Deep Sea Diving: A Spotlight on Frank Ocean

The observation of Frank Ocean as an artist and a person

frank ocean portrait
Source: https://static01.nyt.com/images/2016/11/20/arts/20CARAMANICA/20CARAMANICA-superJumbo.jpg

He doesn’t speak often, but when he does, he tugs at our heart strings. Hailed by some as the “savior of R&B”, Frank Ocean mixes a soothing berceuse with experimental production to create some of the staples of modern R&B music. Who is this recluse and when will we hear more?


Let’s Be Frank

Frank Ocean can perfectly capture what its like to experience love in contemporary society. Seemingly just out of reach, love continues to elude Ocean in his music. Listening long enough will leave you with a longing for a romantic partner as well. However, this artist isn’t just limited to the topic of love. He also speaks on addiction, life after natural disasters, sexuality and relationships, and occasionally religion (or lack thereof).

A lot of Ocean’s work is reminiscent of former relationships and earlier phases of life. According to Genius.com, the album Blonde, is a reflection of his early life and is said to contain the duality of life itself. This concept is signified by the tempo change in the song “Nights” and is considered the midway point of the album. The themes, while still reflecting on an autobiographical note, are only slightly different in the latter half of Blonde. The first half refers to relationships in the past and the second half seems more concurrent and present/contemporary in its lessons. The album seems to have a sort of circular structure as far as theme goes.

Music Like Novacane

What makes Ocean’s music so enticing? How does this smooth singing artist keep us coming back for more?

First, it is the emotion-inducing vocal range in which this artist can reach. Reaching seemingly impossibly high pitch in some songs such as “Thinkin Bout You” and “Ivy”, Ocean executes excellent pitch control while able to fluctuate between different pitches. A lot of the time, these two pitch extremes can be seen as different personas in the same artist. For example, consider Kendrick Lamar. The higher pitch Kendrick boast in several songs throughout To Pimp A Butterfly and DAMN. are indicative of a “different” personality taking the forefront. In the case of Frank Ocean, it could be that the higher pitch he uses is representative of fondness or happiness with the ascertaining subject. Whereas, the lower pitch can be representative of subject he is somber towards (or vice versa). Think of it physiologically; when we are happy, our voices tend to incline upward and outward — especially among friends and family (and with our “customer service” voice). Oppositely, when we are sad or in distress, our voices are quieter and lower.

Secondly, Ocean rarely releases new music and projects. Quality over quantity right? His first major project, Nostagia, Ultra, came in 2011. This was followed by Channel Orange in 2013 and Blonde in 2016. However, it has been over 4 years since the last major project. This is mostly cushioned by the multiple singles and features released over the last few years. But most Frank Ocean fanatics are eagerly awaiting the next big project — undoubtedly, a future classic.

Lastly, the production value. Ocean is coveted by many for production credits and features with good reason. His experimental approach mixed with the aforementioned vocal ability almost guarantees a hit single.

He has had hit singles with the following artist: Tyler, The Creator (“She”), Jay-Z and Kanye West (“No Church In the Wild”), Calvin Harris (“Slide”) and quite a few more. As mentioned in The Washington Post, his somewhat strange ability to put together unconventional melodies and song structures has led to Ocean being labeled as an “avant-garde” artist. It just creates a different, unique sound that appeals to millions. Hopefully, Frank Ocean will continue to create this music for the decades to come.


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