Over the past couple weeks Frank Ocean has been grabbing a lot of headlines. Sadly, most of them display a headline about his coming out as bi in a letter that was so eloquently written it should be on display in museums. While his sexuality makes for tantalizing tabloid tales, it has very little to do with the quality of his music. I was much more interested in an article I read about the listening party Island Def Jam had for the record about a week ago. Ocean didn’t really want it to happen, he just wanted to release channel Orange into the world with as little hype as possible. After being pressed, he relented and had a small number of critics come to an office. He sat down his laptop on the table, and went to stand in the corner with his head down for the duration. Didn’t give any track names, didn’t answer any questions. Just let the music speak for itself. He’s a bit of a shy dude, but he’s confident about his songs and I dig that about him.
Anyone who reads this site with regularity probably knows that Ocean’s mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra just missed my top ten last year, clocking in at number 12. What he displayed there was his ability to put together a record that flows easily and uses samples to great effect. What he didn’t really show was his ability as a performer, as a lot of the songs are as much talking as singing-the big exception being “American Wedding.” Nobody was more surprised than I was that I enjoyed the mixtape like I did, but ever since I heard it I’ve been looking forward to his official debut release where we could get a real idea of who he is.
To that end Ocean delivers the goods. There hasn’t been a R&B artist so ambitious and fearless since R. Kelly hit the scene twenty years ago. He takes risks and puts together combinations that no other singer in this genre could. He really does make R&B for indie rock kids, and as music continues to cross-pollenate between styles, he’s taking the next step necessary to blur the lines even further. It’s a bit like when Beck got super popular when “Loser” came out. There was no name for what he was doing because he was it. Ocean is the only one currently making music like this.