We should have seen it coming.
It had been far too long since Frank Ocean released new music on a random weekend night without warning and stopped us all in our tracks. I was about to board a train in upstate New York on Saturday evening, when he popped up with another surprise episode of blonded RADIO and dropped a new song called “DHL.” In the middle of a very slow month for new music, Frank just saved the day.
As of now, it’s unclear whether this marks the beginning of a new musical era for the reclusive artist, or if this will be another one-off song, similar to his cover of “Moon River” in 2018. Either way, whenever Frank Ocean drops new music, it’s an event, so I boarded the train and replayed “DHL” over and over until my phone died. Here are the biggest takeaways.
He can still rap better than anyone gives him credit for
I’m a firm believer that Frank Ocean could switch gears at any given moment and drop one of the best rap albums of the year, if he ever decides he wants to. Remember his verse on “Oldie”? Sheesh. Or his appearance on Earl Sweatshirt’s “Sunday”? Run that one back again and try telling me he couldn’t go bar for bar with your favorite rapper. On “DHL,” Frank is back in his MC bag, as he moves away from the soulful delivery he’s most well-known for and spits a couple swaggering verses over spacey production. This isn’t the most technical Frank has ever been, lyrically, but he makes up for it by delivering each word with all kinds of sauce. Has anyone ever sounded this cool while rapping about how they look like they just got dressed for a hike? Your favorite rapper could never. In the second verse, he tightens things up a little and sneaks in a couple funny gems, getting off one-liners like, “Run me a trade, brushin’ his waves/Shit look like ramen noodles.” We need a full Frank Ocean rap album.
He took a page out of Playboi Carti’s book
Has Frank been listening to Playboi Carti? This isn’t Frank’s most lyrically impressive song, but that’s not the point. On “DHL,” he uses his vocals to set a mood, stringing together an almost nonsensical chain of words in the first verse that calls to mind what Carti has been doing with his baby voice flow. First, Frank repeats the phrase, “I'm in my bag,” before rapping something about putting a key in a “Kawasaki.” Unless I’m missing a complicated metaphor, the line doesn’t contain any mind-blowing hidden truths, but it does sound cool as hell. This is impressionist rap at its finest. “DHL” is the kind of song meant to be played at 2 a.m., when setting the right vibe matters more than complicated lyrics, and Frank pulls off exactly what he set out to achieve on this one. Playboi Carti says he made five songs with Ocean last year (which unfortunately never saw the light of day), but it seems his approach to songwriting rubbed off on Frank.
He doesn’t hold back lyrically
Remember when Frank’s use of male pronouns in his lyrics ruffled some feathers and inspired dozens of blog posts? Thankfully, he never let any of that hold him back, and on “DHL,” Frank raps lines like, “Boy toy, suck me like a Hoover/Boy toy, ride me like a Uber.” He also repeats, “Suck my dick,” at one point, and anchors the whole song around drugs. Never change, Frank.
He pulls influences from nightlife
Speaking about his recent inspirations, Frank Ocean told W magazine, “I’ve been interested in club, and the many different iterations of nightlife for music and songs. And so the things I look at now have a lot to do with those scenes: Detroit, Chicago, techno, house, French electronic... I grew up in New Orleans, so the closest to the nightlife scene for me was New Orleans bounce, and that was a lot of trends.” On “DHL,” those influences are apparent, as he raps about pills, ecstacy, and making up dance moves over a hypnotic beat from German-based electronic producer Boys Noize. Later in the W interview, Frank revealed that he’s been interested in writing songs that feel like “full motion-picture fantasies,” and that’s exactly what he delivers on the surreal “DHL.”
There might be more music on the way soon
This weekend, Frank released previews of two new songs called “Dear April (Justice Remix)” and “Cayendo (Sango Remix)” on YouTube, and put them up for purchase on his website. Studio versions of each song will arrive soon on 7” vinyl. But that’s not the only new music that will come from Frank in the near future, according to some fan theories. Users on Twitter and Reddit have pointed out that the official cover art for “DHL” features 13 silhouettes at the bottom. The fourth figure is highlighted, and it looks very similar to the pose seen on the cover art, leading some to speculate that it’s the fourth track (out of 13 total) from Frank’s next project. Hopefully we’ll find out soon.