Frank Ocean (born Christopher Edwin Cookseynote on October 28, 1987 in New Orleans, Louisiana) is an American singer-songwriter, rapper and producer. Known for his elliptical songwriting, expansive genre influences and wide vocal range, Ocean's music is typically categorized as R&B but covers a wide variety of styles and influences, and he is considered one of the leading artists in the alternative slant of the genre that struck out in the 2010s.
First taking an interest in music from a young age, he planned to study English at college in his hometown of New Orleans. However, his home and recording facility were destroyed in Hurricane Katrina, which led to him briefly transferring and ultimately dropping out of college to pursue music in Los Angeles. In less than three years, he established himself as a songwriter under the name Lonny Breaux, writing songs for artists including Justin Bieber, Beyoncé, John Legend and Brandy. He eventually decided that this work, while comfortable, wasn't what he wanted to do forever.
Adopting the name Frank Ocean (believed, but never confirmed, to have been inspired by the original Ocean's Eleven film, in which Frank Sinatra, a muse of his, plays Danny Ocean), he joined the Odd Future music collective after meeting them in 2009. The same year, he signed a writing contract with Def Jam but ended up feeling neglected by the label, to which he began work on an independent mixtape. The end result, nostalgia, ULTRA., was self-released in 2011 to critical acclaim, earning him fans and future collaborators in high places (namely Kanye West, and through him Beyoncé and Jay-Z). However, the mixtape was not without similarly high-profile opposition, namely from the Eagles, whose legal action towards the track "American Wedding" (a remake of their song "Hotel California" that they took far less than kindly to) has kept the entire mixtape inaccessible from streaming for over a decade.
Ocean's debut album channel ORANGE was released in summer 2012 to some of the strongest critical acclaim of any album that year, as well as a Grammy Award for Best Urban Contemporary Album and a nomination for Album of the Year. The album's thematic focus on unrequited love drew significant attention due to its recurring use of male subjects and pronouns, which became an area of special interest after Ocean shared an open letter prior to the album's release in which he stated that his first love was a man. The release of the letter has since been considered a watershed moment in dictating the shifting sentiments and increased acceptance of the hip-hop world towards the LGBT community over the coming decade. While Ocean has never to this day specified a label for his sexuality, he has since become known as one of the highest-profile openly LGBT male stars in R&B music and an icon for the community.
While Ocean confirmed in 2013 that work had begun on his follow-up album, it would take until the end of summer 2016 for said album — Blonde, originally titled Boys Don't Cry — to release after one of the most infamous and widely publicized album delays of its time. (Seriously; even Adele complained.) However, several weeks prior, a cryptic livestream began on Apple Music that showed Ocean building a staircase in a warehouse with new instrumentals playing in the background. This would eventually become the visual component of another new album, Endless, which Ocean released to fulfill his Def Jam contract as the final step in a "seven-year chess game" Ocean enacted to part ways with the label, which has been said to have finessed the label out of tens of millions of dollars. Blonde was subsequently a fully independent release.
Ocean's music career has, as of this writing, continued from there mainly through singles and features, although he has taken on separate ventures including an Apple Music 1 radio show titled blonded RADIO, which was additionally included as a radio station in a late 2017 update of Grand Theft Auto V, and a luxury jewelry company called Homer. He was set to headline Coachella in 2020, but following its cancellation as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was announced in August 2021 that he would instead headline the festival in 2023.
Ocean's music has consistently earned critical acclaim and accolades as well as commercial success, making him one of the most successful R&B artists and most celebrated songwriters of his generation.
- channel ORANGE (2012)
- Endless (2016)
- Blonde (2016)
- nostalgia, ULTRA. (2011)
Thinkin' 'Bout Tropes:
- Advertised Extra: Inverted on "Pink + White". Beyoncé contributes some fairly noticeable backing vocals to the end of the song, but isn't credited as a feature (something most artists would be jumping to do to boost publicity of the song).
- Allegory / World of Symbolism: "Pyramids" is one giant allegory for the fall of the black woman (and black people in general) from queens and pharaohs to hustlers and strippers. The titular pyramid goes from being a symbol of power and wealth to a strip club by song's end.
- Ambiguously Bi: Various lyrics in his songs have alluded to romantic and/or sexual relations with both men and women, leading to speculation about his sexual orientation.
- Awesome McCoolname
- Be Yourself: Played for laughs in "Be Yourself", which starts off as this but goes off message:"[...] Listen, stop trying to be somebody else. Don't try to be someone else. Be yourself and know that that's good enough. Don't try to be someone else. Don't try to be like someone else, don't try to act like someone else. Be yourself. Be secure with yourself. Rely and trust upon your own decisions. On your own beliefs. You understand the things that I've taught you. Not to drink alcohol, not to use drugs. Don't use that cocaine or marijuana because that stuff is highly addictive [...]"
- The Big Easy: Born and raised in New Orleans. He moved to Los Angeles after Hurricane Katrina destroyed his recording studio. "Pink + White" uses imagery from the aftermath of the hurricane in its verses.
- Blatant Lies: The verses of "Thinkin Bout You" are filled with them ("Got a beach house I could sell you in Idaho...") as an attempt to make sure the other party is actively listening to him or not.
- Breakout Character: to the point that a significant portion of his listeners have never even heard of Odd Future.
- Break-Up Song: A lot of his songs are these. Usually they're written in retrospect about a relationship that's already ended, rather than the moment of the breakup itself.
- The Cameo: Appears at the end of Domo Genesis' "Steam Roller".
- John Mayer lays down some sweet guitar licks on "White" but doesn't sing.
