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Frank Ocean: R&B Raconteur

Posted in MusicWorld on November 16, 2011 by

In “American Wedding,” Frank Ocean’s protagonist admires a tattoo before a wedding. At a courthouse. To a teen bride. She signs her name in fancy cursive. Her parents don’t know. The marriage fails.

Tattoos, shotgun weddings and divorces are so common in country music that they’re sometimes plot devices, but in r&b? The granular details that separate good writers from the masters appear rarely.

On his mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra, Frank Ocean bucks tradition. He doesn’t do baby-I want-you-now patter. His songs are unusual, funny, heartbreaking, detail-obsessed. “I’m just a perfectionist,” he told MTV News. “Some songs come quick. ‘American Wedding’ took a week and a half. Melody isn’t difficult — that’s easy. It’s getting that lyric sheet to read correctly.”

And some lyrics they are. On “Novacane,” his hero gets high and has great sex, but drifts in existential malaise. There’s a sense of disillusionment that licenses Ocean, perhaps, to speak for a generation. He’s 24 years old.

By the time “Novacane” hit no. 7 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart and no. 17 on the r&b/hip-hop chart, Ocean had been sought out by Beyoncé, Kanye West and Jay-Z. In early 2005, Ocean was still Christopher “Lonny” Breaux, a University of New Orleans student. Then Hurricane Katrina hit. He evacuated, landing in Los Angeles. The city became home.

There, he landed credits for artists including Justin Bieber and Brandy, and signed a deal with Def Jam. During label limbo, Frank aligned with the Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All collective, changed his name and released his album on Tumblr. Within weeks, Ocean caught the attention of fans, the music press, artists and Def Jam, which scurried to do a proper release. He’d usurped r&b and the industry in a few keystrokes.

But you get the feeling his priorities lie elsewhere. “Lyrics should be thought about,” he told MTV. “You have to consider the narrative.” As for the future, he tells Complex.com, “I’ll be writing with people that want to write with me and that I want to write with. And that’s all. Just keeping it moving.”

Frank Ocean joined BMI in 2008. <a href=”http://www.youtube.com/artist/Frank_Ocean” target=”_blank”>Check out Frank Ocean’s YouTube channel.