The trouble with Frank Ocean's new album, Blonde

Frank Ocean reportedly infuriated label bosses by releasing Blonde through Apple Music. Photo/AP
Frank Ocean reportedly infuriated label bosses by releasing Blonde through Apple Music. Photo/AP

Frank Ocean's long-awaited album Blonde has opened at No. 1 on the US and New Zealand charts in one of the year's biggest debuts - but it comes after the artist thumbed his nose at his label.

The genre-merging hip-hop star's album sold 276,000 copies or the equivalent in downloads and streaming in the week through Thursday, tracking service Nielsen Music said.

The figure was the third highest for an album in its first week this year, although it was significantly below Drake's Views and Beyonce's Lemonade.

Like Drake and Beyonce, Ocean signed an exclusive arrangement, in his case with tech giant Apple, which made Blonde available exclusively on its Apple Music streaming service or for purchase on iTunes.

But Ocean self-released the album on his own label, which he called Boys Don't Cry, despite a contract with Def Jam, a unit of the world's largest music conglomerate Universal.

Ocean had won wide acclaim for his 2012 debut album Channel Orange, leading to an intense wait for his follow-up album.

After the four-year hiatus, Ocean on August 19 unveiled an album - not Blonde, which came out just one day later, but a more ambient work entitled Endless that accompanied a film on Apple Music.

In the fine print, Endless was on Def Jam, meaning he fulfilled his two-record obligation through a work he described as secondary to Blonde, essentially outfoxing the world's biggest music label group.

The move reportedly infuriated Universal chief Lucian Grainge. He responded by ordering all Universal labels to end streaming exclusives, according to the Music Business Worldwide blog and other music publications.

Apple Music and hip-hop mogul Jay Z's Tidal service have relied on exclusives in hopes of winning customers from streaming leader Spotify, whose model has been to aim at wide and open access rather than original content.

Ocean performs in a unique blend of rap and R&B falsetto, with introspective lyricism known for its subtlety.

Blonde features cameos or collaborations with a range of influential artists from Beyonce to Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood.

Unusual in the often-macho world of hip-hop, Ocean has songs of relationships with other men and he has increasingly been seen as a gay rights icon.


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