We dissect Frank Ocean’s 10-minute masterwork “Pyramids” from Channel Orange. Part 1 of 2.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
From spotify studios welcome to dissect long for A call now says broken into short digestible episodes. Your house call, because today we continue our serializable sis of channel orange by frank ocean or allow this episode, we dissected it real songs that expounded upon the effects of well on the song, We life we heard about an uncultured woman ignorant to the world outside or gated life in ladera heights. The skit not just money, provided a sharp contrast to sweet life, as we heard from a poor by their attempting to to, your son, the value of money, the song super rich kids, immediately follows portraying a drug abusing teen, born into extreme wealth, lonely and reckless because of his neglectful, parents and superficial friends at the end of super rich kids, the television motif appears once again.
as we hear frank flipping through channels, a part we want to things in common now. The only thing we share is the refrigerator ice call frank lands on pilot jones. The next song on channel orange pilot jones is an extended metaphor as frank characterizes. His complex relationship with a drug abusing woman, she's addicted to drugs and he's addicted to her. He points this woman pilot jones. I name was several clever meetings pilot because, like a plane the sky, she gets some high with her love jones because he's addicted he's jonesing and she is his dealer, his fix throughout the song. He attempts to resist the woman. Much like a drug addict will attempt to resist their addiction, but the protagonists ulta.
resigns by the song's end living in quote a condo on the cloud, So a If I got a handle on about, then I guess you stay at my place, you want need. I made it. Intends we hear the sounds of an airplane, a symbolic sonic, depiction of being high. This lead
directly into crack rock the song about a crack addict living in arkansas, who this is life deteriorate because of his addiction. Crack rock is in part inspired by frank's grand father, a former addict frank told the guardian quote for a song like crack rock my grand father, who had struggled to be a father for my mom and my uncle his second chance at father. Hood was me in his early 20s. He had a host of problems with uh shin and substance abuse. When I knew him, he was a mentor for the n, a and aa groups. I used to go to the meetings and hear these where he's from the addicks heroin and crack in alcohol. The stories like that influence a song like that unquote, crack rock, is full of intricate. Word play I well. We don't have time to cover the track line by line. I would like to spend some time discussing the song in broad strokes, while also zeroing in on a few essential details like pilot jones. First, one of crack rock uses double entendres to portray sex and drug addict,
little emad a in the middle of a little black men in that glass. They use the data you stated well, she was in you and the of frank begins a verse. You don't know how little you matter and tell you're all alone in the middle of arkansas, with the little rock left on that glass. Dick cleverly frank plays off little rock arkansas state capitol to portray a piece of crack cocaine in a glass crack little rock left in that glass dick also begins a double entendre that continue throughout the verse frank sings used to date. A blonde
used to hit it raw because she was, and you are madly involved on its surface. It portrays the protagonist having unprotected sex with the blonde ex girlfriend, but blonde implies a white woman and white girl is slang for powder cocaine, the pure form of cocaine. Hence the line used to hit it raw in verse. Two, the protagonist turns to crime, to feed his addiction and it's family begins to distance themselves from him. Crack rocks hook condenses this man's story into three tragic lines to sleep with crack it. It's in stones in glass, home you, smoking, stones and abandoned home, get hit them star. Wallows in you broke your own crack crack crack crack crack crack cricket captain frank
he's up the saying those who live in glass homes shouldn't throw stones, singing hidden stones in glass homes. Here he's referring to crack cocaine, crack rocks being smoked out of a glass pipe. Next, he sings you're smoking stones in abandoned homes, alluding to the man's homelessness and smoking crack and abandoned drug house is fine. He sings you hit them stones and broke your home, which calls out the isolation from his family and the hurt instability. His addiction caused them. Frank then sings crack rock a number of times the song's title This was obviously refers to a piece of crack. Cocaine often called rocks, but it's see time and time again with drinks, music, there's often a double or even triple meaning to the song titles. Crack rock could refer to the physical shaking a rocking motion. One exhibits well high on crack and or the trembling experience when going through withdrawals
