Turns out Frank Ocean’s highly-anticipated, already critically-acclaimed album, Blonde was released independently—not on Def Jam.
Frank reportedly fulfilled his contractual obligations with Def Jam with the release of his visual album, Endless, which arrived just before Blonde. Frank has previously publicly expressed his disappointment with Def Jam. When his 2011 release, Nostalgia Ultra dropped, Frank wrote on Twitter: “i. did. this. not ISLAND DEF JAM…. f**k Def Jam & any company that goes the length of signing a kid with dreams & talent w/ no intention of following through.”
This latest move is a big deal, for several reasons.
For one, Blonde, which was released exclusively on Apple Music, is expected to arrive at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. That’s significant—a move that many music executives are calling genius, and one that greatly protects Frank’s nterests. Of course, Tyler, the Creator, Chance the Rapper, Rich Homie Quan and other artists have made major splashes independently as well, but Frank’s release is arguably the biggest indie release thus far.
Secondly, just two days after Frank’s release, The Guardian reports that Lucian Grainge, CEO of Universal Music Group (which houses Def Jam), reportedly commanded the company’s labels to stop making “exclusive” distribution deals with streaming services. According to Bob Lefsetz, author of an influential music industry newsletter, Grainge sent out a company-wide email on Monday. Lefsetz, argues that making exclusive distribution deals is anti-competitive and ultimately harms the consumer and the artist.
For example, Lefsetz says that Apple Music, which is ran by former Universal head Jimmy Iovine, should be investigated by the government over anti-trust concerns “because there’s a conspiracy between Apple Music and the industry to change the game, to get everybody to pay for a subscription by putting hit content behind a paywall.”
Insiders say the Universal Music Group move away from exclusive streaming services likely wasn’t related to Frank Ocean’s release at all, but the timing of the announcement certainly makes it appear that way. That too, ultimately benefits Ocean because it brings even more attention to his album.
Now, with Kanye West calling on radio to play his new album, Frank is in a position to continue to shake things up, as the industry continues to try to figure out how major labels and streaming services like Apple Music and TIDAL play into the traditional music landscape.
It’ll be interesting to see how everything plays out in the coming months.