2,000 years in 9 minutes

In “Pyramids,” Frank Ocean shows how the power dynamic between Black and Europeans have shifted dramatically during Westernization through commentary from a Black male lover on a Black female lover in ancient Egypt and present day Las Vegas.

In the first part of the song, Ocean introduces “Cleopatra,” historically know as one of the most beautiful, important queens in world history. However, Cleopatra is not bathing in her lavish lifestyle. Instead, she is being chased, as there is “a thief out on the loose.” It appears that someone is trying to steal Cleopatra.

Later in the first part of the song, the speaker says, “I found you laying down with Samson and his full head of hair.” This line establishes that the speaker is a lover of Cleopatra and that he found her cheating on him. To further establish Cleopatra’s disloyalty, the speaker says, “Set the cheetah on the loose.” “Cheetah” can be heard as “cheater.” Furthermore, the line about Cleopatra cheating on her lover introduces the element of race. Samson, thought of as a white biblical figure, has stolen the queen of the black speaker. The speaker then says, “I found my black queen Cleopatra, bad dreams, Cleopatra.” To the speaker, Samson, or Europeans in general, has created nothing but “bad dreams” between him and his lover.

The next stanza, which can be identified in the song by a beat switch, mentions the speaker seeing the sun through the “motel blinds.” Instantly, we are in a modern era, 2,000 years detached from the first part of the song. To connect these two seemingly distinct parts, the speaker says, “Wake up to a girl/
For now, let’s call her Cleopatra, Cleopatra.” The speaker is still a Black lover, however, it can be inferred that Frank Ocean is the speaker himself. And similarly to the first part of the song, he loves a girl named Cleopatra.

Ocean describes this modern Cleopatra with her “lipstick,” “six-inch heels,” and “panties” to allude to the audience that Cleopatra is a stripper or sex worker. This description contrasts with the first part of the song. While Cleopatra was first the world’s most important, famous queen, her relationship with Samson, which can represent interaction with Europeans, has turned her into a low-status stripper.

To connect everything together, Ocean repeats the line, “She’s working at the pyramid tonight.” Ocean is referring to the “fake” pyramid in Las Vegas, not the real ones of Giza. This line confirms that Cleopatra is a stirpper or sex worker, but it also alludes to where Cleopatra, or black women, actually belong. Because Ocean shows a black woman working at a fake pyramid, it can be implied that he thinks she doesn’t actually belong, especially because she is still being referred to as Cleopatra. Cleopatra should be returned to her rightful pyramid where she is appreciated as a queen.

3 thoughts on “2,000 years in 9 minutes

  1. Alex G.

    I agree with everything you say here, and I especially like the song’s movement from past to present that makes it poetry. But I want to know a little more about how the past connects to the present — specifically, how come Cleopatra was treated like a queen 2,000 years earlier, but now she is a sex worker being portrayed as some sort of object? What about her interaction with Europeans dragged her down to this status?

    Like

  2. Sofia W

    I think the points you made are very interesting and the title you chose is really clever! I liked the way you traced the story through the song and the juxtaposition of Cleopatra’s status in the two eras.

    Like

  3. SAMUEL LUBINUS

    I love how you made it so that we can make a connection with the eras of Cleopatra and the story. there is a deep message there with that connection and you are really showing the talent of the artist with your explanation.

    Like

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