Frank Ocean's channel ORANGE turns 10: How his inimitable debut changed pop culture forever

Frank Ocean was already on track for legend status, but coming out in the run up to the release of his debut album channel ORANGE altered the course of hip-hop forever. Here's why.

There are few albums that you can say, quantifiably, changed and altered the course of the culture. Frank Ocean's debut album channel ORANGE is undoubtedly one of them. 

Not just an assured debut from one of our most talented and enigmatic auteurs, channel ORANGE also saw Frank broaden the horizons for what hip-hop could sound like...and what those creating hip-hop could sound like. 

On July 4 2012, Frank posted a message he had originally intended for the linear notes of channel ORANGE on his Tumblr page, six days out from the album's release. In it, he disclosed that the bulk of the album (and the topic of lead single Thinkin Bout You) had been written about a summer when he was 19 years old, where he had fallen in love with a man, his "first true love."

"I don't know what happens now, and that's alright," Frank wrote. "I don't have any secrets I need kept anymore... I feel like a free man." It proved to be a landmark moment for hip-hop culture, spearheaded by an artist many had already been hailing as a future legend. Frank's coming out was supported by OddFuture bandmate Tyler, The Creator, as well as industry heavyweights Jay-Z and Beyoncé (who would feature Frank on future albums). 

But it would be wrong to state that Frank's sexuality is the most important part of channel ORANGE and its success. The album itself is brilliant, built around the loose concept of Frank searching through endless TV channels, shows and commercials. It's a lush sonic soundscape, blending psychedlic, pop and soul influences into Frank's synth-orientated fantasia trip.

From the aforementioned longing of Thinkin Bout You, to the flex of Super Rich Kids, to the epic Pyramids -  that travels from the depths of Ancient Egypt to the seedy underbelly of a modern city in just under 10 minutes - Frank displayed total control and understanding of his craft. 

It's an understanding that he would only expand upon in his next works, the double release of Endless and his magnum opus, 2016's labyrinthine and complex Blonde. 

In the UK, channel ORANGE debuted and peaked at Number 2 on the Official Albums Chart, but has continued to see growing success in the decade since its release. According to Official Charts Company data, channel ORANGE has shifted over 361,000 chart units and has streams in excess of 296 million across all tracks and formats.

It's most-streamed track benefits from a revisiting of Frank's debut in the modern day. Lost - which was never released officially as a single - has experienced massive growth over the past year, due in large part to its popularity on TikTok. Thanks to this, it upstages Thinkin Bout You as channel ORANGE's most-streamed track, with over 70 million streams to his name.

10 years on from channel ORANGE's release, Frank has not been as busy as one might expect - Blonde is, to date, his only other album, although he has released a string of one-off singles over the past few years (most notably the impressive Chanel) and continues to collaborate with mainstream names (Slide with Calvin Harris and Migos being a particular highlight). 

The magic of channel ORANGE lies in just how slowly it unfurls to you. Much like Blonde, it can take a few listens to wrap your head around everything, but the pay-off is more than worth it. And it's release is proof that Frank didn't just change the culture musically, he also personally tried to alter and define the parameters for who is anointed in hip-hop. We may have, sadly, not seen the progress that was first envisioned when he posted that statement to Tumblr, but it remains a steady foundation on which to build, and celebrate, even a decade on.

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