Could Frank Ocean Be Sued Over ‘Blonde’ Album Switcheroo?
After a four-year hiatus and seemingly endless teases of new music, Frank Ocean delivered a cryptic gift to fans on August 18 in the form of a mysterious visual album titled “Endless” on Apple Music. While lovers of “Nostalgia Ultra” and “Channel Orange” didn’t hesitate to stream the 45-minute musical project, many audiophiles couldn’t help but wonder if Frank was still yanking our chains with what appeared to be his version of a woodworking performance art piece. But their suspicions were quickly answered.
Two days later Ocean dropped his album “Blonde” via his independent label Boys Don’t Cry. Equipped with genre-bending sounds, famous collaborations, and accompanied by a striking music video for the song “Nikes,” this was the album fans had been waiting for. But why two albums?
As it turns out the double debut was actually part of a well-calculated move on Ocean’s part that allowed him to independently release his album “Blonde” sans the involvement of former label Def Jam and its parent company Universal Music Group (UMG). By dropping “Endless” a few days prior, Ocean effectively fulfilled his contractual obligations, freeing him from the label.
Not only was this strategy lucrative (it’s estimated that Ocean has already earned over $1 million from the album in its first week), but it was essentially a big f**k you to the industry execs who were left what amounts to a very long music video.
According to Billboard, “UMG chairman/CEO Lucian Grainge reacted swiftly by informing the heads of his labels that Universal was done with streaming exclusives on one platform and on a global basis, which has been at the center of the streaming services’ arms race in the last 18 months.”
But is Ocean completely off the hook after staging his grand coup?
Well, it’s hard to say. In July, Billboard reported that Def Jam had spent $2 million on recording costs for Ocean’s album, at the time thought to be called “Boys Don’t Cry.” It’s speculated that Ocean payed this advance back with money from his new deal with Apple, effectively releasing him from any recoupable claims from Def Jam. But if Ocean’s “Endless” failed to meet the label’s quality standards, or if “Blonde’s” release violated contractual time stipulations, Def Jam could have grounds to sue.
UGM hasn’t announced if it is planning to file a lawsuit, so most of this is pure speculation, but if I were Frank, I’d have my legal team keep an eye out over the next couple months.