Frank Ocean (born October 28, 1987) is an American singer, songwriter, record producer, photographer, and visual artist. Recognized for his idiosyncratic musical style, introspective and elliptical songwriting, unconventional production techniques, and wide vocal range, Ocean is among the most acclaimed artists of his generation. Music critics have credited him with revitalizing jazz and funk influenced R&B, as well as advancing the genre through his experimental approach. He is considered a representative artist of alternative R&B.
Ocean began his musical career as a ghostwriter, prior to joining the hip hop collective Odd Future in 2010. In 2011, Ocean released his critically successful debut mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra and subsequently secured a recording contract with Def Jam Recordings. Drawing on electro-funk, pop-soul, jazz-funk, and psychedelia, Ocean's debut studio album Channel Orange (2012) was one of the most acclaimed albums of 2012. It was nominated for Album of the Year and won Best Urban Contemporary Album at the 2013 Grammy Awards, while the album's hit single "Thinkin Bout You" garnered Ocean a nomination for Record of the Year.
Following a four-year hiatus, Ocean released the visual project Endless in 2016 to fulfill contractual obligations with Def Jam before self-releasing his highly anticipated second album Blonde (2016) a day later. Blonde debuted at number one on the US Billboard 200 and was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). Encompassing avant-garde, soul, and psychedelic rock, the album was acclaimed by critics and Ocean was praised for challenging the conventions of contemporary R&B and pop music.
Among Ocean's awards are two Grammy Awards, a Brit Award for International Male Solo Artist in 2013 and an NME Award for Best International Male Artist in 2017. He was included in the 2013 edition of the Time's list of the 100 most influential people in the world and the 2017 edition of the Forbes 30 Under 30. Both Insider and The Wall Street Journal regarded Ocean as the most dominant artist of the 2010s decade. As a photographer, he worked with Vogue at the annual Met Gala and the British fashion magazine i-D. Premiered in 2017, he also has his own Beats 1 radio show, Blonded Radio, that often premiers his new singles.
Ocean was born on October 28, 1987, in Long Beach, California. When he was five years old, he and his family relocated to New Orleans. Ocean was first introduced to music through his mother, who would often play jazz music on her car stereo, as well as albums by Celine Dion and Anita Baker and the soundtrack to The Phantom of the Opera. He later frequented New Orleans jazz bars and parlors, which encouraged him to begin recording his own music. In order to raise funds for recording time, he performed several jobs as a teenager such as washing cars, mowing lawns, and walking his neighbors' dogs. After graduating from John Ehret High School in New Orleans in 2005, Ocean enrolled in the University of New Orleans to study English. However, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans in August 2005, destroying his home and personal recording facility and forcing him to transfer to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He stayed there for a brief time before dropping out to focus on his music career.
2006–2011: Career beginnings, Odd Future and Nostalgia, Ultra
In 2006, Ocean moved to Los Angeles to pursue his music career, working at various fast-food and service jobs to support himself. In less than three years, he established himself as a songwriter. After getting a songwriting deal, Ocean wrote songs for artists including Justin Bieber, Beyonce, John Legend, and Brandy.
Ocean later said of his work at the time, "There was a point where I was composing for other people, and it might have been comfy to continue to do that and enjoy that income stream and the anonymity. But that's not why I moved away from school and away from family."
Ocean joined Los Angeles-based hip hop collective Odd Future, whom he had met in 2009. His friendship with Odd Future member Tyler, the Creator reinvigorated Ocean's songwriting. In late 2009, he met Tricky Stewart, who helped him sign a writing contract with Def Jam Recordings. Ocean felt neglected by the label, and began working on a mixtape on his own without their input.
On February 16, 2011, Ocean self-released the resulting mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra online for free. The mixtape received critical acclaim. The mixtape focuses on interpersonal relationships, personal reflection and social commentary. NPR's Andrew Noz said Ocean's songwriting is "smart and subtle...setting him apart from the pack". Rolling Stone magazine's Jonah Weiner wrote that Ocean was a "gifted avant-R&B smoothie".