rock, is also used to refer to someone or something strong and reliable, like family or significant other. A crack rock then alludes to the deterioration of the protagonist family life as crack rock continues into the bridge. The scope of the song wide and frank talks more brought
only about drug issues in america crack crack crack crack cricket captain cap. How much to can you push me cricket cap cap? Look good for community fucking peckish at three hundred men will search for maine map rather get pads and download on his sound. Don't not here the ground, frank sings, krooked cop dead cop? How much dope can you push to me cricket cop dead, cop, no good for community here frank: alludes to governmental involvement, pushing drugs into inner city communities. We think back to the songs opening lines where it's a stab lish at the protagonist lives in arkansa, a state that has an interesting history with
cocaine. It's been speculated by many that the men at airport in arkansas was used by the cia as a drop point for importing cocaine from latin america in the 1980s and according to the senate foreign relations committee, do u dot s state apartment paid almost one million dollars to four companies owned and operated by narcotic traffickers in the early 80s and much of the cocaine being trafficked in the? U s made its way to inner cities sold gang members in places like south central los angeles who then so two users in inner city communities. At the same time, the war on drugs in america was in full of
act and new legislation was being passed to harsh in the penalties of certain drugs, specifically regarding cocaine, the prison sentence, disparity between possession of crack there cheaper process, former cocaine used mostly by poor black americans, was one hundred times longer than powder cocaine. A more expensive drug used primarily by whites, frank continues. The bridge alluding to more governmental racial bias, singing fucking pig get shot. Three hundred men will search for me. My brother get popped and don't know when hear the sound frank seems to be pointing out that, despite being involved in importing crack cocaine into america, the death the cop received much more attention than the death of an addict of color, like the one portrayed on crack rock. The black addict is seen as a bottom dweller of society. His death not worthy of our resources, despite the government helping to create the cocaine problem that led to the destruction of the protagonist once stable life crack rock conclu
with an abrupt but calculated ending, don't not hear sound done, understand the peaceful rag it's done, nandas web navana. Don't know and wanna blow the high crack crack crack crack crack crack. How feeling girl, how doing crack crack before that abrupt outro, frank sings, don't know in dispute nirvana, don't no one want to blow the high. It seems he's pointing out our society's tendency to ignore problems like crack addiction in order to care
on the facade of an idealistic blue pill society toward the end of the song. There's a sudden mysterious shift to a woman character. Frank says how you feeling girl, how's the gutter. Doing by frank use of gutter. We might suspect the woman here is also an addict and can't just to a society that doesn't seem to care. Much for her frank is generally asking how she's feeling, but given the abruptness of the songs- and I believe this section is also a conscious segue into the albums next track. Pyramids and ambitious long story that describes a tragic decline of a woman named cleopatra at nearly ten minutes: long pyramid, the sonic centerpiece of channel orange and one of the most beloved songs in oceans repertoire we're going to spend new episodes breaking down this modern masterwork, which will begin right after the break. Today's episode of dissect is brought to you by sonos.
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Dot, sonos dot com going back to dissect. Before the break, we discussed the song pilot jones and crack rock both which center around addiction on pilot jones. We heard a character who fell for a drug dealer only to give into his addiction on the songs end on crack rock, we heard about the effects of drug addiction and the position at the bottom of the societal totem pole. At the end of crack rock, we heard frank's attention abruptly shift to a female character, leading into the album's next track, one of the most beloved songs and frank's entire repertoire pyramids.
Well, I'm gonna future. Just like them and an iraqi world package. You bird, a skin like bronze, ahead, like cashman's in park city with them on the paris, learn shanderman, sad that air med trembl from pyram It was released on june, eighth, two thousand and twelve. It was album. Second quote: unquote single, but at nearly ten minutes. Long is far from your traditional radio friendly hit. The song It was written and produced by frank ocean in malay, with additional production by keith and a guitar solo by john mayer, virtuosic display of oceans ability to tell a story through song ocean speaks.
