Frank Ocean's "Biking" lyrics draw a ton of metaphors for life out of one simple machine
While the car may be American music's dream machine of choice, there's no shortage of epic songs about bicycles. Pink Floyd created an echoing psychedelic musique concrète out of bike sounds on 1967's "Bike." In 1978, Queen used a "Bicycle Race" as the backdrop for a whirlwind tour through '70s pop culture. Thundercat used a bike ride as a way to highlight the anxieties surrounding police brutality on February's Drunk. Saturday, Frank Ocean added to this storied catalog, releasing his own two-wheeled ode, "Biking" alongside Jay Z and Tyler, the Creator during his Blonde Radio show on Apple Music.
Like many of the great bike-riding artists of old, Ocean's track is more than a simple narration Sunday ride on the Huffy. All three of the artists featured on "Biking" use bike lingo to create elaborate metaphors about their experiences with the music industry, fame and fortune.
Jay Z's "Biking" verse
Right off the bat, Bed-Stuy legend Jay Z swerves his verse into esoteric territory, dropping a piece of bicycle wheel-themed wisdom: "Life goes in cycles, what comes around goes around." His advise to all the young hustlers, Frank and Tyler included, is to work your ass off while the luck is swinging in your favor: "'Fore it goes down, nigga, get you some icicles."
The rest of his verse delivers images of him living according to that mantra, punning off bike handle bars, Xanax bars and other assorted bike tricks.
Notably, the bicycle has long been a part of the Jay Z mythos. In a 2005 interview with Rolling Stone, Jay Z told the world how learning to ride a bike before all his friends gave him his first experience of fame.
I rode this ten-speed. It was really high, but I put my foot through the top bar, so I'm ridin' the bike sideways and the whole block is like, 'Oh God!' They couldn't believe this little boy ridin' that bike like that. That was my first feelin' of bein' famous right there [laughs]. Felt good.
Frank Ocean's "Biking" verses
Ocean gets two verses and a hook on the song, each one offering a slightly different vision of how life is like one big bike ride.
The first is a quick 10-bar sung verse, offering a portrait of Frank's freest: riding his bike. "Raf movin' slow like a creep," he sings in a nod to designer Raf Simons, whom Ocean also mentioned in his Boys Don't Cry personal essay. "Shirt in the breeze like I'm sailin.'" The meditation leads Frank into the chorus where he draws a line between life's continuing hardships and bike riding:
God gave you what you could handle
It's optimistic. God, he says, doesn't challenge anyone with anything they can't handle, and he's currently handling his challenges with the same ease he handles his bike. However, the abrupt "braking" line at the hook's end suggests that life isn't always a smooth ride.
His second verse, details some of his present anxieties, thinking about all the legal battles surrounding marriage in this country:
The first wedding that I've been in my twenties
And a close look at his substance abuse, a common theme in Ocean's music:
I'm fuckin' with Addy, I'm watchin' my dose
These are just potholes though. He's bikin' on.
Tyler, the Creator's verse
As Tyler, the Creator revealed on his 2013 Wolf album, his bike's name is Slater. He name drops it here again, in a verse discussing how his life hasn't changed much even though he's now a young star. He's still sweating while biking in L.A. The sweat now just drips onto his bejeweled chains.
My accolades hang from my neck
He brags that he's got solid white and black fanbases, being covered in the "white mags" and in "Jet," punning off the magazine title to compare himself with Disney Channel hero Jett Jackson, out here "savin' the streets."
The verses add up to create a smooth-sailing summer jam that leans on remarkably clever lyricism from its three rappers. It seems to suggest that any subject, even those as seemingly innocuous as bike riding, can make for a substantive hip-hop track, as long as the artist has enough imagination to see all the lyrical possibilities.
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