Contributor Amos Barshad on hip-hop’s sudden new go-to songwriter:
Over the summer, Frank Ocean posted a message on his Tumblr addressed to himself five years ago. In it he talks about the heartbreaks and the crappy Kinko’s job young Frank will suffer through. He tells himself he’ll record hundreds of songs, some of which aren’t good, but that in five years’ time he’ll have “finally finished an album.” Even better: “people like it man.” He wraps it up by saying, “i don’t wanna spoil too much for you, but…you’re on a plane right now to work with kanye west & jay-z. it’s all working out kid. you made it.”
In January, 24-year-old Ocean was unknown, an industry songwriter with a few minor credits. In February, he posted the album Nostalgia, Ultra online. It’s the product of a man as well versed in old-school R&B as he is in Twitter, and the love poured in—from The New York Times (“It’s bliss”) to Lupe Fiasco (“Officially the shit”). Diddy invited him over for Roscoe’s Chicken ‘n Waffles.
Ocean’s also a sometime member of the enigmatic hip-hop collective Odd Future, which had its own meteoric rise this year. But his music has nothing to do with that crew’s contrarian shock rap. Instead, Nostalgia—and the breakout hit “Novacane”—is packed with a candor, detail, and humor no longer associated with R&B. Of Nostalgia’s renegade success, Ocean says, “I got to grab my nuts and point my middle finger up.” And field a few more calls, from Nas, Beyoncé, and, yep, Jay-Z and Kanye, all soliciting his services: Ocean’s is the first voice you hear on Watch the Throne.
[Photograph by Nathaniel Goldberg]