In April 2011, Ocean stated that his relationship with Def Jam had strengthened since the release of the Nostalgia, Ultra. The mixtape made Ocean widely known and led to his collaborations with rappers Jay-Z and Kanye West. Ocean first appeared in Tyler, the Creator's music video for the single "She", from Tyler's debut studio album Goblin (2011). His first performance was in collaboration with Odd Future at the 2011 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, where he later joined them for their first tour across the east coast of the United States. On May 19, 2011, Ocean's record label Def Jam announced its plans to re-release Nostalgia, Ultra as an EP. The single 'Novacane' was released to iTunes in May 2011, and the EP originally was set to be released the next month, but was delayed.
In June 2011, Ocean revealed that he would work on the upcoming Kanye West and Jay-Z collaborative album, Watch the Throne. Ocean co-wrote and featured on two tracks: "No Church in the Wild" and "Made in America". On July 28, 2011, a song titled "Thinkin Bout You", leaked on the internet. It was later revealed the song was a reference track, written by Ocean, for Roc Nation artist Bridget Kelly's debut studio album. Kelly renamed the song 'Thinking About Forever'. In September 2011, a music video directed by High5Collective for Ocean's version was released, yet the song still appeared on Kelly's debut EP Every Girl. In August 2011, Frank Ocean made his first appearance on the cover of the publication The Fader, in its 75th issue.
2012–2013: Channel Orange
Ocean released the cover art for his debut studio album's lead single, titled "Thinkin Bout You", revealing the song would be released to digital retailers on April 10, 2012. However, a month earlier, a re-mastered version of the song had already leaked. About the prospective single he said: "It succinctly defines me as an artist for where I am right now and that was the aim," he said of the follow-up to his acclaimed Nostalgia, Ultra. "It's about the stories. If I write 14 stories that I love, then the next step is to get the environment of music around it to best envelop the story and all kinds of sonic goodness."
In 2012, Ocean released his debut studio album Channel Orange to universal acclaim from critics, who later named it the best album of the year in the HMV's Poll of Polls. It also earned Ocean six Grammy Award nominations and was credited by some writers for moving the R&B genre in a different, more challenging direction. Considered as Ocean's first commercial release on a traditional record label, Channel Orange featured unconventional songs that were noted for their storytelling and social commentary, and a dense musical fusion that drew on jazz, soul, and R&B. Funk and electronic music also influenced his album. The songs about unrequited love in particular received the most attention, partly because of Ocean's announcement prior to the album's release, when he revealed that his first love was a man. The announcement made global headlines, and some critics compared its cultural impact to when David Bowie revealed that he was bisexual in 1972.
Channel Orange debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 and sold 131,000 copies in its first week. The majority of its first-week sales were digital copies from iTunes, while approximately 3,000 of the sales were physical copies. On January 30, Channel Orange was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). By September 2014, it had sold 621,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Ocean promoted the album with his 2012 Summer Tour, which featured final appearances at the Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals. At the 2013 Brit Awards, Ocean won the Brit Award for International Male Solo Artist.
On May 28, 2013, Ocean announced the You're Not Dead ... 2013 Tour; a fourteen-date European and Canadian tour that began on June 16, 2013, in Munich. He had been scheduled to perform at the first night of OVO Fest on August 4, 2013; however he was forced to cancel his appearance due to a small vocal cord injury. The first night of the music festival was subsequently cancelled and James Blake was booked to appear during the second night as Ocean's replacement. Ocean appeared on John Mayer's album Paradise Valley, as a featured artist on a song called "Wildfire".
2013–2016: Endless and Blonde
In February 2013, Ocean confirmed that he had started work on his second studio album, which he confirmed would be another concept album. He revealed that he was working with Tyler, the Creator, Pharrell Williams, and Danger Mouse on the record. He later stated that he was being influenced by The Beach Boys and The Beatles. He stated he was interested in collaborating with Tame Impala and King Krule and that he would record part of the album in Bora Bora.
On March 10, 2014, the song "Hero" was made available for free download on SoundCloud. The song is a collaboration with Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Diplo and is a part of Converse's Three Artists. One Song series.
