in love with K.R.I.T.’s music, the minute but significant facets of intimate storytelling which make this mixtape feel like a day in the life of K.R.I.T. shared rather than heard. On every song from Return of 4eva, a mixtape ostensibly commissioned to create hype for his debut album with Def Jam, the bluesy, forlorn yet melodic singing of K.R.I.T. fills the gaps between his passionate, intensely personal rhymes and soulful, self-produced beats. Whether channelling Southern rap legends OutKast to stress the need to “get up, get out and get something” and make something of your life (‘Rise & Shine’), bombastically stating his need to play his music loud (‘My Sub’), transcending the adverse stereotypes of his race (‘Another Naive Individual Glorifying Greed & Encouraging Racism’), lamenting the struggles in staying true to your artistic identity under the subjugating, exploitative eye of American capitalism (‘American Rapstar’) or simply getting the party rocking ('Rotation'), every story and emotion exposed by K.R.I.T. resonates long after the last drum fades away. It is no coincidence however that the best K.R.I.T. projects are those commercially not for sale. Absent of record label pressure and the budget constraints which can obstruct sample clearances in the production of a major label album, when the Minnesota rapper’s musical expression is free to roam wherever it pleases, the results soar and flutter high over the competition.

 

The annals of rap history are rife with stories young and old of artists who broke through the glass ceiling off a mixtape- Kendrick Lamar, J.Cole, Kid Cudi, Drake, Chance The Rapper and The Weeknd to name a few. Most famously, Eminem was evicted from his house one day and by sheer serendipity or an Act of God, coming second in the Rap Olympics the very next afternoon in L.A. landed his Slim Shady EP in the lap of none other than Dr. Dre. I’ll never understand how he could have the clarity of mind to freestyle at all while the inevitable fear of not having a bed to lie on that night tormented his conscience, let alone well enough to earn a recording contract. Within less than three years, Eminem’s Marshall Mathers LP was the highest-selling solo album in American history. Not to say that Big K.R.I.T. has internationally-known popstar potential, but there are certainly parallels to be drawn between him and similarly-positioned, savvier artists who managed to bridge the gap from internet cult hero to household name. Without full creative control and under record label pressure to deliver the radio-ready single to make him the star to pin their hopes on, K.R.I.T.’s debut studio album, Live from the Underground, lacked the everyman charm and vulnerability that made him such a special artist in the first place. His sophomore effort suffered from similar drawbacks. The title track of Cadillactica could have Father Paul Stone doing jumping jacks and I will always hold it up as the greatest pre-match song of all-time; as much as I want McGregor to knock his fuck in, if Floyd Mayweather walks out to that on August 26 I’m switching allegiances. Released in 2014, Big K.R.I.T. hasn’t released another studio album since, and still he sits on the shelf waiting to be noticed like Stinky Pete the Prospector. Armed with the critical plaudits, major label backing with Def Jam, a stylish oeuvre with the substance to match and with Southern hip-hop bigger than it’s ever been, why must the loyal fans of the King Remembered In Time still look impatiently at their watches, waiting for one of the last purveyors of ‘real’ Southern rap to be crowned?

 

The answer is the same as the icing on the cake of a great day at the beach with the lads and how to get over a painful divorce- you can ask Brad Pitt about that one- and God knows how many of life’s other Big Questions, and that answer is Frank Ocean. Their love of vintage cars, synaesthesiac soundscapes and indebtedness to Southern rap legends aside, musically speaking Big K.R.I.T. and Ocean could not be more different, but it wasn’t until Friday when I listened to Return of 4eva and Ocean’s breakthrough mixtape, nostalgia, ULTRA. back-to-back that I came to the epiphany that although presenting vastly different musical experiences, the careers of these two generational gifts have been dovetailing in perfect conflict and harmony from the very beginning. Imagine you are an aspiring recording artist for a moment. You’re just a teenager. You live in New Orleans with your mama, and you spend everything you’ve earned to chase pop pipe dreams in your local recording studio. From washing cars to mowing lawns to walking dogs, there is no task you will not or have not done to achieve your dream. Everybody tells you you’re crazy, but deep inside you know you’ve got a voice that can move the tallest of mountains and words that can scale the walls of the most fortified of hearts. Screams of self-doubt threaten to envelop the genius you’ve buried in a safe place you keep forgetting the co-ordinates to, but every night the familiar, wearied yet resolute voice is the last thing you hear as you fade out of consciousness into a deep, kaleidoscopic dream. “You’re gonna be somebody”, it says, over and over again until all you can think about is how and when you’re gonna get there. Just when you think your hard work is coming to fruition, a devastating hurricane strikes your city, destroying your recording studio and everything you made. Do you give up on your dream? Not if you’re Frank Ocean.

