Frank Ocean

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Frank Ocean
Frank Ocean Coachella 2012 (cropped).jpg
Ocean performing at the Coachella Festival in 2012
Background information
Birth nameChristopher Breaux
Born(1987-10-28) October 28, 1987 (age 26)
Long Beach, California, United States
OriginNew Orleans, Louisiana
OccupationsSinger-songwriter,[4] rapper[5][6][7]
InstrumentsVocals, keyboards
Years active2007–present
LabelsOdd Future Records, Def Jam,[8] Island
Associated actsOdd Future, Kanye West, Jay-Z
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Frank Ocean
Frank Ocean Coachella 2012 (cropped).jpg
Ocean performing at the Coachella Festival in 2012
Background information
Birth nameChristopher Breaux
Born(1987-10-28) October 28, 1987 (age 26)
Long Beach, California, United States
OriginNew Orleans, Louisiana
OccupationsSinger-songwriter,[4] rapper[5][6][7]
InstrumentsVocals, keyboards
Years active2007–present
LabelsOdd Future Records, Def Jam,[8] Island
Associated actsOdd Future, Kanye West, Jay-Z

Christopher Francis Ocean (born Christopher Breaux; October 28, 1987), better known by his stage name Frank Ocean, is an American singer-songwriter and rapper. Ocean started his career as a ghostwriter for artists such as Brandy, Justin Bieber, Damienn Jones, and John Legend. In 2010, he became a member of alternative hip hop collective OFWGKTA also known as Odd Future, and his debut mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra, was released to critical acclaim in 2011. The singles "Novacane" and "Swim Good" both achieved chart success.

In 2012, Ocean finished second place in the BBC's Sound of 2012 poll.[9] His debut studio album, Channel Orange, was released in July 2012 to critical acclaim and was promoted with three charting singles: "Thinkin Bout You," "Pyramids," and "Sweet Life."

Early life[edit]

Ocean was born Christopher Edwin "Lonny" Breaux on October 28, 1987, in Long Beach, California.[10] When he was around five years old, he and his family moved to New Orleans, Louisiana.[10] 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.[3] As a teenager, he did neighborhood chores and saved up money to rent studio time.[3] As he recalled, "Oh man I had numerous hustles [...] Washing cars was one of them, and mowing lawns and walking dogs."[3] He enrolled in the University of New Orleans and moved into its dormitory in 2005.[3] Shortly after enrolling in the university, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and he transferred to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.[11]


2005–10: Beginnings in Los Angeles[edit]

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit Ocean's hometown of New Orleans and his recording facility was destroyed by floodwater and looting.[12] To continue recording music, he moved to Los Angeles and intended to stay for just six weeks[3] but decided to stay longer and develop his music career after establishing contact with people in the music industry.[12] He recorded some demos at a friend's studio and shopped them around Los Angeles.[3]

After getting a songwriting deal, he started working with other record producers and wrote songs for artists such as Justin Bieber, John Legend, Brandy,[3][12][13] and Beyoncé.[14][15] 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."[12] He has also worked with artists such as Nas[16][17] and Pharrell Williams.[18]

Ocean joined Los Angeles-based hip hop collective Odd Future, whom he had met in 2009.[13] His friendship with Odd Future member Tyler, The Creator reinvigorated Ocean's songwriting.[19] In late 2009, he met Tricky Stewart, who helped him sign a contract with Def Jam Recordings as a solo artist.[13][20][21]

2011: Breakthrough mixtape and sampling controversy[edit]

Ocean in 2011

On February 18, 2011, Ocean released his first mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra, to critical acclaim.[13][21] The mixtape focuses on interpersonal relationships, personal reflection and social commentary.[13] NPR's Andrew Noz said Ocean's songwriting is "smart and subtle...setting him apart from the pack."[22] Rolling Stone magazine's Jonah Weiner wrote that Ocean was a "gifted avant-R&B smoothie".[23] In April 2011, Ocean stated that his relationship with Def Jam strengthened since the release of the mixtape.[24] The mixtape made Ocean widely known and led to his collaborations with rappers Jay-Z and Kanye West.[25]

Ocean first appeared in Tyler, The Creator's music video for the single "She", from Tyler's second studio album Goblin (2011).[26][27] 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.[28] On May 19, 2011 Ocean's record label Def Jam announced its plans to re-release Nostalgia, Ultra as an EP.[29] 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.[30][31] In June 2011, Ocean revealed that he would be working on the upcoming Kanye West and Jay-Z collaborative album, Watch the Throne.[32] Ocean co-wrote and featured on two tracks: "No Church in the Wild" and "Made in America".[33][34]

Ocean sampled the music from The Eagles' song "Hotel California" on his 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 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."[35][36] Chris Richards of The Washington Post remarked that "certain boomers don't like [Ocean] as much" as "information-age babies" due to the controversy.[37]

On July 28, 2011, a song titled "Thinkin Bout You", leaked on the internet.[38] It was later revealed the song was a reference track, written by Ocean, for Roc Nation artist Bridget Kelly's debut studio album.[39] Kelly renamed the song 'Thinking About Forever'.[40] 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.[41]

In August 2011, Frank Ocean made his first appearance on the cover of the publication The FADER, in its 75th issue.[42]

2012–present: Studio albums[edit]

Ocean performing at Coachella in 2012

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.[43] However, a month earlier, a re-mastered version of the song had already leaked.[44] 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."[43]

Perhaps this is R&B's Ziggy Stardust moment, where the controversy and publicity surrounding an artist's sexuality and the brilliance of his latest album combine to give his career unstoppable momentum.

