Analysis of Frank Ocean’s “Super Rich Kids”

For my third and final analytical public writing assignment for my Black Music in America class I tried to find another song with a different message than Sir Duke and Bad Religion. After speaking to Robin James on Monday, I was slightly unsettled at the idea that she expressed of authenticity of music is actually the perfecting of the technique in doing so. I always had a love for a lot of black music since I felt a lot of what was written about was from genuine experiences and reactions to them. I felt as if my connection with music was cheapened in a sense. Due to my renewal of my love for Frank Ocean and Channel Orange because of the authenticity that I believe it has I chose to analyze “Super Rich Kids”.

Shockingly enough the song looks into the lives of kids that grow up and/or live off their parents’ immense fortune. Throughout the song Frank Ocean sings as if he is the super rich kid but in turn isn’t referencing himself to be one. He wasn’t born with his fortune and worked to earn his unlike the kids he is singing about. Channel Orange is an album that has a reoccurring theme of trying to understand the struggles of people who aren’t normally understood nor heard. Hence “Bad Religion” and “Forrest Gump” where he discusses his closeted sexuality and how his fans and family might not accept him for who he is. I believe that Frank Ocean wrote this song because these kids are normally frowned upon by society as a whole like gay people usually are by still a large population. This is because they are brought up with having too much of everything meanwhile there are people dying everyday from starvation and poverty. Frank Ocean reveals how absurd these kids live their lives with their access and the ability to do ANYTHING they want because of their fortune. But what people forget or rather don’t consider is that these kids face certain obstacles that effect them mentally and emotionally and create the potential of total destruction.

How this relates to Frank Ocean’s experience of blackness is actually very simple. When someone thinks of the kids that Ocean is describing  they immediately think of kids that are white. This is for the evident reason that most of the people that hold our country’s fortune are white because of our unintentional structural and institutional set-up of American society. The comparison to white millionaires to black millionaires is undeniable. The ratio of white to black billionaires is even more outrageous. Evidently Frank Ocean is talking about white rich kids. Throughout the song Ocean reveals how different an experience of growing up black is in comparison to the white rich kids that probably never even think about how they have everything through describing a regular day of the week for one of these kids. Although, almost mocking them in the first verse by revealing how rich and indulgent they are in their lifestyle he then finds their humanity and negative effects to growing up with fortune in the second verse. By showing the harmful effects they face reveals that Ocean has empathy for them and their experience as a rich powerful white American. Ocean is actually grateful for experiencing his upbringing as a lower class black man.

The song’s lyrics are really where all the meaning and theme is. The song has a consistent chord structure and musical background that resembles the classic rock anthem “Benny and the Jets”‘s. The tempo is relatively slow and the pace mocks the pace at which you would experience life if you were to be high (this is an educated guess). This makes sense since the super rich kids are doing drugs, smoking weed and drinking throughout the song. Fellow Odd Future member and rapper Earl Sweatshirt features on the song and further enforces Ocean’s theme.

Ocean starts the song off with the refrain which describes that these super rich kids are smoking weed, drinking wine they know absolutely nothing about, doing cocaine, and carelessly driving their dad’s jaguar. Since these kids are filthy rich they can make pay for all of these things very easily which means they’re more likely to be involved with drug problems and addictions. Its almost inevitable to be exposed to these types of drugs at such a young age because of how rich and powerful they are. By saying that their taking a “joy ride in Daddy’s jaguar” reveals how carless they are with money. Also in the refrain Ocean says that the parents aren’t around enough and that these kids have loose ends and “friends” that use them for their money. This reveals the struggles these kids deal with that most who aren’t rich white kids don’t. These kids are living off their parents’ fortune which probably means that their parents are always away either on vacation or business trips leaving these’ kids to have no parental supervision nor are raising them further enforcing the possibility of utter turmoil aka loose ends which lead to awful decisions.

Ocean indirectly reveals that he didn’t have the childhood upbringing these kids had in this refrain. Growing up in a close black family he always had a strict parental figure who was there to teach him right and wrong. As a white rich child these kids don’t really have a parental figure at all. Ocean didn’t have the access to nearly this much money nor the opportunities these kids were born into as he was growing up creating an overall appreciative attitude about existing and what he has earned for himself. Although black people experience several challenges and obstacles in today’s society Ocean shows his gratitude that he has for his upbringing. He had to work for everything he has and wasn’t handed anything. He also had family and friends who genuinely cared about him and didn’t use them for his money. Ocean feels so much sympathy for these people because he understands how important having someone that genuinely cares about them and loves them is. Ironically money and opportunity which seem to be the sought after goals in life also lead to the loss of love. Which is seen when Ocean sings in the bridge, “Real love. I’m searching for a real love.”