In April 2014, Ocean stated that his second album was nearly finished. In June, Billboard reported that the singer was working with a string of artists such as Happy Perez (whom he worked with on nostalgia, ULTRA), Charlie Gambetta and Kevin Ristro, while producers Hit-Boy, Rodney Jerkins and Danger Mouse were also said to be on board. On November 29, 2014, Ocean released a snippet of a new song supposedly from his upcoming follow-up to channel ORANGE called "Memrise" on his official Tumblr page. The Guardian described the song as: "...a song which affirms that despite reportedly changing labels and management, he has maintained both his experimentation and sense of melancholy in the intervening years". On April 6, 2015, Ocean announced that his follow-up to channel ORANGE would be released in July with "two versions", as well as a publication, although no further details were released. The album was ultimately not released in July, with no explanation given for its delay. The publication was rumoured to be called Boys Don't Cry, and the album was slated to feature the aforementioned "Memrise". In February 2016, Ocean was featured on Kanye West's album The Life of Pablo on the track "Wolves" along with Vic Mensa and Sia Furler. A month later, the song was re-edited by West, and Ocean's part was separated and listed on the track list as its own song titled "Frank's Track".
In July 2016, he hinted at a possible second album with an image on his website pointing to a July release date. The image shows a library card labeled Boys Don't Cry with numerous stamps, implying various due dates. The dates begin with July 2, 2015, and conclude with July 2016. Ocean's brother, Ryan Breaux, further suggested this release with an Instagram caption of the same library card photo reading BOYS DON'T CRY #JULY2016.
By August 1, 2016, at approximately 3 am, an endless live stream shot in negative lighting in what is allegedly a Brooklyn warehouse, sponsored by Apple Music began to surface on boysdontcry.co which appeared to show Ocean woodworking and sporadically playing instrumentals on loop. It later became clear that these instrumentals were from his upcoming visual album Endless; the full version is estimated to be 140 hours long. That same day, many news outlets reported that August 5, 2016, could be the release date for Boys Don't Cry. That date also turned out to be inaccurate, though in a Reddit AMA session, his collaborator Malay said that Ocean is a perfectionist, constantly tweaking things, and that his art cannot be rushed.
On August 18 and 19, 2016, the live stream was accompanied with music and at midnight an Apple Music link was directed to a project called Endless. Endless would be Ocean's last album with Def Jam Recordings to fulfill his contract with the record label. Before the visual album's release on Apple Music, Ocean had already begun making efforts to part ways with Def Jam, who signed the artist in 2009. He describes his negotiations with the label as a "seven-year chess game", while adding that he had replaced many of his representatives (including his lawyer and manager) during the process, as well as having to buy back all of his master recordings that previously belonged to Def Jam.
At midnight Pacific time on August 20, 2016, a music video for a song titled "Nikes" was uploaded to Ocean's Connect page on Apple Music and later to his own website. Also on August 20, Ocean announced pop-up shops in Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, and London for his magazine Boys Don't Cry, and released his second studio album Blonde to widespread acclaim. Blonde debuted at number one in several countries, including the United States and the United Kingdom, and recorded sales of 232,000 copies (275,000 with album-equivalent units) in its first week. Rather than going on a typical promotional tour playing radio festivals and appearing on television shows, Ocean spent a month after the release of Blonde, traveling to countries such as China, Japan and France. He also chose not to submit Blonde for consideration at the Grammy Awards, stating "that institution certainly has nostalgic importance; it just doesn't seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from, and hold down what I hold down." Time ranked it as the best album of 2016 on its year-end list. Forbes estimated that Blonde earned Ocean nearly one million in profits after one week of availability, attributing this to him releasing the album independently and as a limited exclusive release on iTunes and Apple Music. On July 9, 2018, Blonde was certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA).
