Christopher Francis "Frank" Ocean (born Christopher Edwin Breaux; October 28, 1987), is an American singer, songwriter, and rapper. Known for his idiosyncratic musical style, Ocean first embarked on a career as a ghostwriter, and in 2010 he became a member of hip hop collective Odd Future. He released his breakout mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra, to critical acclaim in 2011. It generated his first charting single "Novacane". In 2012, Ocean finished in second place in BBC's Sound of 2012 poll.
His debut studio album, Channel Orange, was released in July 2012 to critical acclaim and reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200. It was promoted with three singles: "Thinkin Bout You", "Pyramids" and "Sweet Life". In 2016, Ocean released the visual album Endless alongside his second studio album Blonde, following several years of delays. Blonde was acclaimed by critics, and debuted at number one in the United States and the United Kingdom.
Ocean was born Christopher Edwin Breaux on October 28, 1987, in Long Beach, California to parents Calvin Edward Cooksey and Katonya Breaux. When he was around five years old, he and his family moved to New Orleans, Louisiana.
He grew up around its local jazz scene and listened to his mother's CDs on her car stereo, including albums by Celine Dion, Anita Baker, and The Phantom of the Opera soundtrack. As a teenager, he did neighborhood chores and saved up money to rent studio time. As he recalled, "Oh man I had numerous hustles ... Washing cars was one of them, and mowing lawns and walking dogs." He enrolled in the University of New Orleans and moved into its dormitory in 2005. Shortly after he enrolled in the university, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and he transferred to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
2005–11: Beginnings in Los Angeles and mixtape
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit Ocean's hometown of New Orleans and his recording facility was destroyed by floodwater and looting. To continue recording music, he moved to Los Angeles and intended to stay for just six weeks but decided to stay longer and develop his music career after establishing contact with people in the music industry. He recorded some demos at a friend's studio and shopped them around Los Angeles. After getting a songwriting deal, he started working with other record producers and wrote songs for artists such as Justin Bieber, John Legend, Brandy, and Beyoncé. Ocean later said of his work at the time, "There was a point where I was composing for other people, and it might have been comfy to continue to do that and enjoy that income stream and the anonymity. But that's not why I moved away from school and away from family." He has also worked with artists such as Nas and Pharrell Williams. Ocean joined Los Angeles-based hip hop collective Odd Future, whom he had met in 2009. His friendship with Odd Future member Tyler, The Creator reinvigorated Ocean's songwriting. In late 2009, he met Tricky Stewart, who helped him sign a contract with Def Jam Recordings as a solo artist.
On February 18, 2011, Ocean released his first mixtape, Nostalgia, Ultra, to critical acclaim. The mixtape focuses on interpersonal relationships, personal reflection and social commentary. NPR's Andrew Noz said Ocean's songwriting is "smart and subtle...setting him apart from the pack." Rolling Stone magazine's Jonah Weiner wrote that Ocean was a "gifted avant-R&B smoothie". In April 2011, Ocean stated that his relationship with Def Jam strengthened since the release of the mixtape. The mixtape made Ocean widely known and led to his collaborations with rappers Jay Z and Kanye West. Ocean first appeared in Tyler, The Creator's music video for the single "She", from Tyler's second studio album Goblin (2011). His first performance was in collaboration with Odd Future at the 2011 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, where he later joined them for their first tour across the east coast of the United States. On May 19, 2011 Ocean's record label Def Jam announced its plans to re-release Nostalgia, Ultra as an EP. The single 'Novacane' was released to iTunes in May 2011, and the EP originally was set to be released the next month, but was delayed.
In June 2011, Ocean revealed that he would work on the upcoming Kanye West and Jay-Z collaborative album, Watch the Throne. Ocean co-wrote and featured on two tracks: "No Church in the Wild" and "Made in America". On July 28, 2011, a song titled "Thinkin Bout You", leaked on the internet. It was later revealed the song was a reference track, written by Ocean, for Roc Nation artist Bridget Kelly's debut studio album. Kelly renamed the song 'Thinking About Forever'. In September 2011, a music video directed by High5Collective for Ocean's version was released, yet the song still appeared on Kelly's debut EP Every Girl. In August 2011, Frank Ocean made his first appearance on the cover of the publication The FADER, in its 75th issue.
2012–14: First studio album
Ocean released the cover art for his debut studio album's lead single, titled "Thinkin Bout You", revealing the song would be released to digital retailers on April 10, 2012. However, a month earlier, a re-mastered version of the song had already leaked. About the prospective single he said: "It succinctly defines me as an artist for where I am right now and that was the aim," he said of the follow-up to his acclaimed Nostalgia, Ultra. "It's about the stories. If I write 14 stories that I love, then the next step is to get the environment of music around it to best envelop the story and all kinds of sonic goodness."
