Regular readers may be a little surprised by this post. A rising R&B superstar who’s written for and worked with the likes of Beyonce, Jay-Z and Kanye is a little detached from the usual smaller scale hip-hop artists we tend to feature. However the mantra at HMCMB has never had anything to do with an artists reputation, focusing solely instead on the quality of music they produce, if we like it, we share it, regardless. In fact the only real question to be asked here is just why it’s taken us so long.
Frank Ocean hooked us way back in February with the release of “Nostalgia, Ultra” his supreme debut mixtape, released independent of his record deal with DefJam and with very little promotion, other than the commendation of fellow OFWGKTA member Tyler via twitter. Nevertheless it spread like wildfire across the web, to much acclaim. In doing so it offered hope that perhaps good music does get the exposure it deserves from time to time, or that support from a borderline sociopath with 500,000 twitter followers goes a long way… The romantic in me (Ocean’s crooning tends to bring it out of you) would like to believe the first, but I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions, the mixtape can be downloaded HERE.
The holy trinity of R&B is the beat, the vocal and the story, and Ocean is the first man in a long time to fulfill all three in such an organic manner. You only need listen to the clever sampling and tweaks, ranging from the discerning selection of Mr Hudson’s “There Will Be Tears” to the atmospheric dimension he adds to Coldplay’s ‘”Strawberry Swing” to appreciate his production talents. Each track closes with ‘real world’ sounds, for those seeking clean musical perfection this may be a little grating, but see past that and you appreciate this as Ocean trying to keep his music true, and as such make his storytelling all the more powerful and moving.
Frank Ocean – There Will Be Tears [right-click to download]
Frank Ocean – Strawberry Swing [right-click to download]
He hauls his lyrics clear of the romantic clichés and misogyny that riddles the genre through the juxtaposition of self-effacing contradictions, “love me now, when I’m gone love me none” with unexpected metaphors, “Spaceships are lifting off of a dying world”. Couple this with such insightful realism as “It’s an american wedding, they don’t mean so much” and you’ve a complete lesson in song writing, which is probably why Ocean has written for the likes of John Legend and Justin Bieber. He’s wasted as a writer alone however, as it means he’s not singing, and with a voice as svelte and alluring as this that’s a real waste. In “Novacane” only Ocean’s honey tones could make “Fuck me good, fuck me long, fuck me numb” sound romantic, and it’s that talent that explains his selection as one of few featured artists on “Watch The Throne”.
Frank Ocean – Novacane [right-click to download]
His hook on “Made In America” is the undoubted highlight, it’s anodyne and warming tone providing the perfect canvas for Kanye to paint with his honest arrogance “I’m rapping on the beat they was supposed to buy, I guess I’m getting high off of my own supply” and Jay Z with famial loyalty, “I pledge allegiance, uh, to my grandma”.
Jay-Z & Kanye West – Made In America (ft. Frank Ocean)
His solo work only seems to be getting stronger too, the most recent release, via his tumblr, “Thinking About You” is a moving lament. An anguished story of a man who fears his love is stronger than hers, “Or do you not think so far ahead? Cause I’ve been thinking about forever” driven to absurd excuses “A tornado flew around my room before you came, excuse the mess it made”, told in falsetto tone atop an echoing, subdued beat that makes it all the more poignant. “Let Me” sees Ocean team up with Kyle Christopher but retain the role of lovestruck lover. The denser and higher tempo beat complements the empassionated story and suggestive lyrics “Baby I’ve been thinking of you all the time, As dirty as dishes but would you…” and in doing so removes any (improbable) doubts as to Ocean’s versatility.
Frank Ocean – Thinking About You [right-click to download]
Frank Ocean – Let Me (ft. Kyle Christopher) [right-click to download]
This melancholy-tinged gem also came to my attention today (via Earmilk)
Frank Ocean – Dying For Your Love (Feat. James Fauntleroy) [right-click to download]