2017–present: Blonded Radio, singles and third studio album
On February 21, 2017, Scottish DJ and producer Calvin Harris announced his single "Slide", in which Ocean and hip-hop trio Migos were featured. The single was released two days later and is from Harris' fifth studio album Funk Wav Bounces Vol. 1. Ocean and Migos are credited with featured vocals and Ocean and Migos members, Quavo and Offset are credited songwriting, while production is handled by Harris. The other Migos member, Takeoff is not in the song. The song was released on February 23, 2017, and featured on the first episode of Ocean's Beats 1 radio show, Blonded Radio. It is also Ocean's first recorded collaboration since leaving Def Jam, with Ocean being listed in the liner notes as "appear[ing] courtesy of Frank Ocean". The song went on to be certified double platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America and became Ocean's first top ten single on the Billboard Mainstream Top 40 chart, peaking at No. 9. On March 10, 2017, Ocean released a new single "Chanel" on the second episode of Blonded Radio, as well as playing an alternate version featuring American rapper ASAP Rocky. The song was his first solo effort to be released after Blonde and Endless in 2016. On subsequent episodes of Blonded Radio in April, Ocean premiered "Biking" featuring Jay-Z and Tyler the Creator, "Lens", as well as an alternate version featuring Travis Scott, and a remix of Endless track "Slide On Me" featuring Young Thug. On May 15 Ocean was featured on ASAP Mob's "RAF", premiered on Blonded alongside a solo version of "Biking". On August 28, Ocean released another single, "Provider", on Blonded Radio.
In October 2017, Ocean published a photo essay titled "New 17" to British magazine i-D. In the essay, Ocean said "If you liked two thousand and seventeen then you'll love two thousand and eighteen". In November 2017, Ocean hinted via Tumblr that his fifth project was complete. However it is unknown when or if it will be released.
Ocean's voice appears in the video game Grand Theft Auto V, as he plays himself hosting an in-game radio station called Blonded Los Santos 97.8 FM. He also lent the songs "Provider", "Ivy", "Crack Rock", "Chanel", "Nights" and "Pretty Sweet" to the game, and sings the radio station jingles.
On February 14, 2018, Ocean released "Moon River", a cover of the song performed by Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 film, Breakfast at Tiffany's. In May 2018, Ocean was featured on the tracks "Brotha Man" and "Purity" from ASAP Rocky's third studio album Testing. In August 2018, Ocean featured on the song "Carousel" from Travis Scott's third studio album Astroworld, which released on the same day. In September 2018, it was reported that Ocean took legal action against Scott through a cease and desist letter. Ocean later confirmed through a Tumblr post that the dispute was about social issues, not music, and had since been resolved between the two artists. On November 6, 2018, three midterm specials of Blonded Radio were aired throughout the day, in collation with the Midterm elections that were held in the US, as well as the release of new merchandise given to those with proof of voting for free in Houston, Atlanta, Miami, and Dallas. The shows themselves did not include any new songs by Ocean, but included various political discussions including a discussion about Ocean being an 'openly queer' black man in contemporary rap music.
On February 5, 2019, Ocean's Tumblr account was hacked hinting info about more of Ocean's material. The posts have since been deleted.
On October 19, 2019, Ocean released a new song titled "DHL" on his Beats 1 radio show Blonded Radio and announced 7-inch single vinyls of two new songs on his website titled "Dear April" and "Cayendo," originally available only as physical singles featuring B-side remixes from Justice and Sango, respectively.
On November 1, 2019, Ocean followed up "DHL" with a new song titled "In My Room", which was premiered on Blonded Radio, and soon after on November 3 posted online another vinyl single of a new song titled "Little Demon" featuring a B-side remix by Arca. However, on February 25, 2020, Ocean announced that he will replace "Little Demon" with an unreleased song which will be released on February 28, 2020.
Ocean was set to headline at Coachella in October 2020. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival was initially postponed until October 9–11 and October 16–18, but in June, Riverside County public health officers announced it and Stagecoach had been cancelled altogether.
From March 25, 2020, Ocean's website started shipping the vinyl singles for "Dear April" and "Cayendo", as well as the previously released "In My Room". Remixes of the two tracks had previously been teased during his club night DJ set PrEP+. The vinyl exclusivity encouraged listeners to leak these two songs onto sites like Twitter and SoundCloud, while they were officially released digitally on April 3.
