Diving into the Genius of Frank Ocean
From beautiful, deep lyrics, to smooth vocals, and smart production, Frank Ocean is a one of a kind musician. His way of telling a story through music is a special thing that is hard to find in popular musicians today. If you haven’t heard of Frank Ocean or listened to his music, this article will catch you up on all the information you need to know and provide you with a playlist to explore some of his most beautiful songs to date.
Born Christopher Breaux, Frank Ocean, grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana with his mother and his grandfather. Ocean was big into music when he was younger, but it wasn’t until he packed up and moved to California that he started working in the industry. Before becoming a singer/songwriter/producer, Ocean began ghostwriting for other artists, writing songs for Justin Bieber, Beyoncé, and Alicia Keys.
In 2010, Ocean joined forces with Tyler The Creator, leader of group Odd Future (Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, OFWGKTA), and started gaining popularity, Ocean was signed to Def Jam Records in 2012 as a solo artist, and that’s when he released his first official studio album Channel Orange, which won the Grammy for Best Urban Contemporary Album.
After that critically acclaimed release, Ocean went silent for almost four years, keeping his projects hush and staying out of the public eye. He bought himself out of his Def Jam Records contract, and released his second studio album Blonde, self-released, in the summer of 2016, which featured Beyoncé, Paul McCartney, and more.
Before Channel Orange, Ocean released album Nostalgia, Ultra online through Odd Future’s Bandcamp page. This album sampled songs like "Hotel California" by the Eagles, "Electric Feel" by MGMT, and "Strawberry Swing" by Coldplay.
Composed as a compilation of songs centering around Ocean’s childhood and formative years, Nostalgia Ultra jumps back and forth between sentimental memories, growing up and figuring out who you are, and sexual experiences. The album could only be released online, due to the fact that Ocean never got permission to use the songs he sampled, and therefore, could not be sold without a lawsuit. In fact, Don Henley from The Eagles has expressed anger with Ocean using his song without permission, even calling him a “talentless prick”. (Regardless of Henley’s harsh words, "American Wedding" is one of the best songs on Nostalgia, Ultra and is a great example of Ocean’s genius).
After the disappearance of Ocean following Channel Orange's release, fans were begging for another album or any new music to tide them over. While Ocean didn’t answer their wishes right away, he did come out with the visual album Endless, which was used to fulfill his contract with Def Jam Records, so Blonde could be released as an individual project.
Endless contains some of the most beautiful vocals, specifically in Ocean’s cover of the song "At Your Best (You Are Love)" made popular by The Isley Brothers in 1976. Endless was announced through a live stream from a Brooklyn warehouse, which had fans buzzing over what would become of it, all patiently waiting to see the next project after Channel Orange. Blonde, Ocean’s second studio album, was independently released immediately after Endless.
A day before the release of Channel Orange, Ocean uploaded a note on his public Tumblr page, where he told his fans that this album was about Ocean’s first love with a man. This letter was a huge release for Ocean, as a lot of rappers and hip hop artists for years were very homophobic, including slurs and negative stereotypes in their music.
Ocean posted this note not only to come out as bisexual but to tell people on his terms, rather than them having to question the use of male pronouns on his album. Ocean being a part of the LGBTQ+ community, and being so open with who he is has a great impact on young fans who also identify with the LGBTQ+, allowing a deeper connection to his music. The members of Odd Future also supported him in this, and he was even joined by close friend Tyler the Creator coming out on Twitter later on his career.
From nostalgia, growth, falling in love, oppression, to simply just surviving in this life, Ocean tells his story through music. I won’t go into the meaning behind all of these songs, but if you are interested in learning all about the lyrics , I highly recommend listening to Dissect Podcast on Spotify or Apple Music, where they go through in detail every song off Nostalgia, Ultra, Channel Orange, and Blonde. If not, sit back, put your headphones on, and enjoy the lyrical and musical genius that is Frank Ocean.