Frank Ocean: Smart And Subtle R&B Songwriting By @Noz
Sometimes major labels just get things wrong, and there’s no better illustration than the case of the singer-songwriter formerly known as Lonny Breaux. After Hurricane Katrina hit his hometown of New Orleans, Breaux moved to Los Angeles to pursue a recording career. There, he landed songwriting gigs for the likes of Brandy, John Legend and even Justin Bieber, as well as a recording contract with Def Jam. And there he sat, as many artists do, his solo debut permanently in limbo almost before it got off the ground. But hell hath no fury like a recording artist scorned.
In protest, the 23-year-old quietly old went off the reservation and aligned himself with the buzzed-about (and fretted-over) indie rap/hooligan/creative collective Odd Future, whom he credits with inspiring a new-found DIY drive. He then rechristened himself Frank Ocean and, in February, proceeded to self-release Nostalgia, Ultra for free and on his own Tumblr. With no formal promotion, buzz spread rapidly by word of mouth; in a matter of weeks, Ocean went from unknown quantity to critical and industry darling, with the likes of Diddy and Lupe Fiasco singing his praises. Few of these insiders had realized that Ocean was already tied up in a deal.
The hype for Nostalgia, Ultra is well-deserved, although its charms might easily be overlooked in a passing listen. The beats are crafted by big-name producers like Tricky Stewart (Beyonce, Rihanna) and Midi Mafia (Bieber, 50 Cent), who were no doubt poached from Ocean’s major-label sessions. The producers don’t stray too far from their poppier efforts, give or a take a touch of haze and a meandering feel meant to win over the indie set. Ocean is a talented enough vocalist, not overwhelming in his ability but certainly strong enough to hang with most of the middle-tier crooners cluttering urban radio.