Frank Ocean defies categorization. Whether in genre, medium, sexuality, or personal ethos, the reclusive artist has nimbly resisted both binaries and boundaries throughout his career. Ocean has been a singer, songwriter, producer, rapper, visual artist, photographer, model, and muse. For the four years between his debut studio album, Channel Orange, and his almost impossibly delayed 2016 followup, Blond(e), Ocean was also something of a fugitive.
For those who remember the dark days of the pre-Blond(e) years, the newest installation of Cole Cuchna’s Dissect, an engrossing and critically beloved longform music-analysis podcast, is here to illuminate the backdrop of Ocean’s intermission. The first episode of Dissect’s third season, released Tuesday, begins by retreading the once-interminable timeline between Channel Orange and Blond(e). Cuchna, a music obsessive who began the podcast to give rap the type of analytical treatment most often reserved for classical music, endeavors not to taxonomize Ocean’s discography, but rather to contextualize it.
Cuchna opens by mapping each pit stop along the “excruciatingly long” interval between records, reminding listeners of every cryptic Tumblr post, missed release deadline, and overanalyzed hint listeners obsessed over while holding their collective breath for the album that would become Blond(e). The cumulative effect of this meticulous chronology is a sobering reminder of just how long Ocean kept listeners waiting (and how potent fans’ entitlement grew in the interim). We are reminded that Ocean began to disappear from the public shortly after the Channel Orange tour, that celebrity weighed heavily on him, that July 2015—the first release date offered for the album Ocean then referred to as Boys Don’t Cry—seemed to stretch on endlessly. From the opening segment of this season’s Dissect, Cuchna approaches the enigma of Frank Ocean with curiosity and reverence.