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Pyramids might be the best song I’ve heard in a long time, not to speak of this year. It’s pop and R&B’s finest and most enthralling: 9 minutes of electro bounce goodness, subversive trance-style rhythm and black philosophy all rolled into one. It’s Frank’s “stairway to heaven” “bohemian rhapsody” or “only in dreams.”
But I’m sure you out there reading this know how good it sounds, so instead let’s talk about what this song is–which in a nutshell is a history of the sexual degradation and roles played in black history.

It’s kind of weird seeing girls tweet that they’re “working at the pyramid tonight” or some variation. Do they not realize what that implies or do they know but just think it sounds cool? If it’s the latter than I guess that’s fine; I mean I tweet gangsta rap lyrics all day long but it doesn’t mean I actually live that life. If it’s the former than it’s a little disheartening; a song with as good as lyrics as these shouldn’t be ignored.

Set the cheetahs on the loose
There’s a thief out on the move Underneath our legion’s view
They have taken Cleopatra, Cleopatra

Run run run come back for my glory
Bring her back to me
Run run run the crown of our pharaoh
The throne of our queen is empty

Now as anyone who’s taken any sort of history class (or at the very least aware of RapGenius) can tell you, the Cleopatra being referred to here is the actual queen of the nile herself who ruled over Egypt and was known for her incredible beauty. (among other things we’ll get to shortly).

And we’ll run to the future
Shining like diamonds in a rocky world
A rocky, rocky world
Our skin like bronze and our hair like cashmere
As we march to the rhythm On the palace floor
Chandeliers inside the pyramid
Tremble from the force
Cymbals crash inside the pyramid
Voices fill up the halls

Set the cheetahs on the loose There’s a thief out on the move

Underneath our legion’s view

They have taken Cleopatra, Cleopatra

The basic idea is that the quote “king of the throne” is looking for his queen who’s gone missing. Him and his queen were supposed to lead Africa to the future; make it stronger and uplift the people. Now if you know the history of Cleopatra then you know that she was a woman who loved and seeked power the only way she knew how: through her beauty and body. It’s known that she had used her sexuality in order to form alliances with greek kings to guarantee that her empire would be the strongest. Frank seems to have used this as a launching point on the history of prostitution as well as a look at what it feels like to love someone precious but not be able to have them.

The jewel of Africa
What good is a jewel that ain’t still precious
How could you run off on me?
How could you run off on us?
You feel like God inside that gold
I found you laying down with Samson And his full head of hair
Found my black queen Cleopatra
Bad dreams Cleopatra

Remove her
Send the cheetahs to the tomb
Our war is over, our queen has met her doom
No more she lives, no more serpent in her room
No more, it has killed Cleopatra, Cleopatra

The Samson reference is an interesting one. Samson is one of the judges of the ancient Israelites said to have been granted supernatural strength by God in order to battle his enemies. Nothing is worse for your ego than knowing your Queen is in bed with a man like that, not even to speak on the racial implications of it. Cleopatra eventually fell to her death, by suicide, upon her lover Mark Antony’s loss in the Battle of Actium. The snake imagery isn’t lost either, as both a reference to the snake bite Cleopatra allegedly used to kill herself as well as a euphemism for temptation and lust. In the end she met her fall through her need for power and riches.

Big sun coming strong through the motel blinds
Wake up to your girl for now let’s call her Cleopatra,
Cleopatra I watch you fix your hair
Then put your panties on in the mirror, Cleopatra
Then your lipstick, Cleopatra
Then your six inch heels
Catch her
She’s headed to the pyramid

She’s working at the pyramid tonight
Working at the pyramid
Working at the pyramid tonight
Working at the pyramid
Working at the pyramid tonight
Working at the pyramid
Working at the pyramid tonight
Working at the pyramid
Working at the pyramid tonight
Working at the pyramid
Working at the pyramid tonight

Pimping in my convos
Bubbles in my champagne
Let it be some jazz playing
Top floor motel suite, twisting my cigars
Floor model TV with the VCR
Got rubies in my damn chain
Whip ain’t got no gas tank
But it still got woodgrain
Got your girl working for me
Hit the strip and my bills paid
That keep my bills paid
Hit the strip and my bills paid
Keep a nigga bills paid

