Track Review: Frank Ocean – “Pyramids”

[Def Jam; 2012]

Ever since he released his mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra in early 2011, Frank Ocean’s popularity has grown exponentially, and fans have eagerly awaited any kernel of info on his debut LP. And since then, we have been teased with tracks posted out of nowhere on his Tumblr, and never before heard songs being played at his live shows. But recently, Ocean has given us much more than we could have expected: confirmation of his album Channel Orange, and a nearly 10-minute long epic of a track, that both satisfies and leaves us wanting more.

With “Pyramids,” Ocean has shown the music world exactly what he is capable of doing as a major player in the R&B scene, and let me tell you, it is quite a lot. Produced by Ocean himself, “Pyramids” is the type of song that stays with you for a long time, and begs you to go through all 9 minutes and 57 seconds on every listen. Split into two distinct halves, the song weaves a story about two women named Cleopatra: an Egyptian Pharaoh in the past as well as a prostitute in the present-day. As the song goes on though, the stories begin to merge, and each woman’s life starts to reflect the other’s.

Starting off with ringing keys and a grooving bass line, Ocean’s voice sets the tone of the song before it explodes into a powerful synth progression that becomes a theme throughout the first half of the track. Known for his strong writing, Frank Ocean’s lyrics are at their best on “Pyramids,” with clever lines such as “The jewel of Africa, What good is a jewel that ain’t still precious?” The production is also pitch-perfect, with a spacey futuristic beat that is smartly juxtaposed with the story of a Pharaoh from the past. Narrated from the point-of-view of her lover, Ocean laments the death of Cleopatra, and how she abandoned their love: “How could you run off on me, how could you run off on us?”

In the second half of the track, “Pyramids” shifts to the story of a pimp and his prostitute also named Cleopatra, and the music shifts to a hypnotically calming beat to match the new storyline. This pimp doesn’t seem to be very profitable though, as Ocean sings “Got rubies in my damn chain. Whip ain’t got no gas tank, but it still got woodgrain.” All of this is brought together by the haunting hook of “She’s working at the Pyramid tonight,” detailing the sexual exploits of the present day Cleopatra. In the final moments of the song, Ocean puts a twist on the story, and reveals that the pimp has now fallen in love with his Cleopatra, but has lost her to her customers, and in turn has become one himself: “The way you say my name makes me feel like I’m that ni**a… But your love ain’t free no more.”

Though it was never really a question that Frank Ocean would make a big impact with his debut LP, “Pyramids” has somehow managed to raise the bar even higher, and has let everyone know that he is here to stay. If you weren’t already looking forward to Channel Orange, it’s time to start getting excited.

Channel Orange is due out July 17th on Def Jam.