Ocean's music has been characterized by music writers as idiosyncratic in style. His music generally includes the electronic keyboard, often performed by Ocean himself, and is backed by a subdued rhythm section in the production. His compositions are often midtempo, feature unconventional melodies, and occasionally have an experimental song structure. He has been characterised as both an "avant-garde R&B artist" and a "pop musician".
In his songwriting, Jon Pareles of The New York Times observes "open echoes of self-guided, innovative R&B songwriters like Prince, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Maxwell, Erykah Badu and particularly R. Kelly and his way of writing melodies that hover between speech and song, asymmetrical and syncopated." Jody Rosen of Rolling Stone calls him a torch singer due to "his feel for romantic tragedy, unfurling in slow-boiling ballads". Ocean's stage presence during live shows has been described by Chris Richards of the Washington Post as "low-key". While nostalgia, ULTRA featured both original music by Ocean and tracks relying on sampled melodies, channel ORANGE showcased Ocean as the primary musical composer, of which music journalist Robert Christgau opines, "when he's the sole composer Ocean resists making a show of himself—resists the dope hook, the smart tempo, the transcendent falsetto itself."
Ocean's lyrics deal with themes of love, longing, misgiving, and nostalgia. His debut single "Novacane" juxtaposes the numbness and artificiality of a sexual relationship with that of mainstream radio, while "Voodoo" merges themes of spirituality and sexuality, and is an eccentric take on such subject matter common in R&B. The latter song was released by Ocean on his Tumblr account and references both the traditional spiritual "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" and the female anatomy in its chorus: "she's got the whole wide world in her juicy fruit / he's got the whole wide world in his pants / he wrapped the whole wide world in a wedding band / then put the whole wide world on her hands / she's got the whole wide world in her hands / he's got the whole wide world in his hands." Certain songs on channel ORANGE allude to Ocean's experience with unrequited love.
Ocean is among the most acclaimed artists of his generation. Music critics have credited him with revitalizing pre-contemporary R&B, as well as approaching the genre differently to his contemporaries through his use of other genres, including avant-garde, electro, rock and psychedelic. His distinctive sound and style have influenced numerous artists of various music genres. Both Insider and The Wall Street Journal regarded Ocean as the most dominant artist of the 2010s decade. He was included in the 2013 edition of the Time's list of the 100 most influential people in the world and the 2017 edition of the Forbes 30 Under 30.
Andy Kellman of AllMusic wrote,
Culture critic Nelson George asserts that, along with Miguel, Ocean has "staked out ground where [he is] not competing with those hit-driven [commercial R&B] acts" and is "cultivating a sound that balances adult concerns with a sense of young men trying to understand their own desires (an apt description of Ocean, particularly)." Writing for Insider, Callie Ahlgrim said that Ocean "changed our very understanding of modern music", and that he discusses themes like youth, innocence, lost love, loneliness, desire, and mortality in his music in a way that "feels fresh and extraordinary [and] makes the introspective sound universal and transcendent [which] is why he's one of the defining artists of our time." Jacob Shamsian of Business Insider said that Ocean "isn't just one of the most important artists in pop, he's one of the most important artists in all of music." In a GQ article titled "Why Frank Ocean is a musical icon", Jon Savage described Ocean as "one of the pop elite", a "true pop star of today", and a "consummate contemporary artist in every sense who is immersed in new sonic possibilities, one who is deeply committed to artistic exploration in the most profound sense." Savage praised Ocean for taking R&B to a "new level [through] constructing startling sound pictures that fit his lyrics." Pitchfork regarded Ocean as a "master of confessional songwriting, earning a cult-icon status with his enigmatic persona and idiosyncratic approach to pop."
On August 20, 2016, Ocean released a 360-page magazine, Boys Don't Cry, alongside his second album Blonde. The fashion and automobile-themed publication contains the photo projects from Wolfgang Tillmans, Viviane Sassen, Tyrone Lebon, Ren Hang, Harley Weir, Michael Mayren and Ocean himself. Four months later, British magazine Print published another photowork from Frank Ocean.