 

Rather than treat Hurricane Katrina as a harbinger of doom and succumb to a life of normality, with precisely $1000 in his pocket Frank Ocean packed his bags and set off to create a storm all of his own in L.A., pursuing destiny with all the wherewithal and determination of Tom chasing Jerry during the holiday season. Far from a cartoonish escapade filled with thrills and laughter, what was originally envisaged as a six-week trip became four years before Frank could get a record deal. Such was the prowess and beauty of his songwriting pen that without a solitary song to his name he was able to nab a meeting with legendary producer Tricky Stewart, responsible for hits by industry heavyweights of the Rihanna, Beyoncé, Mariah Carey and Justin Bieber ilk. What followed was a record deal with the biggest label in the world, Def Jam, and what should’ve been surefire success. However, as Big K.R.I.T. is all too tragically aware, talent talks but money talks louder, and until the devil’s whisper spells out your name in dollars to somebody with the influence to reach beyond the playlists of hipsters into the house parties of basic bitches, the jingle of keys to the Popular Castle will not trouble your eardrums. You can heave and you can puff and you can kick the door down, or like Frank Ocean, you can build your own kingdom. Devoid of the instant name recognition, gimmicky viral single and lavish lifestyle ostensibly needed to thrive alongside his contemporaries, eternal underdog Ocean was left to rot in anonymity, an eager and capable hero just waiting for Tony Stark to give him his Spidey suit back. That day never came, and without a cast of allies Frank was left to become a lone Avenger against the overlords that shunned him. Again I ask you to place yourself in this scenario: do you give up on your dream? Not if you’re Frank Ocean. Where others would see a dead end, Frank seen opportunity: “I was kind of neglected, but it’s cool. It was a gift.”

 

Later, Stewart lamented the failures of Def Jam to support the artist he signed: “I knew he was a genius. His stories were Stevie Wonder-esque, they were Prince-esque, and they were Michael-esque. Some of the best storytelling, and the perspective, and the history of music that I had the utmost respect for. Even as a young person, I felt that Frank would be sitting next to the greats, when it was all said and done.” High praise, but like the George Clooney character that inspired his adopted surname, the man born Christopher Edwin Breaux was just as suave and just as well-versed in the art of the heist, and his debut album with Def Jam, channel ORANGE, would be released under the figurative barrel of a shotgun: “GIVE ME ONE MILLION DOLLARS OR YOU DON’T GET YOUR ALBUM.” Yes, it actually happened like that (minus the shotgun, obviously). Behind the curve but finally attuned to the devil’s whisper, the top brass at Def Jam cashed the cheque without a moment’s thought. But wait a minute… how did a man whose career almost ended before it got off the ground suddenly command such power in the hallways of the world’s biggest music label? Two big balls and perfect tunes, that’s how.

 

In February 2011, just one month before Big K.R.I.T.’s not-for-sale perfect mixtape, Ocean independently released online a totally free and totally perfect mixtape of his own in nostalgia, ULTRA. Paying homage to relics of my childhood including playing Street Fighter and Golden Eye- Neil Hagan can attest to that- on the Nintendo 64, Forrest Gump, Metal Gear Solid on the PS1 and my all-time favourite cartoon Dragonball Z , I knew I had found a kindred spirit in Frank Ocean the very first time I heard him. A talent that transcends generations and categorisation, Ocean-a movie buff- knits stories and imagery together with all the precision of one of the auteurs of filmmaking, inspiring everything from the sonic backdrop of Japanese anime montages (still the coolest thing I’ve ever seen) to roundtable discussions of famous authors. From repurposing classics by Coldplay (‘Strawberry Swing’), the Eagles (‘American Wedding’) and MGMT (‘Nature Feels’) for a modern audience to applying his own original touch to state his belief that marriage is between “love and love” rather than woman and man (‘We All Try’), as well as coining pop culture phrases long before they entered the mainstream, hindsight teaches us that Ocean was the voice of a generation before anyone even knew what he sounded like. Centrepiece 'Novacane' remains the greatest song (and video) he’s ever made. With a beat crafted somewhere between the comfiest cloud in Heaven and Floyd Mayweather’s flyest Vegas strip club- some would ask what’s the difference- and an instantly infectious, half-sung, half-rapped flow dripping with charisma, poise and nerdy references to the likes of Stanley Kubrick, there’s something for everyone. Frank Ocean seized the controls of fate; with one hand on the wheel of his candy-coated spaceship and the other stuck deep in the mixing bowl of all the greatest sounds in the world he left the purple matter of Nowhereville behind and ended up in the orange glow of Boss Land. With 'Novacane', he had finally begun what he is still doing six years on: ripping up the manual to mainstream success one poetic songsheet at a time.

