Hear ye Hear ye.
Let it be forever known and forever remembered that Frank Ocean’s “Pyramids” is a vital contribution to music, society, philosophy and our culture.
As one of the founding members of the Left Side Poets, I humbly request that my fellow brothers and sisters embrace Frank Ocean after careful consideration of his latest song. As defenders of discourse, soldiers of self expression and fighters for free speech, the LSP understand the importance of releasing material that has a lasting impact. After listening to Frank Ocean’s “Pyramids”, I realized that he is more than just a good musician. He is a great artist, story teller and poet.
“Pyramids” is the modern day re-creation of Nas’ “Black Girl Lost”. Both songs allow us to hear the artist’s view of the modern day Black woman with feelings of sorrow and disgust. While “BGL” will always be a classic, “Pyramids” is far superior in content, delivery, imagery and production. I will admit that I was blown away by subtle references that would only be understood by those who know their history and their biblical teachings. The jury (my brain) is still trying to figure out if Frank Ocean actually comprehends what he created with this song. Some of the historical references don’t match, but the story is amazing nonetheless. Let us examine the beauty of this song as well as my interpretation.
We begin in Africa; Egypt to be exact. Cleopatra is missing. Why? We are not sure…yet. The point is that she is missing; no, she was stolen. There is a battle cry to find her while trying to understand how she could leave or allow her self to be torn away from her rightful place as ruler especially after she worked SO HARD to gain the throne. Her place is with her people. We soon see that Cleopatra’s image is tainted and is no longer viewed as precious. Now, this is where the first half of the song gets interesting. At this point, Frank Ocean mentions Samson. According to my research (and I could be off by a hundred years or so) but there is no way that Samson and Cleopatra would have ever crossed paths. Therefore, in my mind, Samson is symbolic of lust and its power to destroy. We all know that Samson was destroyed at the hand of Delilah who betrayed him for money. If you don’t know the story, pick up a bible and check it out. I guess even back then, men didn’t realize that when you sleep with street cats you get fleas. Same tale, different time period. Blah.
Anyway, back to the song. Similarly, we can argue that Cleopatra was destroyed at the hands of her western lovers Julius Caesar and Mark Antony who pretty much did the same thing as Delilah. Leave it to “historians” to try to paint Cleopatra as the downfall of Caesar and Antony… ::rolls eyes:: They ruined her! Sure, Cleopatra had some funky family issues going on (such as plotting against her brother/husband to get him off the throne so she can rule alone; a child by Caesar that Rome would not acknowledge; twins by Antony etc.), but at the end of the day she controlled a lot of the grain that was vital to the success and survival of the Roman empire (and cause for the final battle with Caesar Augustus). Finally, Frank Ocean gives up and tells us to get the cheetahs and head back to the tombs because Cleopatra is dead. She killed herself by snake bite after Antony commits suicide himself because he lost to the aforementioned Caesar Agustus. (<- If that is not an example of Black women being “ride or die” for their man, then I don’t know what is.) The serpent is VERY important here. Not only was the serpent the cause of her physical death, it was the cause of her emotional and spiritual demise as well. Ladies, how many times has a serpent in your bedroom caused you to go over the deep end? Think about it. Caesar and Antony must have had amazing serpents… I’m just saying. This is not the first time we have seen a serpent contributing to the downfall of a woman. Let us not forget our good friend Eve.
What does all of this have to do with anything? Well, this is when the beat changes and we get to the second half of the song. Much like the transition in the beat, we have a transition in history from ancient Egypt to present day. Not much has changed. Yes, we have advanced in many ways but we (I’m looking at us Black folks) are still reaping what Cleopatra has symbolically sowed. We now meet a prostitute named Cleopatra. I thought this part of the song was extremely clever because looking back at the real Cleopatra, she prostituted herself for the profit of her nation. However, modern day Cleopatra is merely “working at the pyramid tonight”. She went from ruling an empire which was the home of some of the greatest pyramids to being just a cheap thrill at cheap hotel shaped like a pyramid only to ride a hard shaft which resembles a pyramid when under the sheets. OH, THE FREAKING IRONY. I love this song so much. I don’t think you all hear me though. Brothers and sisters, pay attention to the last few verses of the song because it is why I sincerely believe the song is a masterpiece.
Cleopatra is being pimped by a man that clearly still loves her. You can hear it in the last few verses of the song. However, he is utterly disgusted by her and who she has become. The kicker in this whole situation is that his situation is not much better since he is a pimp (and a bad one because his lady is working at a cheap hotel, they live in a cheap motel and he doesn’t even have gas!). YET, he is still madly in love with her. He desires her physically and spiritually. She is his backbone and feeds him what he needs. We know his employment situation sucks, but Cleopatra still makes him feel like a man(<- Full circle, again Black women being “ride or die”). We love to talk about how our brothers don’t want to be us anymore and how they have no love or respect for us. I believe that is all bullshit. The reality is that Black men have always and will continue to love Black women. The same goes for Black women. I just believe that we have become so disgusted in who we have become and we no longer know how to or have the desire to address the issue. Our men are weak. Our women are lost. We find ourselves on a road of trying to get back to where we belong, which is, together as a unit.
We have never gotten back to our rightful places as rulers who knew their worth and value. Ladies, we still allow serpents (physical and symbolic) to enter our chambers and destroy everything that we are destined to be. Brothers, you are not off the hook. You are still playing the role of Samson by allowing us (I’m looking at all of the women who are just no good) to sell your strength for a few pennies in the form of bags, shoes, child support, REALITY TELEVISION, etc. Furthermore, brothers, you are continuing to play this broke pimp role at the expense of your Black queens.
The most interesting fact about this song is that it is filled with beautiful imagery and a phenomenal story however, it lacks resolution. In the beginning of this essay I mentioned that this song is a modern day version of “Black Girl Lost”. Both songs show us our downward spiral from grace, but neither mention to us any suggestion of what should be done to ascend. It is unfair to say that Nas or Frank Ocean have the correct answer to the question “So now what do we do?” but it is also unfair to not demand their response since it would be a vital contribution to the conversation.
One day I hope to write a full piece relating “Pyramids”, “Black Girl Lost” (the song by Nas and the book by Donald Goines) to African American education. I am going to do it. It may not be today or tomorrow, but it will get done. There is no doubt in my mind that this song will forever be a classic and talked about for years to come. I appreciate this song and I look forward to how it will affect our culture. Is it possible that I over analyzed the song? Maybe. Does it mean my argument is not valid? No. Either way, this song is amazing and I fully support Frank Ocean becoming a member of the Left Side Poets.
I would love to hear your thoughts. My ears are wide open.