If paradise ever were to appear in musical form, it would probably sound something like this.
FRANK OCEAN NOSTALGIA, ULTRA (Self-released, 2011)
When Mr. Ocean on his Tumblr page in April last year implied that a new album would be coming in July 2015, I sure wasn’t the only one jumping for joy. But as of yet, no new material has seen the light of day and until that day actually occurs, we’ll just have to look in the rear-view mirror to see how this talented gentleman first impressed yours truly. A year before his magnificent debut album, Channel Orange, he provided us with an equally mind blowingly brilliant mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra.
When he uploaded the mixtape on iTunes, he labeled it under bluegrass and death metal. Just out of spite, I guess. His consensus seemed to be that everything is possible and nothing is forbidden, which also could’ve meant that the whole thing could’ve gone haywire altogether. But as his songwriting goes above and beyond, the wide spectrum of influences falls in align and instead I got to experience out of worldly musical havens. What he did was to utterly and totally turn the tables, when it came to the genre that he at the time, seemingly somewhat reluctantly wanted to be a part of, R&B.
One of the things he did to change people’s preconceived ideas of the genre and renew my love for R&B, was to write and sing about things that his fellow crooners that preceded him, rarely even mentioned. How about tackling both pro-choice and marriage equality in the same song, We All Try. Themes that hardly been a hot topic on smooth R&B joints before.
“I believe a woman’s temple, gives her right to chose, but baby don’t abort // I believe that marriage isn’t between a man and woman, but between love and love”
Or how he ruthlessly and yet respectfully sampled and borrowed Coldplay in Strawberry Swing, MGMT in Nature Feels and The Eagles in American Wedding. And how it all just fell into place. Another odd, yet surprisingly elegant sample is the memorable monologue Nicole Kidman delivered in Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, which appears in Lovecrimes. A move that underlines the cinematic and dreamlike atmosphere that follows the album.
Yes, his popular culture references sure had a surprisingly wide spectrum, which he so seamlessly and organically weaves into his masterpieces, as if there was nothing to it. And in the midst of all these samples and influences, where anyone could’ve gone lost, Frank Ocean did something remarkable. He became a storyteller in his own right. Whether it were stories from his own life or him serving as a narrative to stories untold, he told them with rarely heard sensibility and maturity.
Something he would develop and refine even further and deeper on his debut album a year later, but that album deserves a whole own posting altogether.