 

I don’t know when the precise moment was, but in 2011 we had walked through the gates of a brand new frontier and we didn’t even know it yet, at least not until nostalgia, ULTRA., a mixtape assembled with all the sophistication, beauty and timelessness of a legendary album. This new frontier was a post-internet land of limitless opportunity where manic online buzz alone landed Frank Ocean’s mixtape in the lap of Kanye West. Word of mouth travelled from Kanye to Jay-Z, and a husband-and-wife road trip later, Frank’s life would never be the same. Back when they were still friends, I can still imagine Jay-Z’s eyes roll as he heard his phone ringing with the words ‘Kanye West’ emblazoned across the screen: “Oh, here he goes again- what’s this crazy fucker looking now?” I’m glad he picked up. Within 24 hours of nostalgia, ULTRA. soundtracking the most powerful couple in the world’s drive through Brooklyn, the man who Def Jam didn’t want to hear sing was on the receiving end of a phone call from the Queen of Pop: “This is Beyoncé. Get to New York, I want you to work on my new album.” Who could say no? When Kanye & Jay coalesced into one to release Watch The Throne just six months after nostalgia, ULTRA., the tour of which was then the highest-grossing hip-hop tour of all-time, the first voice you heard was not the hubris-inflected bombast of either of rap’s two greatest titans battling for supremacy, but the rare sound of rap’s biggest celebration ceding toast duties to the weird guy in the corner reading a book. All of a sudden, the entire music establishment was clambering for Frank Ocean’s signature.

 

In years to come, Watch The Throne’s opening salvo would serve as the soundtrack to the Aldo-McGregor fight that never was at UFC 189, but Frank still had some fighting of his own to do. It wasn’t just a paycheck, and it wasn’t just a song. 'No Church In The Wild' was a mantra. A king is nothing to a god and a god is nothing to a non-believer, and Ocean would not bow down to his ‘superiors’. Like K.R.I.T., he was a King Without A Crown, except Frank didn’t need one to tell his neglectful ‘masters’ to kiss his feet. Humble in victory Frank was not, explaining on his long-since deleted Twitter account: ‘i. did. this. not ISLAND DEF JAM. that’s why you see no label logo on the artwork that I DID. guess it’s my fault for trusting my dumbass lawyer and signing my career over to a failing company. fuck Def Jam & any company that goes the length of signing a kid with dreams & talent w/ no intention of following through. fuck em. now back to my day. i want some oatmeal and toast. brunch swag.” With a middle finger to the biggest record label in the world still propped up, he ignored all offers, taking the $1 million he could have got anywhere else to sign once again with the label that made his life Hell. The art of the heist was from over. What the suits of Def Jam didn’t know is that when you outstretch your palm to put a pen in the palm of a warrior poet, you could be one arbitrary action from impaling yourself with a sword.

 

Signed to a two-album deal, Frank Ocean did what wizards do best and got back to spellbinding his foes with magic. Marked album number one was channel ORANGE, a stunning tour de force which shocked the world on its lead single ‘Thinkin Bout You’- check out that mesmeric live performance- which revealed Frank’s bisexuality. Insisting on full creative control, however, Frank’s debut album was notable for much more than the headlines it inspired, an instant classic with a sonic palette and songwriting approach as unique as any in music that was the most critically-acclaimed album of 2012 and earned the Grammy for Best Urban Contemporary Album. Album two with Def Jam was where things got tricky. Originally titled Boys Don’t Cry, Ocean’s sophomore album was initially intended for a July 2015 release but at the peak of his powers, the reclusive Frank Ocean- who has no social media presence, rarely appears in public and until last month hadn’t played a concert since 2014- instead disappeared off the face of the Earth. For UFO read Unidentified Frank Ocean. July 2015 came and went without so much as an explanation. Some asked where the hell he was, others made songs that pined for his return, and the most obsessed of all used livestream footage to track down where he was hiding. My lack of technological nous stopped me from joining them. Out of nowhere and without any lead single promotion, on August 19, 2016, Frank Ocean’s deal with the devil was finally fulfilled. The name of this project could not have been any more appropriate: the wait really had been Endless. In what I’m sure (let’s be honest, you can never be too sure with Frank Ocean) is some kind of allegory about rising above the restrictions of his working environment and ascending to a new artistic plain, what we were treated to- or subjected to, depending on your perspective- was 45 minutes of Frank in a spacious warehouse, building a spiral staircase from woodwork, backed by some of the most scatterbrain, experimental and fragmented pieces of music you’re ever likely to hear from a relatively mainstream musician. Releasing Endless only as a visual album on Apple Music and rendering it incapable of purchase seemed a strange choice even for an artist that cowered like a vampire in the spotlight. Otherworldly beautiful at times (‘At Your Best (You Are Love)’; ‘Rushes To’) and downright weird at others (‘Deathwish (ASR)’; ‘Higgs’), I still can’t quite put my finger on Endless. This wasn’t ripping up the manual; it was strapping it to a bomb and flying it to the moon. I, like everyone else, couldn’t help but have one question whizz around my mind: what the fuck is this?