In 2012, Ocean released his debut studio album Channel Orange to universal acclaim from critics, who later named it the best album of the year in the HMV's Poll of Polls. It also earned Ocean six Grammy Award nominations and was credited by some writers for moving the R&B genre in a different, more challenging direction. Considered as Ocean's first commercial release on a traditional record label, Channel Orange featured unconventional songs that were noted for their storytelling and social commentary, and a dense musical fusion that drew on hip hop, soul, and R&B. The songs about unrequited love in particular received the most attention, partly because of Ocean's announcement prior to the album's release, when he revealed that his first love was a man. The announcement made global headlines, and some critics compared its cultural impact to when David Bowie revealed that he was bisexual in 1972.
Channel Orange debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 and sold 131,000 copies in its first week. The majority of its first-week sales were digital copies from iTunes, while approximately 3,000 of the sales were physical copies. On January 30, Channel Orange was certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). By September 2014, it had sold 621,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Ocean promoted the album with his 2012 Summer Tour, which featured final appearances at the Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals.
On May 28, 2013, Ocean announced the You're Not Dead... 2013 Tour; a fourteen-date European and Canadian tour that began on June 16, 2013, in Munich. He had been scheduled to perform at the first night of OVO Fest on August 4, 2013; however he was forced to cancel his appearance due to a small vocal cord injury. The first night of the music festival was subsequently cancelled and James Blake was booked to appear during the second night as Ocean's replacement. Ocean appears on John Mayer's album Paradise Valley, as a featured artist on a song called "Wildfire".
2015–present: Follow-up albums
In February 2013, Ocean confirmed that he had started work on his second studio album, which he confirmed would be another concept album. He revealed that he was working with Tyler, the Creator, Pharrell Williams, and Danger Mouse on the record. He later stated that he was being influenced by The Beach Boys and The Beatles. He stated he was interested in collaborating with Tame Impala and King Krule and that he would record part of the album in Bora Bora.
On March 10, 2014, the song "Hero" was made available for free download on SoundCloud. The song is a collaboration with Mick Jones, Paul Simonon and Diplo and is a part of Converse's Three Artists. One Song series.
In April 2014, Ocean stated that his second album was nearly finished. In June, Billboard reported that the singer was working with a string of artists such as Happy Perez (whom he worked with on nostalgia, ULTRA), Charlie Gambetta and Kevin Ristro, while producers Hit-Boy, Rodney Jerkins and Danger Mouse were also said to be on board. On November 29, 2014, Ocean released a snippet of a new song supposedly from his upcoming follow-up to channel ORANGE called "Memrise" on his official Tumblr page. The Guardian described the song as: "...a song which affirms that despite reportedly changing labels and management, he has maintained both his experimentation and sense of melancholy in the intervening years". On April 6, 2015, Ocean announced that his follow-up to channel ORANGE would be released in July with "two versions", as well as a publication, although no further details were released. The album was ultimately not released in July, with no explanation given for its delay. The publication was rumoured to be called Boys Don't Cry, and the album was slated to feature the aforementioned "Memrise". In February 2016, Ocean was featured on Kanye West's album The Life of Pablo on the track "Wolves" along with Vic Mensa and Sia Furler. A month later, the song was re-edited by West, and Ocean's part was separated and listed on the track list as its own song titled "Frank's Track."
In July 2016, he hinted at a possible second album with an image on his website pointing to a July release date. The image shows a library card labeled Boys Don't Cry with numerous stamps, implying various due dates. The dates begin with July 2, 2015 and conclude with July 2016. Ocean's brother, Ryan Breaux, further suggested this release with an Instagram caption of the same library card photo reading BOYS DON'T CRY #JULY2016.
By August 1, 2016, at approximately 3 AM, an endless live stream shot in negative lighting in what is allegedly a Brooklyn warehouse, sponsored by Apple Music began to surface on boysdontcry.co which appeared to show Ocean woodworking and sporadically playing instrumentals on loop. It later became clear that these instrumentals were from his upcoming visual album Endless; the full version is estimated to be 140 hours long. That same day, many news outlets reported that August 5, 2016 could be the release date for Boys Don't Cry. That date also turned out to be inaccurate, though in a Reddit AMA session, his collaborator Malay said that Ocean is a perfectionist, constantly tweaking things, and that his art cannot be rushed.
On August 18 and 19, 2016, the live stream was accompanied with music and at midnight an Apple Music link was directed to a project called Endless. Endless would be Ocean's last album with Def Jam Recordings to fulfill his contract with the record label. Before the visual album's release on Apple Music, Ocean had already begun making efforts to part ways with Def Jam, who signed the artist in 2009. He describes his negotiations with the label as a "seven-year chess game", while adding that he had replaced many of his representatives (including his lawyer and manager) during the process, as well as having to buy back all of his master recordings that previously belonged to Def Jam.
At midnight Pacific time on August 20, 2016, a music video for a song titled "Nikes" was uploaded to Ocean's Connect page on Apple Music and later to his own website. Also on August 20, Ocean announced pop-up shops in Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, and London for his magazine, Boys Don't Cry and released his second studio album, and third album overall, Blonde to widespread acclaim.
