In light of recent events surrounding hip-hop and R&B artist Frank Ocean, I was inspired to check out his 2011 mixtape, nostalgia, ULTRA. A member of the alternative rap collective Odd Future, Frank Ocean possesses a nice voice that adds some tenderness and emotion to the otherwise hard, gritty stylings of Odd Future (this being said–I haven’t listened to much of their music). Having heard Tyler the Creator and witnessing his music video for “Yonkers,” I decided I am hesitant (and terrified) to listen further. Outside of Odd Future, Frank Ocean made a few appearances on Jay-Z and Kanye’s “Watch the Throne,” adding some great choral melodies on his tracks. Ocean recently posted an open letter on Tumblr describing his first life-changing love, which happened to be with another man. Many wonder how this will impact the climate of the often regarded homophobic nature of the hip-hop community. In any case, Frank Ocean’s debut studio album was recently released early on iTunes and I wanted to get a gauge by which to compare his new material (some context outside of his recent “coming out.”)
Overall, I was very impressed with ‘nostalgia, ULTRA.’ The record feels like more than a mixtape, from the production value to the quality of the lyrics and melodies. I think that Frank Ocean’s real strength lies in his storytelling ability. I absolutely love his spin on ‘Strawberry Swing,’ primarily for the story and the message of the song. Taking music from alternative music giants like Coldplay and MGMT shows his appreciation for and understanding of various genres. For this reason I was reminded of Kid Cudi or B.o.B, paired with the delivery style of a more soulful Drake.
For the most part ‘nostalgia, ULTRA.’ is a cohesive, complete experience. I feel that one or two of the tracks were noticeably less strong than the rest (i.e. ‘Songs For Women’). Less strong, however, does not mean these songs aren’t worth listening to or filler for the album. My biggest gripe with the mixtape are the brief intermission tracks named for various old-school video games. They do not really add anything to the record, and I don’t really understand their significance.
When it comes down to it, this is a catchy and well-constructed mixtape that proves Frank Ocean is a talented artist. I think that his coming out as a bisexual or homosexual man was a positive, brave move (especially in the world of hip-hop), and I think bringing this to the public’s attention will attract new fans and bring support to the release of ‘channel ORANGE.’ I am going to wrap up this post with the most meaningful track off his new album: ‘Bad Religion.’