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Artist Spotlight: Frank Ocean

Ocean Music Prevails...

There is a diversity of talent within the populous Odd Future that has perhaps been overlooked, people instead choosing to seek out the controversies that can be derived from leader Tyler, The Creator and the group’s sinister rap verses. But despite their ‘Fuck Bruno Mars, Fuck Hayley Williams’ shtick, they also accommodate singers such as Frank Ocean, whose softer appeal does not mar the collective’s reputation of recalcitrance. Instead, this range of talent only serves to validate the mounting hype.

Slightly older than most of OFWGKTA, 23 year old Frank Ocean has thus far toiled as a promising talent undervalued and misused by myopic industry cretins. Tracing a now archetypal route, Ocean raged against his misguided employers, violently cursing them on Twitter and releasing ‘Nostalgia, Ultra’ for free on his Tumblr page. But an underdog portrayal is not really reflective of Ocean’s work now that we’re confronted by it. In fact, some vastly experienced and successful producers aid Ocean on this record, such as Midi Mafia who has worked with 50 Cent and Justin Bieber, and Tricky Stewart, architect of the ‘Umbrella’ (Rihanna) and ‘Single Ladies’ (Beyonce) beats. In fact, Ocean has not suddenly emerged victorious from crippling obscurity, as he has already helped Bieber and John Legend write successful tracks.

He is hardly as radical as his Odd Future cohorts, then, but has the judiciousness and ability to succeed with this his debut LP. For instance, the songs are bound by interludes that lend the project a certain personality, an example being Ocean and a woman arguing over whether Radiohead or Jodeci should take precedence on their cassette player (such is Odd Future’s eclectic frame of reference).

Real idiosyncrasy is never achieved on ‘Nostalgia, Ultra’, but there are a number of quirks and whims that mark Ocean as an artist capable of displaying a professional pop skill with moments of ingenuity. Aside from Kid A’s ‘Otimistic’, Coldplay’s ‘Strawberry Swing’ is interpreted as the album opener (the emotional apex of the piece) through to MGMT’s ‘Electric Feel’, which here becomes ‘Nature Feels’ about ‘meaning to fuck you in the garden’ – not the most conventional note to sign out on.

The mainstream potential is best realised on ‘Songs For Women’, a brilliantly orchestrated effort that shamelessly explores Frank exploiting his musical status. The autotuned anguish of ‘There Will Be Tears’ channels Kanye’s 808s period - and features fellow collaborator Mr Hudson - and songs like ‘Dust’ justify the comparisons that have been drawn with Drake, as his elongated crooned syllables resemble the Canadian’s.

Ocean found himself in LA in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, having moved west from New Orleans after his studio was destroyed. Such tragedies, whether they are on a scale of natural disaster or being overlooked by a record company, manifest themselves to form an overarching theme of nostalgia that is most explicitly signalled by the album’s artwork, which depicts a car Ocean admits to dreaming for years he would one day afford. As Odd Future’s time comes to rejuvenate a worryingly stale US hip-hop scene, it appears Frank Ocean has preceded that onslaught with a soulful R&B victory of his own.

Download his free album/mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra here.

Have a listen to our pick of the album 'American Wedding' below.

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