The juxtaposition from the beginning of the first verse to the beginning of the second is significant in the relation of lavish lifestyles to the emotion effects of the loss or rather never receiving love. In the first verse Ocean sings, “Start my day up on the roof. Ain’t nothing like this type of view.” Ocean frames the idea of being on top of the rich kid’s giant house in a positive light saying that the view is beautiful. This attitude about being on top of the roof takes a dramatic shift in the second verse where Ocean sings, “End my day up on the roof. I say I’ll jump, I never do.” Rather than being on the roof to watch the view, instead he is on the roof to jump off and kill himself. This reveals how the lack of love in his life makes it feel as if living is pointless all together. This is another negative effect from having the abundance of money and opportunity that these kids struggle immensely with that Ocean is grateful for not have experiencing during his childhood.

Earl Sweatshirt finishes off the bridge by saying, “Don’t believe us, treat us like we can’t erupt.” The reoccurring idea in the song is the idea that these rich kids are about to “erupt” emotionally; that everyone around them treats them poorly as if the money makes up for the fact that they don’t have love and aren’t happy. Ocean recreates this image of the frowned upon rich white kids by humanizing them and saying that they have the same emotions and need for love as everyone else. Their money doesn’t make up for anything but rather ruins their chance of receiving love.

Ocean gives these rich white kids that were set up for success a light in which isn’t usually shown or thought about. Ocean feels bad for them rather than envy or are bitter towards them because of the obstacles he had to face throughout his life as a black man that these kids avoided. This shows that he appreciates his blackness and is proud of the fact that he had to overcome limitations that were set up for him the moment he was born and was able to receive genuine love. Rather than talk about how awful rich white people are thought to be, he reveals that the fact they can succeed so easily is a not necessarily a good thing with immense consequences. Essentially, what Ocean is describing is that having too much of everything is just as harmful as having too little.

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Black Music in America Analysis of “Bad Religion” by Frank Ocean

In 2012, black r&b artist, Frank Ocean, broke through the underground music industry with his first actual album Channel Orange. Frank Ocean became even more popular shortly after when he admitted in a tumblr post  that his first love was a man and that he was bisexual. He wrote this album to ease the transition into admitting publicly of his sexuality which he kept a secret up until that point. The context in which Frank Ocean wrote this album, is one of the reasons why I chose to analyze “Bad Religion” for my next analysis public writing assignment. Also, the song possesses the concepts that I admire about black music. The song is short but honest, meaningful, powerful and challenges ideas that music usually doesn’t. “Bad Religion” brings a different perspective and shows different themes than “Sir Duke” in relation to blackness and reveals some of the effects of blackness on an individual aside from civil rights itself although it is a huge component of black history and the black experience. “Bad Religion” rather touches on the effects of blackness on one’s perception of acceptability and rejection, in this case being with ones religion and sexuality and the relationship between the two.

Ocean uses his lyrics and the song’s more technical aspects such as the chord structure in relation to the melody and the background instrumentals, to effectively portray his struggle to conform to a religion and a society that doesn’t accept his sexuality, who he is and what he stands for.

Throughout the song Frank Ocean is haunted by reoccurring themes of unrequited love and rejection through his struggle to attempt to live in a society as a gay black man where religion says being gay is a sin and where racial stereotypes in society degrade and limit the black individual economically, socially and educationally. He sets the story of the song in a cab driving through NYC during rush hour. Right when he starts singing in the beginning of the song is the moment when Ocean cracks under all of the thoughts and fears that he has been keeping to himself and decides to finally say them out loud. He is tired of living a lie and needed to tell someone about it, even if it was someone he doesn’t even know (the taxi driver).