 

Abracadabra. I should’ve known better than to doubt Frank Ocean. Just one day later, all became clear: the Great Heist had one final act. With his contractual obligations with Def Jam now fulfilled the phoenix that flew too close to sun and lived to sing another day was finally free to release the album he had always wanted to in Blonde. A “seven year chess game” is how Ocean later described buying himself out of his contract and purchasing back all of his master recordings with his own money. In that case, you can think of Blonde as his checkmate, as while Def Jam was busy counting pennies from Frank’s final act of rebellion, as a newly-independent master of his own destiny Frank made back the one million dollars of his two-album contract in just seven days. This was no Tony Montana vengeance story, but some people don’t need a blimp to know the world is theirs. With one final fuck you to the first-class flying frauds that only ever saw him as another island in the mist, I couldn’t help but think of Warden Norton in The Shawshank Redemption, tossing a stone at the wall in anger only to realise his most valuable asset had gotten the best of him, running off with the loot and into the sunset never to return. The Great Heist had reached its denouement. If I ever go to Zihuatanejo, I’m playing Blonde. And to think he came to L.A. with only one thousand dollars…

 

The saddest thing in life is wasted talent, and the choices that you make within life's infinite wormhole of possibilities will shape your life forever. As Kendrick Lamar poeticised earlier this year, something as trivial as KFC biscuits can be the difference between dying in a gunfight and being an inspiration to millions. Parallels can certainly be drawn between Ocean and K.R.I.T., and it is with some irony that one man’s nostalgia-themed mixtape propelled him forward and the other’s forever-inspired mixtape could not stop him from flailing in the quicksand. It appears however that the penny has finally dropped with Meridian’s proudest son. The last time we heard from him, on 2015 mixtape It’s Better This Way, K.R.I.T. cut an anguished figure. Mixtape territory grants K.R.I.T. full creative control. It is a place where he eats even rap’s alpha wolves for breakfast. Rarely have I heard anyone rap with such passion as he does on King Pt. 4, laying blame at the door of Def Jam executives for “negating his gifts and blocking his shine.” With a “chip on his shoulder the size of a boulder” you can practically feel the tears roll down his cheek when he raps of being “imprisoned to his mission”, voluntarily taking a pay cut and screaming for his poetry to be noticed above the hullabaloo of movie lights, pyro, award shows and fancy clothes. At a crossroads in his career, K.R.I.T. was faced with a choice: continue making art that moves the listener, or commodify your talent, chase commercial success by compromising who you are and adopting the shallow trends that reign supreme in the modern-day rap game. The mixtape artwork said it all. It is testament to his power and relatability as an artist that the path to more riches and popular recognition was the one painted with dark hues, signposted ominously by Pressure, Follower, Ordinary and Regular. Conversely, megastardom and great art are not mutually exclusive, and it is perhaps this head-in-the-sand mentality which has prevented K.R.I.T. from taking the final quantum leap from internet darling to cultural icon.

 

