Endless is 45 minutes of spare, compelling experimentation from the idiosyncratic star -- some songs last less than a minute; he raps, sings, incorporates electronic music from famed German photographer and producer Wolfgang Tillmans. Sampha and Jazmine Sullivan, among others, contribute their voices. It was a challenging project, not at all what fans of more straight-forward pop ballads like “Thinkin Bout You” and “Bad Religion” had anticipated. And it was a fake-out.
Blond, Ocean’s proper sophomore album, appeared a day later, on his own label, Boys Don’t Cry, and debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 the following week. At the time, sources told Billboard that the release of Endless had fulfilled Ocean’s Def Jam deal, technically clearing the way for him to release Blond independently.
Now, with Universal servicing Endless to DSPs, a much larger audience will be able to unpack the release in a digestible, track-by-track format. (On Apple Music, you can only hear the project as part of the video, and it’s impossible to easily skip from song to song.)
Ocean and Def Jam endured a rocky end to their relationship, with an Associated Press report characterizing it as like a “bad marriage,” adding that, ultimately, Ocean “didn’t want to be on a label. He wanted to do his own thing.”
But more broadly, the back-to-back releases of Endless on Def Jam and Blond independently on Boys Don’t Cry label had a wide-ranging effect. After the release of Blond -- which, like Endless, was an Apple exclusive -- sources told Billboard that Universal Music boss Lucian Grainge issued an edict banning one-platform exclusive releases company-wide on a global basis, a strategy that at the time was common in the streaming arms race. (Only Spotify, which stood strongly against exclusives, did not engage.) By the end of 2016, the practice had largely died out completely across the music industry.
When the two albums were released, Blond quickly shot to No. 1 on the charts, but Endless was ineligible to chart, as it was both not for sale and its tracks not individually available for sales or streaming, meaning that no data was available to drive it onto the charts. And without an industry-accepted album-equivalent ratio for a streaming visual album, there was no way to include it on the Billboard 200, for example.
In November 2017, Ocean sold Endless on vinyl, CD, DVD, and VHS through his website, which gave some patient consumers the opportunity to hear the project as an album, outside of the video stream. (Before that, a middling MP3 rip circulated among diehards -- it turned out some songs were mislabeled, among other errors.) Still, it didn’t appear on any Billboard charts.