Truthfully, Frank Ocean is one of the most unwavering creatives of the modern era. He’s somebody who has helped refigure R&B and hip hop through his revolutionary mindset ever since erupting onto the scene with Odd Future.
What makes Ocean stand out in the genre of music he operates in is how he has openly represented the LGBTQ+ community and proved that the hip hop fraternity is a lot more accepting than it is painted as being. He’s earnest in an area of art where people who identify as such aren’t always visible, and on top of making opulent music, his presence has helped move the genre into the modern era.
There’s an open transparency between Ocean and his audience in his gripping lyricism, something which has helped him conjure a special bond with his ardent fanbase. He’s connected deeply in a way that artists seldom manage, an asset that made him an unlikely superstar in the process.
The singer once opened up about his unique creative approach, indicting his love of storytelling and narrative. “Some people focus more on sonics. Some people focus more on story. I focus on both sonics and story, but music sometimes, just music itself, can turn into more of a maths problem,” Ocean said of his unique pathway to stardom.
“I guess everything in life is a math problem, but it can be more about an empirical route to getting the symmetry that you want, and this vibe, sonically,” he added, offering a glimpse into the deeper workings of his relentlessly active mind.
To celebrate his greatness, Hip Hop Hero is looking at Ocean’s five best tracks as a solo artist.
Frank Ocean’s 5 best songs
‘Pink + White’
Not many artists have the allure to get Beyonce Knowles to appear on one of their songs, let alone get her to deliver backing vocals as she provides on ‘Pink + White’, but Frank Ocean is different.
The Pharrell Williams produced track seems like somebody has tried to cram as many A-listers as possible on to ‘Pink +White’, and often these things look better on paper than they sound in reality. However, this effort is nothing short of beautiful as Ocean reflects on a past relationship that went sour every time things started looking up.
The Channel Orange number is another shining example of Ocean’s expert storytelling ability, which hooks you in from the get-go and takes you on a journey through the trials and tribulations of a young couple who find themselves living staggeringly disparate lives.
A common theme in Ocean’s work is the dark side that comes with excess, and it’s one that the female protagonist is struggling with on ‘Lost’ which sends her down a desperate downward spiral.
2017’s stand-alone single, ‘Chanel’, sees Ocean drop down his guard and rap poignantly about his bisexuality. In the opening verse, he bravely sings, “My guy is pretty like a girl, And he got fight stories to tell, I see both sides like Chanel, See on both sides like Chanel.”
On top of the groundbreaking subject matter, ‘Chanel’ is a dosage of irresistibly sexy R&B, which has become Ocean’s most popular songs across streaming platforms for this reason.
He squashes stereotypes and an artist that deserves celebration for bringing about a more tolerant world. Not only does Ocean prove that hip-hop doesn’t have to be a place where homophobia is accepted, but he’s also proof that LGBTQ+ people come in all shapes and sizes, too.
‘Thinkin Bout You’
Channel Orange made Frank Ocean an undeniable superstar who was a breath of fresh air in mainstream music. Unlike the sea of pop music the singer found himself swimming among when the record was unleashed in 2012, his album was full of heart, integrity, and passion, all characteristics exhibited on the near-perfect ‘Thinkin Bout You’.
The track finds Ocean yearning for a relationship with someone who remains agonisingly just out of touch despite his best efforts. It’s a distinct emotion which he conveys skillfully on the heartbreaking number.
‘Novacane’ featured on Ocean’s debut mixtape, nostalgia.ULTRA in 2011, and was not only the stand-out track from his first offering but the most delicately beguiling number that the singer has ever made in his career.
The track is a messed-up love affair that starts at Coachella, with the protagonist soon realising he’s fallen for a wild one which consists of a diet that starts with “cocaine for breakfast”. The character then crumbles under pressure to keep up with her colossal intake and ends up losing sight of himself in the process.
Ocean was once asked whether the song was autobiographical, and he replied, “I don’t do cocaine for breakfast! My kitchen is usually pretty clean, you know. But you have fun with the imagery, and for me the whole concept that everything has to be.
“Like, nobody gets upset with a director when a director’s film isn’t about his life. People think that with a recording artist that shit has to be like a fucking play by play of their whole life, but it’s not. It’s imagery, and a little bit of satire.”