- Cover Version: Technically, although it's really more like extended sampling. About half of the songs on nostalgia. ULTRA. transpose the beats from other artists' tracksnote ; Frank tends to match the melodies but creates his own lyrics and harmonies.
- In 2018 he released a straightforward cover of "Moon River" from the film Breakfast at Tiffany's.
- Did Not Get the Guy: The gist of Frank's "Coming Out" story, most directly referenced in "Bad Religion".
- Diegetic Switch: "Golden Girl" does this, starting by playing the song on a radio before transitioning into the studio version.
- Downer Ending: "Swim Good" and "Super Rich Kids".
- Played with in "Strawberry Swing", but hey, at least whoever was in that spaceship got off the planet...
- Drugs Are Bad: In "Be Yourself", Rosie Watsonnote delivers an anvilicious speech about this:"Many college students have gone to college and gotten hooked on drugs, marijuana, and alcohol. [...] You understand the things that I've taught you. Not to drink alcohol, not to use drugs. Don't use that cocaine or marijuana, because that stuff is highly addictive. When people become weed-heads they become sluggish, lazy, stupid and unconcerned. Sluggish, lazy, stupid and unconcerned. That's all marijuana does to you, okay? This is mom. Unless you're taking it under doctor's... umm... control. Then it's regulated. Do NOT smoke marijuana. Do NOT consume alcohol, do NOT get in the car with someone who is inebriated. This is mom, call me, bye."
- Epic Rocking: "Pyramids" clocks at about 10 minutes.
- "Device Control (Reprise)" clocks in at 7:04.
- Exact Words: When his 30th birthday began nearing, fans pointed back to an old tweet of his that said "5 albums before 30", noting that he had 4 under his belt (Nostalgia, Ultra, Channel Orange, Endless, Blonde) and had 1 more to go. When he turned 30, nothing happened. Then he took to his Tumblr to state that he did make the album before 30...he just didn't put it out.
- Foreshadowing: When Frank rapped "I'm high and bi / Oh, wait, I'm straight" on the OF posse cut "Oldie," most people simply interpreted it as clever if risky wordplay. Months later, he came out as either gay or bi.
- Hidden Track: channel ORANGE features "Golden Girl (feat. Tyler, the Creator)" on a limited number of physical copies of the album. "Futura Free" features an untitled hidden track made up of loud static noise and interviews conducted by one of Ocean's friends.
- His Name Really Is "Barkeep": Changed his legal name from Christopher Edwin Breaux to Frank Ocean in 2015.
- Let's Just Be Friends: His newly married wife pulls this on him in "American Wedding".
- In a real-life example, the guy he was hanging out with didn't return his feelings; Frank hasn't made it clear whether the guy was in denial or if he was genuinely straight, but it fueled a good chunk of channel ORANGE.
- Love Nostalgia Song: "Ivy" and "White Ferrari".
- Minimalistic Cover Art: channel ORANGE bears the name in two distinct white fonts on an orange background. Blonde features the album title and a picture of Frank taking a Shower of Angst while covering his face.
- Miniscule Rocking:
- All 3 of his studio albums have a number of short interludes between songs.
- Of the 20 tracks on Endless, half of them are less than 2 minutes long.
- Mr. Fanservice: Let's just say he's got quite the build◊.
- New Sound Album: Blonde was vastly more experimental than Channel Orange.
- The Oldest Profession: In the second half of "Pyramids", the "Cleopatra" character is a stripper who works at a club called "The Pyramid". She is implied to be a prostitute as well:But your love ain't free no more...But your love ain't free no more...
- Recurring Riff: The Buddy Ross song "Runnin Around" is used multiple times throughout Blonde as background music for its spoken-word interludes.
- "Seigfried" contains the line "This is not my life, it's just a fond farewell to a friend".
- "Provider" name-drops Stanley Kubrick and Aphex Twin. Kubrick is also name-dropped in "Novacane".
- "Super Rich Kids" references Mary J. Blige with the line "Real love, I'm searching for a real love". The party sounds from the background of the song also reference the show Good Times and samples the song "Got to Give It Up" by Marvin Gaye.
- Shower of Angst: On the cover of Blonde.
- Social Media Is Bad: "Facebook Story" implies this. Sebastian, the man speaking, argues that his girlfriend's Facebook friend request is meaningless when they've already been dating for three years, and she takes his unwillingness to accept it as a sign that he's cheating on her.
- Suicide by Sea: "Swim Good" is very much about this trope.
- Truck Driver's Gear Change: In "Nights", the beat of the song completely switches at the 3:30 mark, which is also the exact halfway point of the album.
- True Companions: Ocean has no plans on distancing himself from Odd Future. His Tumblr account header, to date, still reads "FRANK OCEAN ï¿½ OFWG ï¿½ KTA". Tyler even helped him work on Blonde and featured on the post-Blonde single "Biking", and Frank later appeared on a couple tracks on Tyler's albums Flower Boy and Call Me If You Get Lost.
- Unrequited Love: A theme in a number of his songs.
- In "Thinkin Bout You" he reflects on a past relationship that failed, wondering if the other person still has feelings for him the way he does.
- "Forrest Gump" is inspired by Frank's feelings from his (unrequited) first love (Ironically, the song is sung from the perspective of Jenny, while in the film she was the one not to reciprocate Forrest's feelings for most of the film.)
- Verbal Backspace: On Odd Future's "Oldie" (released before Frank came out):I'm high and I'm biWait, I mean I'm straight
- Worldbuilding: "Pyramids" uses its ten minutes wisely to flesh out two love triangles and the worlds around them: one in ancient Egypt; the other in modern-day North America.