Something I wrote for my school newspaper about Frank Ocean. Intended as a primer for an audience that would likely be aware of Odd Future (“Yonkers” had its 15 minutes here) and The Throne but not too much else. Also, an excuse for me to write about “Acura Integurl,” which I just love:
Lonnie Breaux sat on the Def Jam roster for a long time, staying active in his songwriting by writing about a song a day, but never getting anything out to commercial shelves. He joined up with the firebrand Odd Future collective in 2009 and changed his name to Frank Ocean. His career has been on the upward slope since he released the Nostalgia,Ultra mixtape early last year. On it, he sings over Coldplay, talks about Radiohead in interludes, meets the girl in his minor radio hit (“Novacane”) at Coachella, and even redoes “Hotel California” (which, admittedly, I hate).
Last year he landed high profile appearances on Ye-Z’s Watch the Throne, wrote a song for Beyonce’s 4, and sang hooks on the two biggest Odd Future projects (Tyler, the Creator’s Goblin and Mellowhype’s Blackenedwhite). That’s about as amazing a first year as one could hope for, singing on the year’s biggest event album (say what you will about its quality), wrote on one of the year’s biggest R&B albums, and worked with Odd Future, who voiced young rebellion and were the subject of countless pieces by music critics. He’s already had some minor hits with “Novacane” and “Swim Good,” both off of Nostalgia, which Def Jam reissued as an EP in the summer(fortunately lacking that Eagles garbage), but his buzz is still growing. In this upcoming year I expect he’ll write for the who’s who of R&B and quite likely release his major label debut album. He’s paved the way for radio success with his high-profile appearances and minor radio hits, so he should really blow this year if he makes the push.
If the Odd Future connection sounds alarm bells, don’t worry. Whether you love or hate Tyler, the Creator, Frank Ocean is absolutely worth a listen. He’s not about shock value, he’s not very profane, and he’s not looking to incite any riots (whether all of those are a good or bad thing to you). What he has in common with all of the members of the collective is an uncontrived quirkiness and fresh, new talent.
Nostalgia,Ultra, the mixtape, is the place to start (link: http://hulkshare.com/call8oe58j1a). It gives a pretty good overview and features his two singles as well as songs over recognizable instrumentals (“Strawberry Swing” by Coldplay, “Electric Feel” by MGMT, Mr. Hudson’s “There Will Be Tears,” and the aforementioned Eagles song). There isn’t much other material to listen to. He put out a 60-song dumping ground of old material from his shelved Def Jam days called The Lonnie Breaux Collection after the name he was originally signed under. Truthfully, I haven’t made it all the way through it yet. It’s a little uneven and sounds very little like the man on Nostalgia; its lyrics, production, and subject matter are in a much more traditional R&B vein.
That being said, it does feature my favorite Frank Ocean song: “Acura Integurl.” The song originally surfaced half-finished, posted with a slick video clip. Apparently due to popular request he finished the song and has performed it live a couple times. I haven’t heard the whole song, but I’ve played the haunting, beautiful 1:57-long snippet from the video clip (and The Lonnie Breaux Collection) probably 50+ times. The lyrics show the sort of hard-worked-at songwriting voice that he honed through his years of writing songs on the shelf. Ocean begins the song with his girlfriend rapping along with “Stuntin’ Like My Daddy,” before remarking “never thought I’d make a Weezy fan out of you, too.” Relationships touch people, change their tastes, make them see new things in the world. She started with “Thom” Yorke from Radiohead, “Chris Martin, and U2” and he came from the Southern gangsta rap world of “Three 6” Mafia, “Pimp C” and “Bun B” of UGK, and 8Ball & MJG. By giving all of that context, Ocean packs the opening line of “bitch I’m paid, that’s all I gotta say” with such a story, such emotion, that it makes me get a little teary-eyed writing about it. You’ll find a link to the video for the song, a beautifully shot, wistful video, along with links to videos for “Novacane” and “Swim Good,” below.