Frank Ocean is a rapper and singer who first made his name as the quiet, softly-spoken member of Odd Future. Born and raised in New Orleans. In 2005, after Hurricane Katrina, Ocean moved to Los Angeles to pursue a music career. Akin to many artists, Ocean fought tooth and nail to stay afloat in LA and even worked fast-food jobs to gain income.
Ocean put his music up on SoundCloud and networked with other acts in the city. However, the musician didn’t land a record deal immediately but was instead offered a writing deal at an independent California-based record label.
Ocean clearly had a knack for producing catchy and thought-provoking lyrics. However, he struggled to secure a deal as a recording artist. The performer (real name Christopher Breaux) wrote tracks for various artists between 2006 and 2009. Following leg-up from Tricky Stewart in 2009, Ocean signed a songwriting deal with Def Jam. However, he was still trapped in the world of songwriting. On a quest to prove the doubters wrong and become an artist, on February 16, 2011, Frank Ocean independently released his mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra, which garnered the attention of prestigious music publications. He was quickly highlighted as a new exciting African-American artist based in LA. Soon after, Breaux crossed paths with Tyler, The Creator and began work with Odd Future.
As a member of the legendary LA crew Odd Future, Ocean managed to gather a cult following. As such, following the crew’s dissipation, he efficiently managed to sustain a solo career. Akin to Tyler, The Creator and Earl Sweatshirt, Ocean formed a separate following while still in the crew.
Ocean’s reclusive persona was intriguing and refreshing for fans, but he also had a unique look. Some may have described him as ‘abstract’ or even slightly ‘lonely’ looking, but that was part of his appeal. The ‘Lost’ singer was preppy, perhaps slightly ‘effeminate’, but this was highly exhilarating for many tired of the macho gangster aesthetic.
Frank Ocean and his music are ever-changing. Frank Ocean has been making music ever since Odd Future, and his core fanbase has never left his side. He is experimental, progressive and reflective with his music and, akin to Kanye West, is so dedicated to his craft that every project is a work of art. Breaux has been commercially releasing music since 2011, and listeners have been blessed with some truly amazing tracks. Below we have compiled a list of what we believe to be his five best tracks of all time.
The five greatest Frank Ocean songs ever:
5. ‘Nikes’ – Blonde (2016)
‘Nikes’ was released as the lead single of Blonde and was the singer’s first single release since ‘Super Rich Kids’ in 2013. Following Channel Orange, Breaux took a break from the limelight to recompose himself and obtain inspiration. The hiatus spanned three whole years. However, ‘Nikes’ was received well as his comeback single. Produced by Ocean alongside his good friend Malay, ‘Nikes’ was accompanied by a music video released exclusively on Apple Music.
The track makes clever use of autotune and approaches vocal pitching in an experimental fashion. The track not only features vocals from Ocean but also hears contributions from Amer Coffman. Received fairly well by a vast array of publications, the single was ranked number 28 on the ‘100 Best Pop Songs of 2016’ list assembled by Billboard. Overall the track is a must-hear for those exploring the weird and wonderful sonics of Frank Ocean.
4. ‘Novacane’ – Nostalgia Ultra (2011)
‘Novacane’ is arguably the track that put Frank Ocean on the map. Stuck in the realm of writing, Nostalgia Ultra proved that Breaux was a recording artist rather than just a behind-the-scenes penman. The project was of such quality that denying Breaux a seat at the table was impossible. From the project’s aesthetic to its musical content, it was outstanding. Before long, Ocean was working with Kanye on songs such as ‘No Church In The Wild. However, it all started with ‘Novacane.’
Released in 2011, the year that Breaux joined forces with Odd Future, ‘Novacane’ was released as the lead single of Nostalgia Ultra. The song is a wild tale and tells the story of a female dental student who makes a living doing pornography, regularly abusing the anaesthetic drug known as novocaine. A drug used by dentists for their patients. The track was produced by the Grammy-award-winning beatmaker Tricky Stewart and was picked up by The New York Times, Pitchfork, Spin and other renowned music publications. The track is known as Ocean’s debut single.
3. ‘Pink + White’ – Blonde (2016)
‘Pink + White’ could be described as the ultimate collaboration and meeting of two great minds, Pharrell and Ocean. Both artists have been praised for their ingenuity and artistic integrity, and the product of their musical partnership is astonishing, to say the least. The track, produced by Williams in conjunction with Ocean, not only fuses multiple genres but sees additional vocals from the one-and-only Beyoncé. Few knew that Ocean had worked with Bey previously as a ghostwriter for her tracks, ‘I Miss You’ and ‘Superpower.’ However, ‘Pink + White’ is undeniably the most profound of all their collaborations.
‘Pink + White’ is one of many Frank Ocean songs that speaks to the difficulties of maintaining a relationship. Akin to Tyler, The Creator, the Louisiana singer has always been ambiguous concerning his sexuality. For many years people speculated as to whether his songs were directed at females or males. However, over the years, it has become less of an issue for fans who are just grateful for his exceptional musical artistry. Blonde was involved in some minor controversy as it wasn’t nominated for a Grammy. However, in an interview with the New York Times, Ocean made it perfectly clear that the Grammys are of little importance to him when he stated, “I think the infrastructure of the awarding system and the nomination system and screening system is dated…t just doesn’t seem to be representing very well for people who come from where I come from.” Regardless of its Grammy status, Blonde is an incredible album and ‘Pink + White’ is a testament to that.
2. ‘Thinkin Bout You’ – Channel Orange (2012)
One of the most well-known singles from Ocean’s debut project, Channel Orange, ‘Thinkin Bout You,’ was released as the album’s lead single. Like the true artsy creative that he is, the song was initially released as a demo for free on his Tumblr account in 2011. However, the track was rewritten, polished, and tweaked several times and was eventually released officially in May 2012. Ocean initially wrote the track for singer Bridget Kelly. However, knowing he had gold, he rewrote the single and released his updated version. Kelly released her version of the song ‘Thinking About Forever’ on her debut EP, Every Girl, in 2011.
Produced by the multi-instrumentalist Robert ‘Shea’ Taylor, ‘Thinkin Bout You’ is an emotional and atmospheric arrangement. Sparse in production with a lot of space, the track is carried by Ocean’s phenomenal falsetto vocals. Singing the track’s praises, Erika Ramirez of Billboard magazine wrote that the single “gives prominence to his songwriting prowess and sonic versatility, as he intertwines the parallel styles of soul, R&B, jazz and even a bit of funk.” The song peaked at number 32 on the Billboard Hot 100. However, the album peaked at number two, making it a formidable project.
1. ‘Lost’ – Channel Orange (2012)
‘Lost’ was produced by the Grammy-Award-winning producer Malay and was released as the fourth single for Breaux’s debut studio project, Channel Orange. The song was widely considered the highlight of the album, which upon its release was dubbed as “phenomenal”. ‘Lost’ is a stripped-back, R’n’B pop fusion track, and its simplistic yet incredibly catchy backbeat is what has made the song such a beloved piece of music. Artists such as Khalid, Jorja Smith and even Major Lazer have covered the song and many others. The track is one of Ocean’s hidden gems, and the single has even had a minor resurgence on the social media app TikTok.
Channel Orange, more broadly, is a masterpiece and remains, to this day, a classic body of work concerning contemporary R’n’B. Experimental, new-school artists such as Frank Ocean, Solange, Sampha and Kaytranada have most definitely developed a cult following within this space, and the subgenre continues to evolve with figures such as Ocean right at the forefront. ‘Lost’ is a platinum-certified track and peaked at number nine on the UK Singles chart. You can listen to the song in the video below.