Ocean's music has been characterized by music writers as idiosyncratic in style. Ocean generally plays the electronic keyboard, and is backed by a subdued rhythm section in the production. His compositions are often midtempo, feature unconventional melodies, and they occasionally have an experimental song structure. In his songwriting, Jon Pareles of The New York Times observes "open echoes of self-guided, innovative R&B songwriters like Prince, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Maxwell, Erykah Badu and particularly R. Kelly and his way of writing melodies that hover between speech and song, asymmetrical and syncopated." While nostalgia, ULTRA featured both original music by Ocean and tracks relying on sampled melodies, channel ORANGE showcased Ocean as the primary musical composer, of which music journalist Robert Christgau opines, "when he's the sole composer Ocean resists making a show of himself—resists the dope hook, the smart tempo, the transcendent falsetto itself."
Ocean's lyrics deal with themes of love, longing, misgiving, and nostalgia. His debut single "Novacane" juxtaposes the numbness and artificiality of a sexual relationship with that of mainstream radio, while "Voodoo" merges themes of spirituality and sexuality, and is an eccentric take on such subject matter common in R&B. The latter song was released by Ocean on his Tumblr account and references both the traditional spiritual "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" and the female anatomy in its chorus: "she's got the whole wide world in her juicy fruit / he's got the whole wide world in his pants / he wrapped the whole wide world in a wedding band / then put the whole wide world on her hands / she's got the whole wide world in her hands / he's got the whole wide world in his hands." Certain songs on channel ORANGE allude to Ocean's experience with unrequited love. Culture critic Nelson George asserts that, along with Miguel, Ocean has "staked out ground where [he is] not competing with those hit-driven [commercial R&B] acts" and is "cultivating a sound that balances adult concerns with a sense of young men trying to understand their own desires (an apt description of Ocean, particularly)."
Ocean describes himself as "a baritone, with tenor moments." Jody Rosen of Rolling Stone calls him a torch singer due to "his feel for romantic tragedy, unfurling in slow-boiling ballads". Ocean's stage presence during live shows is often low-key.
On his birthday in 2010, he changed his name to Christopher Francis Ocean through a legal website. The change was reportedly partly inspired by the 1960 film Ocean's 11. In November 2014, TMZ revealed that the name change has not been legalized. On April 23, 2015, Ocean successfully changed his legal name to Frank Ocean.
Ocean wrote an open letter, initially intended for the liner notes on Channel Orange, that preemptively addressed speculation about his attraction in the past to another man. Instead, on July 4, 2012, he published an open letter on his Tumblr blog recounting unrequited feelings he had for another young man when he was 19 years old, citing it as his first true love. He used the blog to thank the man for his influence, and also thanked his mother and other friends, saying "I don't know what happens now, and that's alrite. I don't have any secrets I need kept anymore...I feel like a free man."
Numerous celebrities publicly voiced their support for Ocean following his announcement, including Beyoncé and Jay Z. Members of the hip hop industry generally responded positively to the announcement. Tyler, The Creator also tweeted his support for Ocean, along with other members of OFWGKTA. Russell Simmons, a business magnate in the hip hop industry, wrote a congratulatory article in Global Grind saying "Today is a big day for hip-hop. It is a day that will define who we really are. How compassionate will we be? How loving can we be? How inclusive are we? [...] Your decision to go public about your sexual orientation gives hope and light to so many young people still living in fear."
Ocean sampled the music from the Eagles' song "Hotel California" on the song "American Wedding" from Nostalgia, Ultra. When asked about it, Ocean stated that Eagles band member "Don Henley is apparently intimidated by my rendition of 'Hotel California'. He threatened to sue if I perform it again." In response to Ocean's comments, the Eagles' legal representative released a statement: "Frank Ocean did not merely 'sample' a portion of the Eagles' 'Hotel California,' he took the whole master track, plus the song's existing melody, and replaced the lyrics with his own. This is not creative, let alone 'intimidating.' It's illegal. For the record, Don Henley has not threatened or instituted any legal action against Frank Ocean, although the Eagles are now considering whether they should." Chris Richards of The Washington Post remarked that "certain boomers don't like [Ocean] as much" as "information-age babies" due to the controversy.
On December 31, 2012, Ocean was pulled over in Mono County, California for speeding. In a search police officers found a few grams of marijuana. He was cited for possession, driving on a suspended license and having tinted windows.
In January 2013, Ocean got into an altercation with Chris Brown over a parking space, outside a recording studio in West Hollywood. Police officers in Los Angeles said Brown was under investigation, describing the incident as "battery" due to Brown punching Ocean. Ocean said he would not press charges despite the fact that Brown had threatened to shoot him, and one of Brown's entourage had called him a homophobic slur. Ocean then criticized Brown in the song "Sunday", from Earl Sweatshirt's album Doris.
On March 7, 2014, Chipotle Mexican Grill sued Ocean to receive the money back they paid him in advance for a commercial that Ocean backed out of due to Ocean having a problem with the material in the advertisement. The advertisement was to feature Ocean singing the song "Pure Imagination", and was to promote sustainable farming. Ocean backed out of the spot when Chipotle refused to remove their logo and name from the advertisement. The lawsuit was dropped on March 20 after Ocean paid the advance back in full. The commercial, titled The Scarecrow, was ultimately released with Fiona Apple performing the song.
- Nostalgia, Ultra (2011)
- Channel Orange (2012)
- Blonde (2016)