Frank Ocean: Beginner’s Guide

It’s funny…the date I had on my copy of the famous Frank Ocean ‘nostalgia, Ultra’ mixtape is 7th April 2011 – a week before Coachella, I never listened to it bar a few tracks, and after the dreadful performance of OFWGKTA at that festival I tended to dismiss all the group efforts. In the case of Tyler, a talented rapper but really acting like the disruptive kid in class who just wants attention but hasn’t got a lot to say, I haven’t missed much. In the case of Frank Ocean, I missed a lot. I wonder how my reaction to Odd Future’s too fast hype/fall would have changed if I’d heard it. Dunno.

It was the hypestorm and the coming out of Frank – in one move making hiphop and RnB a much more diverse place – that beckoned me back. Channel Orange is strange, I immediately loved Pink Matter with Andre 3000 (I had to doubletake since this is a modern downbeat Andre, no shaking of polaroid pictures here) and the concept album Sun-Ra level oddness meets OneohTrix Point Never of Pyramids, but the several tales of rich kids on cocaine in ‘black Beverley Hills’ grated in the same way Lana Del Rey’s album did. I had to check he wasn’t actually some rich kid on Wikipedia…he isn’t…and is obviously talking about his recent life in LA. But still, romanticising rich kids grates as much as the Rich Kids On Instagram makes me wish they are torn limb from limb by wolves and then strung up on lampposts by the 99% mob (that’s the censored version of this post; first against the wall when their empire of cards crumbles, etc). I can see why Kanye wanted to work with him, the sparse production, the stories, the personal confessionals.

But the odd headphone production, a slightly hypnotic curious feel and the mass adulation made me dig further – I’m glad I did. Nostalgia, Ultra was his 2011 mixtape and there I found a more accessible and more reliable guide to the World of Frank Ocean. ‘Novacane’ I remember the fuss about last year but now I get why without the noise from other Odd Future peeps getting in the way – not sure if this is wishful thinking or true story…which is part of the allure of Frank Ocean, that woozy (un)reality. Just like you are smearing yourself with Novacane…

Anyway check out the bonkers video for ‘Swim Good’ – a suicidal yet hopeful song, and a wonderfully strange 80’s Samurai style video.

The story about his (?) father or lack of also is really interesting in There Will Be Tears – a personal tome that Kanye would sell his right arm for as it also retains a poppy sensibility also:

It’s why channel Orange confused me – it seems a much starker and smoother take than previous releases (sample clearance?), all airbrushed and glass tabled. Cold. Partly why some of The Weeknd recently left me cold – style over substance(s), if you’re going to emulate the 80’s cyberfunk and synthfunk you need some of the warm fuzz, edges, noise or warmth in there too. I also as others have said hear a strange combination of R-Kelly and later Marvin Gaye. Remains to be seen if channel Orange grows on me as a whole. But certainly it’s the best thing I’ve heard from any of the Odd Future gang in a long time…this man will go a long way, especially if he drops the ‘they’re rich but are they happy?’ tropes and keeps some of the off-kilter tone of his first mixtape that’s also hiding in the darker corners of his first album.

As he says: “We all try, The girls try, the boys try, Women try, men try, You and I try, try, we all try”

https://vimeo.com/36423502

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