Super Rich Kids by Frank Ocean has been my favorite for a few months now. In this song Ocean uses many and varying songwriting devices with tremendous freedom and confidence – and he pulls it off.
It’s a great song all around, but today we’ll mostly look at what he’s up to in the lyrics. A lot of specific and particular conversational detail pulls us right into the world of the song, plus he uses, masterfully, several different points of view and many different types of rhyming.
(You can play the song anytime from the window at the bottom of this page.)
He starts with the CHORUS:
Too many bottles of this wine we can’t pronounce
Too many bowls of that green, no Lucky Charms
The maids come around too much
Parents ain’t around enough
Too many joy rides in daddy’s Jaguar
Too many white lies and white lines
Super rich kids with nothing but loose ends
Super rich kids with nothing but fake friends
A summary of a lifestyle. It’s frankly judgmental (‘too many’, not enough’, ‘parents ain’t around enough’, ‘fake friends’), and even before he gets around to repeating the title at the end you know you”re hearing about a life of privilege and excess – and drugs. The rich kids can’t even pronounce the names of the wines they drink.
He also introduces – and I think this a great element – the ‘Upstairs/Downstairs’ aspect… the servants are always around and pretend not to notice anything. And it’s a rap; it’s presented very flat and deadpan, without much extra emphasis – which is exactly the right emphasis.
VERSE 1 (sung):
Start my day up on the roof
There’s nothing like this type of view
Point the clicker at the tube
I prefer expensive news
New car, new girl
New ice, new glass
New watch, good times babe
It’s good times, yeah
She wash my back three times a day
This shower head feels so amazing
We’ll both be high, the help don’t stare
They just walk by, they must don’t care
A million one, a million two
A hundred more will never do
Now we’re inside the head of one of the kids. In a night and day contrast to the Chorus, Verses 1 and 3 have beautiful melodies which emphasize the underlying sweetness of the ‘lost boy’ who’s singing. And though the melody is very rangy and soaring, it has the continuity of a rap, with surprising twists and a lot of freedom in both the rhyming and the willingness to switch thoughts and points of view on a dime (for instance, ‘We’ll both be high, the help don’t stare’ in one quick line).
It’s all about things – ‘new car, new watch’, feeling good (high), and the exhilaration of rich, stoned ‘good times’. The Verses are NOT judgmental (an important point) – they take us inside the kid’s head, in the moment. The commentary and conflict are mostly created by the contrast with the other sections… sounds like he’s really trying hard to convince himself about the ‘good times’, but hey… he’s a kid… he’s high…
(Verse 1 also contains my favorite line – ‘This shower head feels so amazing’. Wow!)
Real love, I’m searching for a real love
Oh, real love, I’m searching for a real love
Oh, real love
Using a classic strategy for a Bridge lyric, this is where the real feelings, that are suppressed in the rest of the song, come out. The longing, the yearning, the craving. And the words are as simple as can be, in contrast to the busy images and thoughts in the other sections.
VERSE 2 (rap):
Close your eyes for what you can’t imagine; we are the xany gnashing
Caddy smashing, bratty ass; he mad, he snatched his daddy’s Jag
And used the shit for batting practice, adamant and he thrashing
Purchasing crappy grams with half the hand of cash you handed
Panicking, patch me up; Pappy done latchkeyed us
Toying with Raggy Anns and mammy done had enough
Brash as fuck, breaching all these aqueducts; don’t believe us
Treat us like we can’t erupt, yup
Verse 2 is rapped by someone else (the estimable Earl Sweatshirt), but it could be from that same kid’s mind; just another part of it. Though the delivery is pretty neutral, the words are from the underside, the violent, threatening, and aggressive side (contrast it with the sweetness of Ocean’s voice in the other Verses). It could also be another kid in the group singing – it doesn’t really matter. Some really brilliant sound, wordplay, and inner rhyming here.
VERSE 3 (sung):
We end our day up on the roof
I say I’ll jump, I never do
But when I’m drunk I act a fool
Talking ’bout, do they sew wings on tailored suits
I’m on that ledge, she grabs my arm
She slaps my head
It’s good times, yeah
Sleeve rips off, I slip, I fall
The market’s down like 60 stories
And some don’t end the way they should
My silver spoon has fed me good
A million one, a million cash
Close my eyes and feel the crash
Following immediately after the harder edge of Verse 2, the sweet sounding kid is back. In what at first seems like a nice touch, he starts this verse as a mirror image of Verse 1: ‘we end our day up on the roof’… which we soon find out is a foreshadowing of tragedy.
Now he’s messing around with the idea of jumping off the roof (“Do they sew wings on tailored suits?’)… followed by ‘It’s good times, yeah…’; then she grabs his sleeve, it rips… ‘I slip, I fall’…’Some don’t end the way they should’…
‘Close my eyes and feel the crash’
And just like that, he’s gone.
A look at the melodies (and harmonies) in this song will have to wait for another day, but they’re just as good as the words – and, as with any really good song, they’re inseparable, working together or in contrast to create the effect the writer wants. But note how the differences in the melody in each section help emphasize the differences in the lyrics… and vice verse –
- Choruses rapped in traditional rhythm, with the emphasis on downbeats
- Verse 2 rapped in much more syncopated, over-the-bar-line rhythm
- Verses 1 & 3 are rhythmically surprising (more like Verse 2, but not as much), with a pretty melody
- Bridge – simple and beautiful group vocal refrain.
Structurally the song is interesting too –
Chorus/Verse/Chorus… then right into the Bridge… then Verses 2 & 3 back to back… then a third Chorus and out on the Bridge. Unusual, but a perfect arrangement for this song (the Verses and Choruses are long, for one thing).
Not to mention the singing… this guy’s got it going.