Talking about his songs, being story set to music telling the new york times quote. The work is the work. The work is not me. I, like the anonymity that directores can have about their films, even though it's my voice, I'm a store. Teller. Unquote, he also told fader magazine quote: I'm really trying to create this environment around the song that makes the listener feel like they're in this play. And they're hearing the story, and not only are they hearing it, the really seeing it unquote. Pyramids is split in two large parts separated by sweeping transported in middle section that literally acts as a warm hole into the future. Pyramids two halves are thematically and narratively, linked by the songs made character, cleopatra, who fine self in the center of both worlds. Cleopatra was, of course, one of them famous female rulers in history. She was a member of the make dynasty a greek family who ruled egypt after the death alexander, the great cleopatra was highly intelligent, fluence, eh languages and her charm
beauty are literally the stuff of legend after the death of her father in fifty one bc, an eighteen year, neil cleopatra became the queen of egypt infamously the thatcher became romantically involved with dictator of the roman republic, julius caesar and alliance that help restore cleopatra's rule of egypt. After a brief exile, the two bore a child and clean. catch was president roman caesar was assassinated after caesars death, cleopatra aligned yourself with marc antony one of caesar successors, who ruled rome an unstable period following caesar's assassination getting political alliance antony and cleopatra became man. Tikli involved had a total of three children together and eventually married in thirty one bc, anthony and cleopatra, align their armies and attempt to defeat octavian and gain control of rome, anthony cleopatra were defeated, forcing the two to flee back to egypt, apart of To return to the battlefield enter
falsely informed that cleopatra had died distraught and facing imminent defeat. Anthony committed suicide by stabbing himself up on anthony suicide, patrick killed herself on august 12th in the year thirty bc. The sir stances surrounding her death are hazy at best. It's generally thought they cleopatra killed herself by enticing an asp or egyptian co to bite her arm, apparently a com way to commit suicide. During this time, cleopatra it's become an iconic figure of history, of course, is the tabloid like fascination in legacy dutour affairs with powerful men, but, more importantly, clue your record and the powerful woman who, in a male dominated society, help other country during a tumultuous time in history, proving to be a formidable powerful leader, every equal to her male counterparts. Pyramids opens with the descending four chord progression that repeats the entire first half.
We have an f minor d flat major asi suspended and the b flat minor These words introduced in the beginning of the song played by what sounds like a sample synthesizer the triggered chords play a syncopated rhythm, that is, they play unusual parts of the beat so that pulsar group of the song is bass, uncertainty, a sentiment center by the moody, mysterious quality of the descending chords
enters a song. An unusual drum be enters with him unusual because the drums are played backwards. So what would typically sound like this becomes? This on the song centered around cleopatra, who died in thirty bc, words drum sounds certainly help to of oca movement backwards in time. Ocean enters with the first half hook said
the stage for the story to come. She, the lucien begins said the cheat is on the loose there's a thief out on the move. Underneath our legions view. They have taken clear up. Straight away. Ocean puts paint on the canvas with vivid imagery of sprinting cheetahs animals known to be tamed and kept us. It's royalty in ancient egypt
She are set out to search for an unnamed thief. Food was captured, cleopatra oceans, use of the legion in the line, underneath our legions view is a detailed stroke of the oracle craftsmanship as legion was a word created in used to describe a basic unit of h. It rubs army ocean took those by no means historically accurate, nor is it a tempting to be cleopatra, as far as we know was never kidnapped the key take away from this open her is that cleopatra, who we suspect might be representative of something larger has been captured, has been stolen as pyramids continues,
she resumes a song story while backing vocals repeat the named cleopatra throughout ocean sings run run run, bring her back to me. Come back for my glory, bring her back to me, run run run the throne of our queen is empty. Here we get more emphasis on the fact that clear pattern has been stolen. What the words glory crowned pharaoh thrown in queen continue devoted option majesty and grandeur. At this point, we start to wonder who exactly our narrator is, as he says, come back for my glory. Bring her back to me for now
