The Humanity in Frank Ocean’s “Futura Free”

“Futura Free” feels like a grand unveiling for an artist who never wore a mask but realized his listeners were crowning him king and dressing him up all the same.
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For all the time I’ve spent—37 weeks—writing about Frank Ocean’s album cuts, I’ve come away with this: We’re human. The ending of Frank Ocean’s 2016 opus, Blonde, the album of a generation and perhaps the album of the 2010s, says as much. “Futura Free,” the nearly 10-minute closer of Blonde, features Frank urging us to see him as a person, as nothing special. 

Despite the celebration I’ve laid on thick of Frank’s pen, his mind, and his artistry, “Futura Free” exists to undo all that praise. Frank does not need or want praise; he wants his humanity seen. He wants to be a human being. Though this effectively unspools all my writing, I have nothing but respect for Frank and for “Futura Free.”

It’s very easy to take amazing art and decide the person behind said art is worthy of a better life than yourself. It’s also very easy to put someone with a creative mind on a pedestal and build them up to be infallible. But as Frank has shown us by way of his candor across his discography, he is not one to shy away from his mistakes. 

From 2011’s nostalgia, ULTRA. to now, Frank has tried again and again to remind his listeners he is not above them. So, when “Futura Free” appears to end Blonde with the eye-opening shift of “They paying me, Momma / I should be paying them / I should be paying y’all, honest to God / I’m just a guy, I’m not a God,” we realize the great project of Frank Ocean’s music is to humanize himself.

“Futura Free” reminds us of where Frank Ocean came from (“I used to work on my feet for seven dollars a hour / Call my Momma like, ‘Momma, / I ain’t making minimum wage, Momma’”), but more importantly, the song reminds us Frank Ocean simply is

Sometimes I feel like I’m a God, but I’m not a God / If I was, I don’t know which heaven would have me, Momma,” Frank expresses earnestly on the song’s first verse. Even when Frank feels his head inflate, and his ego ascends, he knows to keep himself grounded. He knows he is but a man with a pen and a cluttered mind, and he knows the “therapy” of his music is a gift, but not a mark from some higher power. He’s just a person—people are people. They are capable of so much but must remember who they are.

Frank Ocean’s uncertainty of “which heaven” would have him is shocking to hear. We spend so much time on Blonde being blown away by Frank’s storytelling and arrangements. We spend so much of our energy propping up Blonde as a masterpiece that we forget the man behind the music is just as riddled with humanity as the rest of us. Frank comes across insecure, wounded, and worried all over “Futura Free.” The song feels like a grand unveiling for an artist who never wore a mask but realized his listeners were crowning him king and dressing him up all the same.

Whether Frank believes he is worthy—such is the meaning of the “heaven” line—“Futura Free” challenges us to see him as both special and not. It makes us break down our understanding of celebrity and artist. It forces us through the grinder and reminds us of Frank’s humanity.

The free-form nature of “Futura Free” makes it seem as if Frank is seated across from us, perhaps a touch high (“I ain’t smoked all year / This the last song so, I’m finna wipe that off”), confessing. Each verse has a lack of overall coherence, but isolated lines come together to present the full picture of Frank’s woes and his ultimate desire to be seen as simply as possible. There’s even some spite in his voice as he says, “You could change this track now / Could’ve changed this bitch a long time ago” on the long-winded third verse, but how could we? This inhibition-less Frank Ocean entrances us. The pop veneer has been scrubbed off—there is no Blonde without this moment of quiet and metaphysical insurrection.

I’m going rapidly, fading drastically,” Frank Ocean admits back on the second verse. This is proof of a shedding of ego, of a shedding of all things aside from his essential elements. In some ways, “Futura Free” feels like the peak of a first drug trip, how you uncontrollably release all the weight you carry in your chest. Frank Ocean is not necessarily giving up his Frank Ocean-ness, but he is surrendering to the notion he is living in an unwelcome state of twoness. That must come to an end. This doesn’t mean Blonde is a sham. Rather, through Blonde, Frank Ocean has learned posturing will never lead to happiness. Perhaps that’s why there is no lasting love on Blonde.

Listening to—and writing about—“Futura Free” has always been a challenge for me. In my earlier years, it was attractive to make a God out of Frank Ocean, because that would give me some sense of hope. I’m not overly religious, but I believe in music. Yet, as I’ve grown older and listened to Blonde countless times, I’ve come away with a new truth: “Futura Free” is hope in itself. Frank Ocean’s insistence he is merely man stands to give us all hope we are capable of producing art and impacting people to the same great effect.

“Futura Free” is Frank Ocean’s “Last Call,” or, at least, his attempt to nicely pontificate and bring us into the world within the world of Blonde. As I said, there is not Blonde without this tune, without this moment of bringing down facades. Blonde cannot exist without this bare moment of honesty. “Futura Free” establishes Blonde as its own universe, something meant to be studied, experienced, and lived with. The honesty of the song makes the album feel worthwhile. “Futura Free” is not the end credits, as I once believed.

“Futura Free” is the resolution scene where the feel-good music plays, and you get warmth in your heart, knowing the characters will all live on okay. The song is a promise Frank Ocean is mortal, and within that promise is a validation of Blonde as the album of a lifetime.

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