“In the music business, when you disappear for a long stretch of time, you abandon your right to grouse about how things have changed in your absence…” – that’s how Jon Caramanica began his new article on A Tribe Called Quest in The New York Times yesterday and the group’s latest album, We Got It From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service, released to what The A.V. Club notes was “a flood of gratitude”. Kathleen expressed the same in her post this week about Dave Chappelle and ATCQ and it’s because ATCQ hasn’t come back to grouse, they’ve come back to the grind. The grind is the work. For them, in particular, the work was ground out of loss, the loss of a brother, Phife Dawg.
The call of work also dominates Jon Caramanica’s other piece in the NYT, also published yesterday, on Frank Ocean. This is a rare interview and, given that he’s already released Endless and Blonde and deliberately withheld submitting his work for Grammy consideration – despite appeals from the Recording Academy and, in a way, Kanye West – I’m not actually sure about the motivation. Then again, the fact that I’m wondering about motivation with respect to this particular artist is probably the problem. Frank Ocean simply doesn’t work that way, for real. It’s not a front, like some put up, pretending not to want the spotlight, pretending to be press-averse, for the sake of being press-averse, in itself a label, because he does admit that fame intrigues him:
“Sometimes I’m fascinated with how famous my work could be while I’m not so famous.”
It’s there, see? The lure of fame, the siren. Of course it’s there, and so Frank has struggled with wanting fame for his work while wondering if he can separate that fame from himself – or whether or not he even wants to. What stood out to me was how he explained what he’s chasing; in recalling his goals for Endless and Blonde, and the complicated business scheme that he was able to resolve by dropping both back to back, he said that, “With this record in particular, I wanted to feel like I won before the record came out, and I did…”
And so now he finds himself in a position of choice and not need. As Jon Caramanica wrote, “He is as much refusenik as artist – what he does may be less important than what he chooses not to do”. Which is not to say that he’s going to stop working, it’s just that what he works on, even as he’s heading into the studio at the end of the piece to work on new music, might not be music. Frank tells Jon Caramanica that he’s considering a visual arts degree, “areas where I’m naïve, where I’m a novice”. And when his mother tells him he doesn’t have the time for that, he responds that he actually does, because “I’m rich!”, clarifying afterwards that, “I wasn’t trying to flex up on my mom…(it was) a personal service announcement to me, to just be like, ‘Wait, look at your position, you have the luxury of choice”.
To go back to the beginning and A Tribe Called Quest though, and the right of the disappearing artist and the art that emerges from absence, what is the work that happens when choice meets urgency?
Yours in gossip,