The artist I looked into last week was an R&B singer named Frank Ocean. Ocean is a member of the Los Angeles based hip-hop collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA) along with eleven other members, including rapper/producer Tyler the Creator, rappers Hodgy Beats, Earl Sweatshirt, Domo Genesis, and Mike G, producers Left Brain, Syd the Kid, Matt Martians and Hal Williams, as well as non-musical members Jasper Dolphin and Taco. Each member can contribute to any of the other member’s writing or production efforts and the resultant tracks are released and listed under the name of the main artist involved with the project. Many of the members of Odd Future release their own solo tracks, often featuring others in the group. There are also a few groups within the collective: MellowHype (Hodgy Beats and Left Brain), The Jet Age of Tomorrow or The Super 3 (Matt Martians and Hal Williams), and EarlWolf (Earl Sweatshirt and Tyler the Creator). Odd Future evenly promotes all of its members’ efforts on its website here.
Frank Ocean is the only listed as a singer in OFWGKTA. His style is noticeably different from those of many of the others. Breaking away from the more traditional underground rap efforts of the others, his music brings a smooth, easy-listening R&B variety to the collective. He came to Odd Future after he was evacuated to Los Angeles from University of New Orleans just before it was hit by Hurricane Katrina in 2006. In the group, he was featured as a vocalist in a number of songs released by Tyler the Creator and MellowHype. He has also written songs for Justin Bieber, John Legend, Brandy, and Beyonce. He has also worked with Nas and Pharrell Williams.
His first release was initially put out as the Nostalgia, Ultra Mixtape, but was later slated by Def Jam Records to be have seven of its tracks released on iTunes as an EP on July 26, 2011 (Tomorrow!) under the name Nostalgia, Lite. Obviously, since the EP is not available yet, what I listened to this past week was the mixtape.
Nostalgia, Ultra Mixtape
2. Strawberry Swing
4. We All Try
5. Bitches Talkin’ (Also known as Metal Gear Solid)
6. Songs 4 Women
7. Love Crimes
9. There Will Be Tears
10. Swim Good
12. American Wedding
13. Soul Calibur
14. Nature Feels
As a whole, I was very satisfied with the whole mixtape. Ocean has a very distinct, smooth R&B voice, and his songs are all very interesting both melodically and based on subject matter. When listening to the whole thing straight through, one comes across recordings of the sounds of changing a tape deck every couple of tracks, which really gives it the mixtape feel (This happens on Streetfighter, Bitches Talkin’, GoldenEye, and Soul Calibur.) When asked, Ocean said that he called the tape “Nostalgia” because it is just that: a nostalgic account of past heartbreak and interpersonal relationships. “I wasn’t trying to make a record that people could relate to. I was just trying to make a record with the shit that I wanted to express. The shit that I wanted to get off my chest. A lot of this record is influenced by one relationship, but I don’t owe that whole project to one situation. It doesn’t matter what the details of it are.” Many of the songs deal with heavy subjects, most notably in track 12, American Wedding, which deals with the sometimes flawed image of marriage in the US and the issues involved (Read the lyrics to this song here).
Novacane was released as the EP’s first single on May 31, 2011. It climbed to number 65 on the US R&B charts its first week, and later rose to number 48.
Four of his tracks on this tape are either covers of songs by other artists, or songs in which he simply penned over the lyrics, rewriting them to suit his own songwriting ideals. Track 2, Strawberry Swing is a song in which he penned over the song Strawberry Swing, released by Coldplay on their album Viva la Vida. In American Wedding, he penned over Hotel California, by the Eagles, and in Nature Feels, he penned over Electric Feel from MGMT’s Oracular Spectacular album. There will be tears is a cover of a Mr. Hudson song. Being a longtime Coldplay fan, I was instantly interested when I heard the instrumental from Strawberry Swing on this tape, and Ocean definitely did it justice. I enjoyed it, just as I enjoy the original. He added these really cool vocal harmonies to several parts that really pop out of the song. As far as American Wedding goes, I think I might venture to say that I like it more than Hotel California. I’m not saying that the Eagles are bad (I love the Eagles!), but Hotel California is just so cliché and overplayed on classic rock stations. It’s also just such a long song, and it gets kind of old. American Wedding brings out an emotion that allows one to not get tired of the song as it draws on for the full seven minutes.
I would say my favorite song on it would have to be We All Try. The runs that Ocean employs in this song seem so effortless and his overall pleading tone along the simplicity of the background instrumental do a perfect job expressing the lyrics that he wrote for it. It’s also very catchy, and just a pretty song altogether. Read the lyrics here and watch the video below.
All in all, I give the Nostalgia, Ultra Mixtape two thumbs up and will be looking forward to the release of the EP tomorrow! Also, look for him on the upcoming collaborative studio album between Kanye West and Jay-Z that will feature Frank Ocean on two tracks! It’s slated to be released on August 8, 2011.