From here we move to present day. The life of your typical pimp benefiting off selling lust and using a woman’s body to help him profit and establish his “kingdom” so to speak. Going from once being kings and queens to instead the seedy underbelly using the same tactics that they’ve always thought would get them ahead. It’s no grand observation to point out the fact that we, as black people, are part of a hypersexualized culture. Lust has always been found in us throughout all of history even before slavery and the objectification of our women by our men. Here in this song, Frank draws the parallels between ancient Egypt and today; showing a pattern between our thought processes between then and today.

She’s working at the pyramid tonight
Working at the pyramid
Working at the pyramid tonight
Working at the pyramid
Working at the pyramid tonight
Working at the pyramid
Working at the pyramid tonight
Working at the pyramid

You showed up after work
I’m bathing your body
Touch you in places only I know
You’re wet and you’re warm just like our bathwater
Can we make love before you go
The way you say my name makes me feel like I’m that nigga
But I’m still unemployed
You say it’s big but you take it
Ride cowgirl
But your love ain’t free no more, baby
But your love ain’t free no more

And then we get to the end of the song where everything comes full circle. Just as the king who loved Cleopatra and felt betrayed by her personal power grabbing, we are presented with someone in love with a hooker. A woman who, despite this man’s strong feelings, treats him no different than another client; doing things to make him feel like a man but still expecting compensation for it.

It’s a testament to how good and multilayered this song is, that you can gather so many insightful thoughts from it. Like most of Channel Orange, it’s yet another song about unrequited love but also a song about history and sexuality– not to mention a fun, danceable track. It’s not often a song you can party to is so full of education.

Over the fourth of July holiday, R&B singer/Odd Future member Frank Ocean opened up about his sexuality in the midst of rumors circulating by different critics and writers who’d gotten a first listen at Frank’s new upcoming album, Channel Orange Mr. Ocean took too his tumblr and released a letter he had written one a plane trip from New Orleans to Los Angeles in which he chronicles his first love being with a man at the age of 19 who didn’t feel the same. Now, a few things circulated my mind upon reading this: 1.) This sounds a lot like what I went through with a girl I fell in love with last summer (that’s a whole other story) 2.) This is a really eloquent letter and a real reminder why I love this guy’s music and 3.) Did he type this on Microsoft word 97 or did he use some remaining AOL hours to put this together. I know that the big issue here is: what does this revelation mean for Frank and for his career, but honestly I don’t see that as a very serious issue. Yes, there will be people who will stop listening to him and will even attack him when given the chance but in 2012 those people don’t really make a big impact with an artist like Frank. Let’s not forget, this isn’t Trey Songz or Tyrese we’re talking about; this is a guy who makes experimental R&B music that mostly appeals to a niche (and mostly progressive minded) hipster circuit, like the rest of odd future, who just happened to catch fire with a more pop friendly crowd. Frank’s career will be alright. The other thing is, what does this mean for the Rap/R&B network? Which, as you may already know, has a stronger tendency towards homophobia and have been populated throughout the years with people who stayed in the closet and led double lives. I honestly don’t know what it means, it’s a little presumptuous to think that this could lead to a tidal wave of rappers and R&B artists coming out of the closet. The one major thing that race and the gay lifestyle have in common is that they’ll always be looked at as the elephant’s in a room, the issue people would rather keep out of discourse and pretend isn’t an issue. And it’s because of this problem that an issue that should be greeted with a shrug by everyone in this day and age is instead of topic of dissection and discourse. Frank Ocean isn’t suddenly an activist because he shared this secret with us; hell, he hasn’t even technically said he was gay or bisexual or whatever. He’s just a guy with something to get off his chest before he could sore free. Our need to place things in a box and label them is what’s really taking place right now, and it’s sad that is has to be that way. Sure, we can go off on the whole religion argument but that’s not my place, nor is it yours; the only person who needs to worry about Frank is Frank. And that’s the way it should be.

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