He asks the taxi driver, “Be my shrink for the hour, leave the meter running…Just outrun the demons could you?” In this case driving through rush hour will give Ocean a long period of time to talk about the “demons” he is trying to escape which actually are the reality of who he is: a bisexual black man. While he is singing this verse and the second, the melody clashes with the “major” sounding chord structure and sounds as if it doesn’t fit. This clash between the melody and the chord structure represents the fact that he doesn’t feel as if he fits in the society. In the second verse Ocean says, “Taxi driver, I swear I’ve got three lives balanced on my head like steak knives. I can’t tell you the truth about my disguise. I can’t trust no one.” Basically he explains how everything is at stake for him. He’s been juggling his private life, which include his loved ones, his public life, as in his career, and his secret that he is bisexual for years and at any moment he could reveal his secret and ruin his career and disgrace his family and loved ones. Due to this fear of this potential disaster, he only trusts himself with his secret. Ocean is worried that not only will his loved ones abandon him but that society will exile him entirely. Being black or gay today means you will have obstacles because you are neither white or straight, which society favors due to its traditional and ignorant roots. He doubts that if he accepted himself for who he was and openly admitted it prior to his career taking off it wouldn’t. Not only would Frank Ocean have to deal with life’s struggles as a black man, but he would lose his masculinity all together if he were to admit his sexuality and many wouldn’t accept him because of deeply embedded racial and masculine stereotypes.

Society is set up to favor the white man. Women only recently gained some of the social and economic capital that men have always had since the beginning of society but still struggles to be equalized. Black people struggle even more so with this because many are stuck in the lower economic working class because of the consistent cycle of poor education systems and expensive college degrees. So imagine the economic, social and educational obstacles that most black woman have today? This concept is seen in Robin James’ “Race in the Feminized Popular in Nietzsche and Beyond” where black men were better off than the black women in social and economic circumstances. Black women were to eventually try to challenge their sexualization in media because it degrades them down to strictly sexual objects to serve men. Due to the imaginary ideology that masculinity is completely different to femininity certain gender stereotypes strictly police what men can say, how they act and who they interact with. Being gay is considered to be feminine and isn’t an accepted concept due to men being afraid that they’ll lose their masculinity. Because what’s a worse insult than calling a man gay?Ocean is aware of these hardships that a black man faces and is even more so about what a gay black man would face and because of this never openly admits it.

His fear of rejection from society is enhanced even further because he feels as if he’s already been rejected by God. When the taxi driver tells Ocean that he “needs prayer”, Ocean sings, “If it brings me to my knees its a bad religion. This unrequited love, to me its nothing but a one man cult…I can never make him love me.” Ocean explains that he believes religion is a cult because he feels as if its followers are brainwashed to believe that God cares about them and that they should dedicate their lives to him even if that love isn’t reciprocated. The transition from a simple and delicate instrumental background in the verse quickly changes to intense violins when he starts singing the chorus revealing the anger and passion he has about his opinions on religion and how it makes him feel isolated. Ocean’s source of anger derives from his belief that God could never love him because he’s gay. In Ocean’s eyes, love isn’t love if you have to change who you are and give up your dignity for that person, in this case changing who he is for God.

After getting more and more frustrated while talking about what’s been on his mind he finally just screams after the second chorus (of course it sounds absolutely beautiful). He follows this scream by finally accepting out loud how much it hurts him that he is neglected as not only a black man in a still racist community but more so as a member of one that only completely accepts heterosexuality. He doubts his opinions about religion throughout the song when he says that maybe prayer wouldn’t hurt him but then at the very end says, “I KNOW only bad religion could have me feeling the way I do.”

Frank Ocean reveals some of the worst things about our society today. We like to think of ourselves as a culture that accepts all people because we’re the melting pot aren’t we? But Frank Ocean and his struggle to come out in this song is a plain example that we are nowhere close to being this imaginary united and equal culture.

Analysis of Sir Duke by Stevie Wonder

When I was told to choose a song by a black artist to analyze for my Black Music in America class I immediately thought of classic artists such as Michael Jackson, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and Etta James. Alas after sifting through dozens of powerful and catchy classics of the past century by some of these talented artists of previous generations, I chose one of my all time favorites which was “Sir Duke” by Stevie Wonder.

“Sir Duke” turns out to be one of the most relevant songs in relation to my Black Music in America class because of its overall message. Throughout the song, Wonder subtly addresses the unification that music brings specifically among the black community and in turn the white community to the black community even following slavery and discriminative times in the United States and recognizes some of the people whom are to thank for such accomplishments.