can only speculate that he might be a king or perhaps metaphorically something larger like egypt or africa itself. Interestingly, the name cleopatra means glory of the father, giving the line come back for my glory and even deeper resonance bridge comes to an abrupt stop. Does all the musical material drops out and a brassy heavily textured synthesizer plays a commanding riff this rift? What's real name the pyramid theme for reasons that I'm clear in a moment is a star contrast from the musical material that comes before it. It begins by ascending the first four notes of the f minor scale: f g, a flat and b flat,
and then it scales back down those same note that played on the way up now. The interesting thing about this team is a shape. It makes sonically. We have an ascension speaking here on a b flat, followed by a descent and, let's think about a shape that ascends peaks then immediately descends. The shape is a triangle like a pyramid right, the you can see here the musical notation of this theme. That is when the notes are written out in musical score. The ascending sending melody does indeed resemble a pyramid shape upon this discovery, We also realize that the melodies frank is sung on the song, thus far featuring
ending descending melodic pyramid shape. Let's take the opening. Few lines said that set the cheetahs on the loose. Do again down again again, if you were to see he's written out on a musical staff, the pyramid shape becomes quite obvious, being unintentional coincidence or brilliant compositional detail. These peer shapes, are undeniable and, in my opinion, it's a pretty amazing discovery, while the abrupt interjection of the edm inspired pyramids, the may sound, disjointed and out of place on first, in its present signals the transformation of the songs, musical setting a new bouncing floor and the floor drum beat is introduced accentuated by undulating synth bass. We find ourselves now, quite literally in a dance club, though it's an imagine dan
club inside the walls of the egyptian pyramids, welcomed into future shit like them, and an iraqi world package bird skin like bronze, ahead like cashman's in park city with them on the palace floor and dad and dad that air med change hamper from cymbals crash inside the pyramids. Push she's fell at the house playing off the run run run lines at the bridge. Ocean begins the verse will run into the future. He then proceed The pain of fantastical dreamlike seat at a modern dance club taking place inside the egyptian pyramids- frank, add subtle, brushstrokes of contextual detail describing bronze skin casual.
her trembling, chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and crashing cymbals, all of which are accompanied by the thumping dancehall rhythms over which ocean sings. This view versus a fantastical imagining buyer. Our stories narrator imagines cleopatra returning to them only for the two to quote run into the future and escape whatever unnamed danger. They currently find themselves in a danger that we assume legend the patches kidnapping. The verse, also foreshadows the song second half, where were quite literally find ourselves in the future, after repetition of the songs hook, verse two.
introduced adding a twist to the song's narrative ocean begins at birth, the joule of africa. What good is a jewel, the eight still precious we first think of cleopatra, powerful and beautiful being the metaphor jewel of africa. The narrator
lose to a falling from grace, implying she's lost her precious status. Appoint were returned to in a moment we think also of zimbabwe, the african country, nicknamed the jewel of africa due to their prosperity after their independence in nineteen eighty zimbabwe lost their quote: unquote: precious status after being riddled with becca mic problems and currently has the highest unemployment rate in the world at ninety. Five percent ocean continues to verse. How could you run off on me? How could you run off on us it's here? for the plot twists, as the narrator reveals that cleopatra has not been kidnapped, but ran away in her own accord. He says that He ran off on both me and on us, which seems to imply abandonment of their personal relationship and abandonment of our country. Egypt, next ocean says you feel, like god in that gold, I found you laying down with samson and his full head of hair. I believe this refers to sampson the judge in warrior described in the old testament book of judges,
the name samson means child of the sun, which helps to clarify that you feel, like god, inside that gold line sampson possess incredible physical strength, strength that was granted to him from god, through his long hair because cleopatra and sampson live nearly a thousand years apart. The two could never have crossed paths in real life. We assume in that ocean is writing metaphorically here, with sam representative of a man of power and stature to whom cleopatra was attracted, perhaps her relationship with julius caesar and marc, the verse so the line I found my black queen cleopatra bad dreams cleopatra. Here we get too subtle, but crucial revelations the first is that ocean establishes cleopatra's a black queen, the ethnicity and skin color cleopatra have long been a point of scholarly debate with knowing really knowing sure the answer to this mystery. As a result, cleopatra's been portrayed a myriad of ways throughout history from the darkest of skin color to the fairest, was crucial to the story on pyramids.
