Universal just lost Frank Ocean. Apple did not.

For a long time, many of us assumed Frank Ocean’s highly anticipated comeback record would be called Boys Don’t Cry.

We were wrong. It’s not the name of his new album. It’s the name of his new label.

Ocean has technically released two LPs in the past week… and it turns out only one of them arrived via Universal.

Eagle-eyed observers have noticed that Ocean’s long-awaited audio album, Blonde, has actually been self-released.

It is marked on Apple Music and iTunes as (p) Boys Don’t Cry, with no mention of UMG or Ocean’s former label home, Island Def Jam.

So how has Ocean got away with it?

The suggestion is that the New Orleans-born star had one more album to fulfill in his contract with Universal.

That obligation was apparently chalked up with the release of Endless – a ‘visual album’ which arrived on Apple Music on August 19, featuring the likes of James Blake and Sampha.

Blonde arrived a day later, widely seen as Ocean’s ‘proper’ studio album. And it appears to be completely free of UMG ownership.

Some will say this is a risky strategy from Ocean and his management at Three Six Zero; others will deem it a stroke of genius in the pursuit of direct artist power.

It certainly seems to have got UMG rattled.

Earlier this week, Universal boss Lucian Grainge reportedly sent a memo to the entire company outlawing exclusive deals with streaming services.

No doubt Frank Ocean’s Blonde shenanigans were the trigger for this blanket ban.

Meanwhile, Blonde continues to be a complete Apple Music and iTunes exclusive.

Interestingly, Sean Glass – a former Apple Music employee – wrote yesterday:

“Contrary to what you read, there’s no scary Apple board room conspiracy where corporate is plotting to take over creativity via artist exclusives.

“There’s one guy who is behind ALL of these campaigns — and he is light years ahead of everyone else. He works intimately with each artist as a creative peer, and develops an amazing plan, this is no simple land grab.

“He works closer with the artists than labels do.”

That ‘one guy’ is very likely Larry Jackson – a Jimmy Iovine protege, who is tasked with striking artist relationships that result in exclusive deals for Apple.

Jackson is the figure recently pictured with Cash Money CEO Birdman, which the hip-hop label boss – and UMG partner – posted to Instagram using the caption: “It’s official… Cash Money makes a power move with Apple.”

Ironically, Jackson is a former UMG employee, having earned his stripes in A&R at Interscope.

For a long time, some have been dismissive about the idea of labels effectively battling large ‘retailers’ like Apple and Amazon for the signature of major league artists.

The game just changed.

Frank Ocean’s debut studio album, Channel Orange (Island Def Jam), was released in July 2012 to widespread critical acclaim.

Blonde (spelt with no ‘e’ on the album sleeve) is looking a dead cert to enter the UK Official Albums Chart and the Billboard 200 at No.1 on Friday (August 26).

Earlier this week, Blonde had a 4,000 combined sales lead on its nearest rival in the UK – Dolly Parton’s Pure & Simple (RCA).

Billboard predicts that Blonde will also top its albums list forecasting a week-one sales figure of 225,000-250,000.Music Business Worldwide

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