My analysis of this song starts with the title itself. “Sir Duke” is a nickname for the influential jazz pianist legend Duke Ellington whom was one of Stevie’s idols but also was significant in creating the “black jazz musician” that aided and gave hope for blacks during times of intense segregation and discrimination (early-mid 1900’s). The title, along with the first few lyrics of the first verse, reveal Wonder’s purpose of the entire song. He says, “Music is a word within itself, with a language that we all understand. With an equal opportunity for all to sing, dance and clap their hands.” These lyrics directly relate to the title. Duke Ellington challenged the discriminative structure of society not through protests and riots but rather through music. He encouraged many black people to support their heritage through jazz and dance and these lyrics explain just that; that music is a tool that directly unites mass populations, both white and black, through the enjoyment of it through singing and dancing. Basically, when music were to play (especially jazz music), all racial discrimination was essentially “forgotten” until the song was over. Stevie Wonder expressed this effectively while specifically targeting the black community and music’s positive influence in the unity that it gave them. Music became this racial cultural glue during Duke Ellington’s generation and continued in Wonder’s generation as well.

Throughout the song, Wonder develops the specificity in targeting the black community and his purpose of the song through the composition of chord structure, background instruments, repetition of the choruses and through the rest of the lyrics in “Sir Duke”.

In the second verse of the song, Wonder reveals whom he thinks are “music’s pioneers”, which is directly defined as the first to create, use and apply music itself. He mentions legends such as Count Bassie, a jazz pianist, Ella Fitzgerald, a jazz singer, Duke Ellington, a jazz trumpet player, all of which were popular during intense segregational times, along with other famous musicians of the time. By referring to these famous musicians and artists as “pioneers”, Stevie is saying that these people were ones that made huge strides in making a difference in breaking the ancient social standard in which made white people superior to black people through their own form of weapon; music. He uses this song to recognize these influential people and their accomplishments that benefitted the black community for the following generations. Their music stood as a significant step in changing the social norms of the time by making music and enjoying it, some of the first race-less and equally accessible factors in American culture. Stevie Wonder then follows his verses with the chorus where he explains that these pioneers’ influence on music and in society as a whole is still felt today. He sings “You can feel it all over! You can feel it all over people!”

With just the analysis of his lyrics, one can see the several themes Wonder’s lyrics reveal: that music was one of the first racially objective aspects of society, that music was a tool used by black musicians in which equalized blacks and whites momentarily during the 1900’s, that the strides made by black musicians and artists of the generation eventually developed into ideology that equalized (legally) blacks in whites in American culture, and that their influence is still felt in music and society today. Although the lyrics definitely do a great job in expressing the powerful meaning behind this uplifting song, without the song’s other structural elements, it would feel almost incomplete and wouldn’t give the mood that is essential to it being as enjoyable as it is.The specific instruments and chord progressions that are used in the track also contribute greatly in creating this up-tempo, meaningful and fun song that is “Sir Duke”.

The sounds of trumpets introduce “Sir Duke” and are used thoroughly throughout the rest of the song. The usage of trumpets along with the specific chord progression are extremely similar to music heard during jazz era of Duke’s generation. One of jazz music’s oldest ancestors is the ring-shout which originated during times of slavery as an expressive coping mechanism to deal with their misfortunes. The ring-shout was also used as a communication device between slaves that was misunderstood by slave masters. It was a form a expressive ritual, with specific meters, dance moves, such as a shoulder bounce, and features, that varied among its tempos and themes, which directly explains the variation that is seen in jazz music many years later. Similar to the ring-shout, jazz music of the 1900’s had lyrically hidden messages that the white population didn’t directly understand. Jazz’s catchy chord progressions, compositions and moods that it evoked, made it almost impossible to not dance to and was enjoyed by many. This ring-shout development into jazz is essential to Wonder’s message in “Sir Duke” as his song matches the core composition and uplifting atmosphere that jazz evokes. By constructing “Sir Duke” in the way he did, Wonder creates this authentic piece of music that truly exemplifies the hardships and accomplishments that blacks have made in American society.

Finally at the end of “Sir Duke”, the chorus repeats 5 times with final chorus slightly changing lyrically from “You can feel it all over?”, to “Can’t you feel it all over?”. For the entirety of the song, Wonder is explaining the outstanding accomplishments blacks have made through music and by ending the last chorus like this, he is asking his audience to actually see what he sees for themselves. Job well done Stevie!