ocean makes it a point to decidely establish his cleopatra's black. The second subtle but crucial revelation is the phrase bad dreams. While we can interp Histamine, cleopatra's, betrayal, uh, something like the narrator's quote, unquote worst nightmare. I also suspect that this entire surreal story being told is actually someone dreaming. It would explain the futuristic egyptian dance club, the time warping crossing of cleopatra and samson, and the overall phantasmagoric feel of the song. First. Half pyramids continues with another hook.
Does this time with some very important lyrical changes she two, Are as follows: remove her send that this to the tune our war is over. Our queen is better doom. No more! She lives no more serpent in a room, no more. He is killed cleopatra.
Our narrator has resigned to search as cleopatra's dead, killed by a serpents bite. This piece of the story lucy resembles the common legend that cleopatra committed suicide by invoking into gyptian egyptian over to bite her after learning a mark, antony suicide. Of course it's pretty established by now that oceans, use of cleopatra is not meant to be historically accurate and we suspect the serpent here is also used, metaphorically We think first ever narrator and his feelings of betrayal in adultery by cleopatra, the serpent here because representative of sin and temptation, much like it does in the bye. full story of adam and eve and many other historical legends. A serpa also becomes a clever illusion to a man's penis. This interpret she carries over to the next line. No more, he is killed cleopatra typically, one witness in assigned gender to a snake. It has killed cleopatra.
It forces us to consider that the serpent is being used metaphorically for the man with whom cleopatra cheated the man who apparently led to our demise. It also gives an interesting possible double meaning to the opening line of the sec said the cheetahs to the tomb cheetah, which sounds a lot like jeter, is sent to a tomb where one is buried after death cleopatra, a cheater is now dead and being sent to a tune to be buried. This altar took his fall directly by another performance of the pyramids being played on that press. The synthesizer, which now feels right at home over the club inspired drums base coming after the dramatic announcement of cleopatra's death, the pyramid steam comes to sound a bit more ominous this time around, I'm going to play the lines leading up to the roof once more and this time around notice. The melody ocean sings when announcing the death of cleopatra he climbs into an extremely high register and, on the word serpent, the highest noted the entire song. It's a brilliant display of ocean thoughtful calculated. You
ability to enhance the dramatic impact of the story he's telling immediately. Following this passage, we enter the songs middle section, a transported interlude that features low, hazy sustained chords and arpeggiated synthesizers armada klay. The passage begins to shift outside the established f minor, key signature. The entire first half of the song was that by the third and fourth chords, we've entered an entirely new tonal area, the tempo or speed
this section also decreases dramatically around forty beats per minute, so much so that we temporarily lose our sense of time and pulse and the passages allowed to flow freely uninhibited by the musical structures establishing the songs opening. For me, with the harmony tempo instrumentation all abruptly changing in this middle section, it's safe to say this bridge is serving a function. What exactly is that function
find that out and a whole lot more in part, two of our two part pyramids extravaganza next time they sent dissect, is written and produced by being additional projects, a poor. My spotify's michelle santucci original theme, music by bureaucratic. Remember when you listen to dissect on spotify you'll, get new episodes a week before all other that, as well as access to exclusive bonus episodes only available on spotify follow at dissect podcast on twitter and instagram and follow the official dissect spotify user profile. For playlist curated by me, this collaborative playlist you can contribute to. You can find that by sir chinx dissect pod, please in spotify. Okay, thanks, everyone talk to you next week.