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Meaning of the song ‘Pyramids’ by ‘Frank Ocean’

Released: 2012

Frank Ocean’s “Pyramids” is a labyrinthine odyssey through time, love, and identity, uniquely spun within a 10-minute epic that shifts seamlessly from ancient allure to grimy contemporary scenes. The track is a testament to Ocean’s masterful storytelling, where he bridges the tale of Cleopatra’s fall with the story of a modern woman, both intertwined by their strengths, struggles, and the perception of their beauty and value. It’s a sprawling narrative, cleverly disguised as a club track yet deeply layered in its exploration of themes like exploitation, love, loss, and the cyclical nature of history.

The song kicks off with a mythical vibe, invoking “cheetahs on the loose” and a “thief out on the move”, setting an almost otherworldly stage for Cleopatra’s narrative. This isn’t just about the historical queen of Egypt; it’s Ocean dipping into allegory, using Cleopatra as a symbol for the exploitation and objectification faced by women across ages. The reference to “setting the cheetahs on the loose” serves as a metaphor for unleashing controlled chaos, perhaps hinting at the struggles between freedom and control that both the historical and modern Cleopatra face.

As Ocean weaves through “chandeliers inside the pyramids” and “cymbals crash inside the pyramids”, he’s painting vivid pictures of grandeur tainted by underlying discord. The grandiosity of the Egyptian empire is undercut by personal and political turmoil, mirroring the glittering yet unstable lives of those who work “at the pyramid” in modern contexts. When Ocean sings about the jewel of Africa asking, “What good is a jewel that ain’t still precious?”, he’s touching on the commodification of beauty and love, questioning the value society places on these once they’re perceived as tarnished or used.

The narrative takes a sharp turn as Ocean draws us into the 21st century with “Big sun coming strong through the motel blinds.” Suddenly, Cleopatra is no longer just an ancient queen but a modern woman, perhaps a metaphorical reflection of her, standing in for those who are exploited and valued only for their physical appearance. The “pyramid” she’s working at tonight isn’t a majestic tomb of kings but likely a strip club, a place that promises glitz and glamor but often harbors darker realities. Ocean’s storytelling shifts gears, but the core theme remains—exploring the complexity of women’s roles and value in society.

The final verses are a raw exposition of a relationship strained by economic realities and societal expectations. When Ocean admits, “But I’m still unemployed,” it’s a stark acknowledgment of personal inadequacies and societal failures—a confession that, despite the facades, not all is well. The line “But your love ain’t free no more” echoes the song’s earlier themes, touching on the transformation of something pure and invaluable into a commodity, be it in ancient Egypt or a modern motel room.

“Pyramids” is a masterful epic that delves deep into the heart of societal issues, drawing parallels between past and present to critique how much has remained the same in the way people, especially women, are seen and treated. Frank Ocean uses the backdrop of ancient Egypt and a modern-day setting to craft a narrative that’s both a love story and a poignant critique, proving his aptitude not just as a musician but as a storyteller of the highest order.

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