The first thing you need to know about Frank Ocean is that he’s a singer-songwriter, not an “R&B singer.” Seriously: he may be African-American, but please don’t genre-pigeonhole him; not only does he hate it, but his skills at penning intricate, category-less songs are far more expansive than what parameters of contemporary Urban radio will allow. That’s not a shot at R&B, though; we’re just stating a fact.
Raised in New Orleans, Louisiana, the 23-year-old music aficionado began writing for artists like Justin Bieber, Beyonc?, and John Legend when he moved to Los Angeles after Hurricane Katrina in 2009. Linking up with hip hop houligan collective OFWGKTA (aka Odd Future) around that time, Ocean (who was born Christopher, and formerly performed as Lonny Breaux) then secured a deal with Def Jam, but like many artists in the early phase of their careers, was put on the waiting shelf. Luckily for us, the talented songwriter turned insubordinate and rogue, releasing his now critically-acclaimed mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra via his Tumblr.
The mixtape may have been an unconventional move for most up-and-coming singers, but for Ocean, it created a compelling word of mouth domino effect. Taking songs like The Eagles’ “Hotel California,” MGMT’s “Electric Feel,” and Coldplay’s “Strawberry Swing” and making them very uniquely his own, Ocean was able to showcase his songwriting abilities and allow the audience that was hanging on his every word to get to know him, well. Back in May, when we were fearing for our lives during the Rapture, we suggested the MGMT re-worked cover “Nature Feels” as being a delightfully sexy Garden of Eden tune to “go out with a bang” to. But the tape possesses plenty more gems where that came from: a romance with a porn star dental student is illustrated beautifully on “Novacane,” an exorcism and disposal of broken hearts turns into an enchanting car ride to the ocean on “Swim Good,” and a snippet from Nicole Kidman’s character in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut anchors the end of fan favorite track, “Love Crimes.”
Most recently, Ocean landed not one, but TWO features on Jay-Z and Kanye’s Watch The Throne that have been highly buzzed about, and rightfully so. Not only does he provide the hook for the album’s intro “No Church in the Wild,” but he also surrenders a heaven-sent vocal on heartstring-pulling “Made in America.” With the spotlight now shining brightly upon him and a Fader cover on the way, the stage is set for yet to be released EP Nostalgia, LITE to drop any moment, especially since it may be sprouting some leaks, intentional or not. Two weeks ago, we were gifted with “Thinking About You,” and then just today, new song “Best Seller” hit the net. Catch up while you still can, kids!