Life is full of strange moments of serendipity that make you question if you have a higher purpose or if there’s a greater power at work weaving magic under the guise of the mundane. Last Friday I was in Barcelona and I’d been singing 'Novacane' all day long when my friend and I bought our cigarettes and lighter for the night- ‘Luck of the Irish’ it said on the one the shopkeeper happened to lift out of a cluttered drawer. I immediately turned to my friend: “I hope that’s a good omen for tonight.” Still singing 'Novacane' on the way to a pub crawl that night, I heard the familiar melody as we sat and sipped our first pint. Novacane.. what? Is that Novacane? Night already made. I’d never heard this song in a public place in my life. You just don’t get that at a Bot Wednesdays. DJ Ahmed is horrific. Swivelling round in my chair to salute the DJ with my best cool-lame OK Hand Sign Emoji, there she was: the girl with the stripper booty and the rack like wow, asking for my lighter. We hit it off, the omens were good. Exactly one week later when trying to decide what to feed my earphones, I happen to land on two mixtapes from 2011 I hadn’t listened to in at least a year, the opening songs of which both end with an alarm clock sounding on the very day I happened to sleep in for work. The alarm clock on 'Strawberry Swing' led right into 'Novacane', and it was then that I had the idea for this article. I had been thinking of setting this website up for months, but I kept putting it off and making excuses. In just a couple of days I thought of scrapping this piece a thousand times. As someone with a lot to say but often too shy and wary of consequences to do so, nostalgia, ULTRA. standout Dust was like a jug of cold water to the face, basking me with inspiration and a shield of impregnability in the face of people who talk too loudly, laugh too cynically and doubt too willingly in the face of anyone that dares to step out of line and live life through passion rather than routine. “Who’s that talking in my library? Who’s that laughing in my library?” he sings, offering his best advice to keep writing, keep living and keep loving. After all, if when the pages turn to dust so do we, then why wait to unleash the treasures locked deep in the vaults of our minds?

 

The hand of fate too has touched the lives of Frank Ocean and Big K.R.I.T. In 2011, just one month separated the release of two perfect mixtapes from two talented dreamers in the nascence of their careers. With both men in identical situations, being held artistic prisoners by Def Jam, logic should’ve held that there would be two wasted talents rather than one. The audacity of Frank Ocean said otherwise. On the face of it, their current situations are also eerily similar. In July 2016, just one month before Frank’s Great Heist was complete, the King Remembered In Time finally saw the value in now, leaving Def Jam and pursuing destiny via independence. Unlike Frank Ocean however, he is not a readymade superstar who can command Apple Music exclusives. Unlike Frank Ocean, Kanye isn’t going to boycott the Grammys if a K.R.I.T. album isn’t nominated. Unlike Frank Ocean, K.R.I.T. is not headlining festivals in L.A. with Brad Pitt by his side or featuring on Calvin Harris’s summer anthem, a seminal moment that marks Ocean’s increasing resonance in an erstwhile alien pop hemisphere. Translating the complexities of the heart into meaningful art and bridging the walls between listening and understanding is one of life’s greatest challenges for anyone who dares attempt it, but it was a task met with aplomb by both artists in early 2011. Unfortunately for K.R.I.T. and as I’m sure I’ll discover from the low read count on this article, making enough people care to have an impact is the next stage he has yet to conquer. Also, K.R.I.T. is the wrong side of 30, an age which 2Pac denounces as the death knell for rappers. The odds are stacked against K.R.I.T, but what he does have is an unrivalled arsenal of talents: rapper, singer, beatmaker- there is nothing this guy can’t do. It is telling that in the year since he left Def Jam, nobody has been posting thinkpieces about K.R.I.T. wondering what he has in store next.

 

We will always love and worship charismatic loudmouths like our own ‘Notorious’ Conor McGregor, but only the most special icons can command the world’s attention in silence. It’s a quality you can attribute to Michael Jackson, captivating 100 000 people for almost two whole minutes at Super Bowl XXVI without moving a muscle. Frank Ocean, too, falls into this category. A master of the moonwalk and dazzling footwork Jacko made iconic he is not, but his flawless songwriting pen whoops the King of Pop’s (he didn’t even write ‘Man In The Mirror’) and in an era where outlandish social media antics, viralability and which Kartrashian you’re fucking or what Kylie Jenner is playing on Snapchat reigns supreme, it is more than refreshing to see the best there is do it on his own unique terms. Ocean is the silent assassin, foregoing the pyrotechnics, smoke and mirrors usually associated with popstars in favour of a celestial style and substance assembled from the remnants of spaceships and lost planets, bypassing the naked curiosity of the human ear and hitching a beeline straight to that invisible, intangible place we call the soul. It’s a rare find. Though both schooled in a steep history of music ranging from pop, R&B, soul, and more avant-garde persuasions, Jackson and Ocean are very different artists, but the common denominator between masters of mystique commanding attention in silence is the question on their respective audience’s lips: what the Hell is this mad genius going to do next? Despite making some incredible music, it’s a question that has so far eluded the aura of Big K.R.I.T., a man perpetually orbiting somewhere between breakout star and the mixtape’s Prodigal Son. As the wait for another Big K.R.I.T. album edges closer to its fourth year and the wall of silence between himself and his fans grows louder, let’s hope that underneath its shadow he’s conjuring some magic of his own.