Ocean's younger brother, Ryan Breaux, was killed in a car crash on August 2, 2020, at the age of 18.
Ocean wrote an open letter, initially intended for the liner notes on Channel Orange, that preemptively addressed speculation about his attraction in the past to another man. Instead, on July 4, 2012, he published an open letter on his Tumblr blog recounting unrequited feelings he had for another young man when he was 19 years old, citing it as his first true love. He used the blog to thank the man for his influence, and also thanked his mother and other friends, saying, "I don't know what happens now, and that's alright. I don't have any secrets I need kept anymore... I feel like a free man." Numerous celebrities publicly voiced their support for Ocean following his announcement, including Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Members of the hip hop industry generally responded positively to the announcement. Tyler, the Creator and other members of OFWGKTA tweeted their support for Ocean. Russell Simmons wrote a congratulatory article in Global Grind in which he said, "Today is a big day for hip-hop. It is a day that will define who we really are. How compassionate will we be? How loving can we be? How inclusive are we? [...] Your decision to go public about your sexual orientation gives hope and light to so many young people still living in fear." When asked if he considers himself bisexual in a 2012 interview, Ocean stated: "I'll respectfully say that life is dynamic and comes along with dynamic experiences, and the same sentiment that I have towards genres of music, I have towards a lot of labels and boxes and shit."
In June 2016, following the Orlando nightclub shooting that killed 49 people, Ocean published an essay expressing his sadness and frustration. He mentioned that his first experience with homophobia and transphobia was with his father when he was six years old, and related how many people pass on their hateful ideals to the next generation and send thousands of people down suicidal paths. In 2017, Ocean's father subsequently sued him for defamation and requested $14.5 million. On October 17, 2017, after a hearing that saw Ocean and both of his parents taking the stand, the presiding judge ruled in favor of Ocean, stating that his father had not provided sufficient evidence of defamation.
In a 2011 interview, Ocean stated that he had attempted to change his name to Christopher Francis Ocean through a legal website on his 23rd birthday. The change was reportedly partly inspired by the 1960 film Ocean's 11. In March 2014, it was reported that he was legally changing his name to Frank Ocean. In November 2014, it was revealed that the name change had not been legalized due to multiple speeding offenses. It was finally legalized on April 23, 2015.
Ocean sampled the music from the Eagles' song "Hotel California" on the song "American Wedding" from Nostalgia, Ultra. When asked about it, Ocean stated that Eagles band member "Don Henley is apparently intimidated by my rendition of 'Hotel California'. He threatened to sue if I perform it again." In response to Ocean's comments, the Eagles' legal representative released a statement: "Frank Ocean did not merely 'sample' a portion of the Eagles' 'Hotel California,' he took the entire master track, plus the song's existing melody, and replaced the lyrics with his own; this is not creative, let alone 'intimidating.' It's illegal. For the record, Don Henley has not threatened or instituted any legal action against Frank Ocean, although the Eagles are now considering whether they should." Chris Richards of The Washington Post remarked that "certain boomers don't like Ocean as much" as "information-age babies" due to the controversy.
On March 7, 2014, Ocean was sued by Chipotle Mexican Grill for them to recoup the money they paid him in advance for a commercial that he backed out of because he objected to material in the advertisement. The advertisement was to feature Ocean singing the song "Pure Imagination", and was to promote sustainable farming. Ocean backed out of the spot when Chipotle refused to remove their logo and name from the advertisement. The lawsuit was dropped on March 20 after Ocean paid the advance back in full. The commercial, titled The Scarecrow, was ultimately released with Fiona Apple performing the song.
Awards and nominations
- Wilson, Elliott (July 16, 2012). "Success Is Certain". RESPECT. Archived from the original on August 18, 2012. Retrieved July 23, 2012.
- Frank Ocean on SoundCloud
- Rebecca Nicholson, "Frank Ocean: the most talked-about man in music" (interview), The Guardian, August 21, 2012.
- Amy Wallace, "Frank Ocean: On Channel Orange, Meeting Odd Future, and His Tumblr Letter" (interview), GQ, November 20, 2012.