Christopher Francis Ocean (born Christopher Breaux; October 28, 1987), better known by his stage name Frank Ocean, is an American singer-songwriter from New Orleans, Louisiana. Ocean's early career was as a ghostwriter for artists such as Brandy, Justin Bieber, and John Legend. In 2010, he became a member of alternative hip hop collective OFWGKTA, and his debut mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra, was released the following year to critical acclaim. He released two singles: "Novacane" and 'Swim Good", which both achieved chart success. The mixtape gained the interest of recording artists such as Kanye West, Beyoncé Knowles and Jay-Z, and he consequently appeared on West and Jay-Z's Watch the Throne album.
In 2012, the BBC announced that Ocean finished second place in its Sound of 2012 poll. Ocean appeared at the Coachella Festival as well as at Lollapalooza at the end of his 2012 summer tour.
His debut studio album, Channel Orange, was released in July 2012 as a digital download exclusively on iTunes, one week ahead of its scheduled full release. The album was promoted with three charting singles: "Thinkin Bout You," "Pyramids," and "Sweet Life." Ocean wrote an open letter, intended for the liner notes on Channel Orange, that would preemptively address "speculation about his same-sex attraction," he instead blogged it on Tumblr. Ocean became one of the first major African-American music artists to announce that he had fallen in love with someone of the same sex, notable because the industry is known for expressions of homophobia.
Ocean was born Christopher "Lonny" Breaux on October 28, 1987, in Long Beach, California. When he was around five years old, he and his family moved to New Orleans, Louisiana. He grew up around its local jazz scene and listened to his mother's CDs on her car stereo, including albums by Celine Dion, Anita Baker, and The Phantom of the Opera soundtrack. As a teenager, he did neighborhood chores and saved up money to rent studio time. As he recalled, "Oh man I had numerous hustles [...] Washing cars was one of them, and mowing lawns and walking dogs." He enrolled in the University of New Orleans and moved into its dormitory in 2005.
2005–10: Beginnings in Los Angeles
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit Ocean's hometown of New Orleans and his recording facility was looted and destroyed by floodwater. To continue recording music, he moved to Los Angeles and intended to stay for six weeks. However, after acclimating himself with music industry circles, Ocean planned to stay longer and develop his music career. He recorded demos at a friend's studio and shopped them around Los Angeles. After getting a songwriting deal, he started working with other record producers and writing songs for artists such as Justin Bieber, 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."
After meeting them in 2009 through networking, Ocean joined the Los Angeles-based hip hop collective OFWGKTA, also known as Odd Future. 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 contract with Def Jam Recordings as a solo artist, though he was initially unable to build a relationship with the company. In 2010, through a legal website, he changed his name from Christopher Breaux to Christopher Francis Ocean, which was inspired partly by the 1960 film Ocean's 11.
2011–present: Nostalgia, Ultra and Channel Orange
Ocean has written songs for Justin Bieber, John Legend, Brandy, and Beyoncé Knowles. He has also worked with artists such as Nas and Pharrell Williams. On February 18, 2011, Ocean released his first mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra, to 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 strengthened since the release of the mixtape.
Ocean first appeared in Tyler, The Creator's music video for the single "She", from Tyler's second 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 be working 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 'Thinking About 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 March 2012, a re-mastered version of "Thinking About You" leaked, intended to be a single. 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. "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."
Ocean reappropriated the music from The Eagles' song 'Hotel California', without permission, on his own song, "American Wedding." 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 released a statement: “Frank Ocean did not merely 'sample' a portion of the Eagles’ 'Hotel California,' he took the whole 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 June 8, 2012, a single from the album Channel Orange, entitled 'Pyramids', was made available for download on Ocean's Tumblr blog. On July 10, 2012, Ocean made his debut television performance with "Bad Religion" on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The same day, Ocean released his album one week ahead of schedule for digital download on iTunes and free streaming on his Tumblr blog. All other forms of distribution for the album will be available on July 17, 2012. On September 6, 2012, Frank Ocean performed an acoustic version of his Channel Orange single, Thinkin Bout You, at the 2012 MTV Video Music Awards which was held at the Staples Center arena at L.A. Live in Downtown Los Angeles.
Ocean's music has been characterized by music writers as idiosyncratic in style. Ocean generally plays the electronic keyboard, and is backed by a subdued rhythm section in the production. His compositions are often midtempo and feature unconventional melodies, occasionally having experimental song structure. 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." 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 to 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. 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)."
Ocean describes himself as "a baritone, with tenor moments." 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 is often low-key.
On July 4, 2012, Ocean 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 alrite [sic]. I don't have any secrets I need kept anymore...I feel like a free man."
Members of the hip hop industry generally responded positively to the announcement. Russell Simmons, a business magnate in the hip hop industry, wrote a congratulatory article in Global Grind saying "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." Other artists who expressed their support included Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Tyler, The Creator also tweeted his support for Ocean, along with other members of OFWGKTA.
Awards and nominations
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- ^ Did R&B singer steal entire melody of 'Hotel California'?
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