Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credit: Bent Rej / Press)

Music

The Jimi Hendrix sample used in a classic Frank Ocean song

@TylerGolsen

‘Crack Rock’ is the Frank Ocean song least open to interpretation. While the R&B singer has proven himself to be a master at sideways narratives, secret love songs, and off-kilter topics, ‘Crack Rock’ is as straightforward as a song could possibly be. That’s because, for Ocean, it was personal.

“For a song like ‘Crack Rock’, my grandfather, who had struggled to be a father for my mum and my uncle … his second chance at fatherhood was me,” Ocean once said. “In his early-20s, he had a host of problems with addiction and substance abuse. When I knew him, he was a mentor for the NA and the AA groups. I used to go to the meetings and hear these stories from the addicts – heroin and crack and alcohol. So stories like that influence a song like that.”

The ninth track from his seminal Channel Orange interrogates drug use, addiction, and the pitfalls that come with living a life devoted to something that’s killing you. In the song’s second half, Ocean follows the line to cops who pose as drug dealers to perpetuate the War on Drugs, and the subsequent lack of attention that follows the crookedness of these individuals compared to the suffering of largely black communities who are victimized by these crimes.

It’s all a bit heavy, but of course, Ocean manages to make it all sound silky smooth. You can groove to ‘Crack Rock’ and never once stop to think about the lyrics. That’s the blessing and the curse of Ocean’s work: he’s a genius songwriter, but he’s also a genius composer and arranger, so much so that it’s easy to have the messages go completely over the listeners head.

When it comes to ‘Crack Rock’, once that great drum pattern comes in, all bets are off. The song is off on a groove that can’t be stopped. It’s a double-edged sword, but the drums are an absolutely necessary element to the song. Ocean found them by picking out the legendary works of the psychedelic guitar god himself, Jimi Hendrix.

The penultimate track to Hendrix’s sophomore LP Axis: Bold as Love is ‘Little Miss Lover’, a funky hard rock track that leads off with Mitch Mitchell stomping out a killer opening drum pattern. That pattern will be immediately familiar to anyone who has listened to ‘Crack Rock’ because it appears virtually unaltered in Ocean’s song. It’s a great pull, considering how ‘Little Miss Lover’ is one of Hendrix’s more obscure songs with a great backing track.

Listen to the drum brake, and its later use in ‘Crack Rock’, down below.