Note, 4/10/2017: This article was originally published in August 2016, during the wait-and-see lead-up to the release of Frank Ocean’s two projects, Endless, and Blonde (back when we thought this thing would be called Boys Don’t Cry, lol. Now that those projects have dropped, and he’s begun to release more music, we’re updating the list to include some more of Frank’s amazing soulful music.
Suspend all disbelief if you must, but it appears that the wait–at times, a Detox-esque, seemingly endless one at that–for new music from R&B king Frank Ocean is finally over. According to a report yesterday from The New York Times, the singer’s long-awaited album, Boys Don’t Cry, will be available Friday on Apple Music, where it will remain an exclusive release for two weeks.
After rumors that Boys Don’t Cry would be released in July 2015, the crooner followed up a year later, posting a cryptic message that hinted at a July 2016 release for the follow-up to Channel Orange, his exceptional 2012 debut record. While he didn’t beat that self-imposed July deadline, he did post a bizarre video stream of himself doing a bit of woodworking (branded with an Apple Music watermark) on a site clearly designed for the release of the new album. With Boys set to be released this Friday–August 5th–Frank remains very on-brand: Fashionably late.
That brand, though, has become something special. Since first appearing on the peripherals of the Odd Future popularity bubble back in the early 2010s, Ocean’s infrequent appearances have consistently been musical highs, whether on his own songs or surfacing on those of others. He’s shown up this year on The Life Of Pablo, and James Blake’s new album as a co-writer, but after deleting his social media accounts–Tumblr aside–the man has essentially reached Salinger-level isolation.
Just in case you’ve forgotten—of course you haven’t, who are we kidding?—exactly how great he is, we’ve decided to share with you six of the most interesting songs and features of Frank Ocean’s career for a quick seminar on masterclass R&B. Check out our crash course below:
“American Wedding”– Nostalgia, Ultra
Don Henley be damned, this track is just electric. Based along the same backdrop and melody as Eagles’ classic “Hotel California,” Ocean’s version with re-worked lyrics saw much controversy, as Henley, the Eagles’ lead singer, as well as their record label, WMG, both threatened to sue Frank. Nothing ever came of it, however–due to Nostalgia, Ultra’s not-for-sale status, there were no sampling rules being broken. And thank goodness for that, because that Eagles’ backing instrumental and Ocean’s smooth-as-silk voice are a match made in mashup heaven.
Frank’s first solo hit is a short-but-sweet romp that made many song-of-the-year lists back in 2011 when it first dropped. It serves as a fun sample, and a promising preview of what was to come from the rising musician.
“No Church In The Wild”–Watch The Throne
For many, Jay Z and Kanye West’s joint 2011 super-album, Watch The Throne, was the first taste they had of Mr. Ocean. The only artist prominently featured on the album aside from the queen herself, he quickly establishes himself as a power player, singing the hook on this infectious jam. A lasting favorite, you may also recognize this song from one of these movie trailers.
Featuring here alongside his old Odd Future pal, Tyler, The Creator, Frank shows off not only his sultry voice on the song’s smooth, divine hook, but also opens up with a bit of rapping as well. His slick style is the perfect contrast for the abrasive and harsh flow that Tyler has made his calling card.
Finally, we arrive at Channel Orange. There are so many amazing songs on this album, including but not limited to “Sweet Life,” which has always sounded to me like a 90’s R&B anthem that could’ve shown up alongside Seal and D’Angelo on the Space Jam soundtrack, to the Earl Sweatshirt-assisted “Super Rich Kids,” about exactly what it sounds like, to “Forrest Gump,” the incredibly catchy yet somber styling that Ocean chose for his lone Grammy performance, to “Thinkin’ Bout You,” which could even be the New Orleans’ native’s signature song when it’s all said and done.
But none of these top “Pyramids,” which clocks in at just under ten minutes, spanning multiple genres, narratives, and vocal and instrumental effects at once. This song has it all: Opening with enthralling beats that will make anyone get out of their seat and start dancing, it eventually shifts into a falsetto-laden power ballad of sorts, bringing a hazy, dark cloud over what had mere minutes earlier been so fun and uptempo.
“Wolves/Frank’s Track”–The Life of Pablo
To the present. Much to everyone’s surprise, when Kanye West debuted his latest album in February at a Madison Square Garden listening event, Frank’s voice shined through at the end of a re-worked version of the previously-debuted “Wolves.” As raw as verses come, a series of literal wolf sound effects lead into Ocean’s voice, absent any other effect. After a bit of Kanye tinkering with Sia and Vic Mensa re-added, Frank’s powerful outro was separated into its own song, fittingly titled “Frank’s Track.” Just try to listen to the titular artist’s final line (“Life is precious, we found out. We found out.”) without feeling something. That shit is like an [alleged] Ernest Hemingway six-word short story. All the feels.
A few songs from Blonde, of course, need to make the list. To be honest, I could include essentially all the songs from it, because Blonde is just an absolutely amazing in album in each and every way, and the songs should send any listener into a trance. But, alas, I’ll settle on just a few. Need to note the Andre 3000 spitfire on “Solo (Reprise)” as well, of course.
Frank’s velvet-smooth voice meets smooth, surf-rock style guitars, and a sultry and beautiful message. “I thought I was dreamin’, when you said you loved me” is quite possibly the all-time greatest Frank opening line. And have you ever looked at the credits on this song? Not only is Frank singing the vocals, but Rostam—of Vampire Weekend, etc. fame—is playing guitar, and Jamie XX—of the xx, and solo fame—is on the production.
“Nights” — Blonde
“New beginnings…. new beginnings.” Belt it, Frank. “If I get my money right, you know that I won’t need you.” He cuts deep, and it’s just such an eminently listenable song. Songs like this appear constantly throughout Blonde. Perhaps a big more ambiguous, and not as much of an instant click as something like “Thinkin’ Bout You” or “Lost” on Channel Orange, but once Blonde clicks—and it will, if you give it your full attention and let it sit—almost all of these tracks give a feeling that really is quite hard to describe. It’s almost like a real-time nostalgia. There’s nothing nostalgic about it, but it just makes you feel warm and familiar.
“Slide”— Single, with Calvin Harris and Migos
Woah! Fun, danceable Frank is back! Until this track dropped back in February, we hadn’t heard Frank in this mode since something like “Lost” or “Pyramids” on Channel Orange. This track, though, is just pure fun. Alongside Migos, Atlanta hip-hop’s current kings of fun, and led by maestro Calvin Harris—who seems like breaking up with a certain Ms. Swift may have given him some exceptional motivation and vision for work, if “Slide,” and his other recent single “Heatstroke,” are any indication—this is an early summer treat, and one you’ll be hearing at BBQs and cookouts for years to come.
“Biking” Featuring Jay Z and Tyler, The Creator— Frank’s Beats One Radio Show
And here we are, at the latest newsworthy bit of Frankness. He just debuted this song on his Beats One Radio show Blonded Radio, which previously saw the release of the also-great “Chanel.” This one teams Frank up with Jay Z (who you may have heard of, he’s kind of famous), and Tyler, The Creator (who also has done a thing or two in his day). This is fun, and great. But most importantly? It’s amazing to see Frank is working on music again (or, consistently?) after he went away for so long between Channel Orange and Blonde.