Alexis Petridis, 2012[45]

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 hip hop, soul, and R&B. 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.[25] Ocean promoted the album with his 2012 Summer Tour, which featured final appearances at the Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals.[46]

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.[47] 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.[48][49] 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 chord 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.[50][51] Frank Ocean appears on John Mayer's album Paradise Valley, as a featured artist on a song called "Wildfire".[52]

On 10 March 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.[53] In April 2014, Ocean stated that his second album was nearly finished.[54]


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The 2012 song mixes spiritual and sexual subject matter and features colorful guitar, fluctuating synthesizers, and a loping rhythm section.[55]

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Ocean's music has been characterized by music writers as idiosyncratic in style.[56][57][58] Ocean generally plays the electronic keyboard,[56] and is backed by a subdued rhythm section in the production.[59] His compositions are often midtempo, feature unconventional melodies,[56][59] and they occasionally have an experimental song structure.[58][59] 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."[59] While nostalgia, ULTRA featured both original music by Ocean and tracks relying on sampled melodies,[60] 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."[61]

Ocean's lyrics deal with themes of love, longing, misgiving,[59] and nostalgia.[62] His debut single "Novacane" juxtaposes the numbness and artificiality of a sexual relationship with that of mainstream radio,[59] while "Voodoo" merges themes of spirituality and sexuality,[63] and is an eccentric take on such subject matter common in R&B.[55] 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."[55][64] Certain songs on channel ORANGE allude to Ocean's experience with unrequited love.[56] 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)."[65]

Ocean describes himself as "a baritone, with tenor moments."[66] Jody Rosen of Rolling Stone calls him a torch singer due to "his feel for romantic tragedy, unfurling in slow-boiling ballads".[67] Ocean's stage presence during live shows is often low-key.[68][69][70]

Personal life[edit]

In 2010, he changed his name from Christopher Breaux to Christopher Francis Ocean through a legal website.[13] The change was reportedly partly inspired by the 1960 film Ocean's 11.[19]

Ocean became one of the first major African-American music artists to announce that he had once fallen in love with someone of the same sex, notable because that music scene is known for homophobia.[71][72]

Ocean wrote an open letter, initially intended for the liner notes on Channel Orange, that would preemptively address speculation about his same-sex attraction.[73] Instead, on July 4, 2012, he published an open letter on his Tumblr blog[74][75] recounting unrequited feelings he had for another young man when he was 19 years old, citing it as his first true love.[74] 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. I don't have any secrets I need kept anymore...I feel like a free man."[76]

Celebrity couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z showed support for Ocean following his announcement.[77][78] Members of the hip hop industry generally responded positively to the announcement.[79] 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."[80] Tyler, The Creator also tweeted his support for Ocean, along with other members of OFWGKTA.[81]

On December 31, 2012, Ocean was pulled over in Mono County, California for speeding. In a search police officers found a few grams of marijuana. He was cited for possession, driving on a suspended license and having tinted windows.[82]

On March 7, 2014, Chipotle Mexican Grill sued Ocean to receive the money back they paid him in advance for a commercial that Ocean backed out of due to Ocean having a problem with the material in the advertisement.[83] [84]


In January 2013, Ocean got into an altercation with Chris Brown over a parking space, outside a recording studio in West Hollywood. Police officers in Los Angeles said that Chris Brown was under investigation, describing the incident as "battery" due to Brown punching Ocean.[85] Ocean said he would not press charges despite the fact that Brown had threatened to shoot him, and one of Brown's entourage had called him a homophobic slur.[86] Ocean would then criticize Chris Brown in the song "Sunday," from Earl Sweatshirt's album Doris.[87]


Awards and nominations[edit]

Ocean and his music have received international recognition with many award nominations and wins. As of February 2013, he won two Grammys, a Soul Train and UK Music Award. In addition, he earned accolades from GQ, NME, and Vibe magazines, as well as the BBC and mtvU.

2011GQ[88]Rookie of the YearFrank OceanWon
BET Hip Hop Awards[89]Best MixtapeNostalgia, UltraNominated
Rookie of the YearFrank OceanNominated
2011 Soul Train Music Awards[90]Best New ArtistFrank OceanNominated
2012BBC[9]Sound of 2012Frank OceanSecond
Grammis[91]International Album of the YearNostalgia, UltraNominated
mtvU Woodie Awards[92]Woodie of the YearNominated
O Music Awards[93]Best Web Born ArtistNominated
MTV Video Music Awards[94]Best Direction"Swim Good"Nominated
Best Male VideoNominated
Best New ArtistNominated
Q Awards[95]Q's Next Big ThingFrank OceanNominated
MOBO Awards[96]Best International ActFrank OceanNominated
UK Music Video AwardsBest Urban Video – International"Novacane"Won
2012 Soul Train Music AwardsAlbum of the YearChannel OrangeWon
VibeMan of the YearFrank OceanWon
mtvUMan of the YearFrank OceanWon
NME[97]50 Best Tracks
of 2012
"Forrest Gump"#46
201355th Grammy Awards[98]Best New Artist[99]Nominated
Record of the Year"Thinkin Bout You"Nominated
Album of the YearChannel OrangeNominated
Best Urban Contemporary AlbumWon
Best Rap/Sung Collaboration"No Church in the Wild"
(with Kanye West & Jay-Z)
Best Short Form Music VideoNominated
2013 BRIT AwardsInternational Male ArtistFrank OceanWon
2013 GLAAD Media AwardsOutstanding Music ArtistFrank OceanWon
201456th Grammy AwardsBest Rap Song"New Slaves" (songwriter)Nominated


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  99. ^ Eric R. Danton (December 5, 2012). "2013 Grammy Nominations: Black Keys, Jay-Z, Fun. Lead the Pack". Rolling Stone. Retrieved December 31, 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]