Frank Ocean is a powerhouse in the music industry but how did he get to where he is today?
Performing for the first time in six years at Coachella, many believed he had completely retired from music. His last album “Blonde” was released in 2016 and fans have been speculating about new music since. His Coachella headliner announcement was an incredibly welcome surprise, especially for Frank who doesn’t often do live performances. Frank Ocean is a powerhouse in the music industry but take a look at how he got to be so big.
Frank Ocean, born Christopher Breaux, began his career as a ghostwriter for various artists such as John Legend, Brandy, Justin Bieber, and Beyonce. In 2010 Ocean joined a hip-hop collective entitled Odd Future alongside other up-and-coming artists Tyler, the Creator, Earl Sweatshirt, and Syd (lead singer of “The Internet”). While in Odd Future, Frank signed with the record label Def Jam. However, Frank didn’t feel like he was receiving adequate attention and support from his record label and released his debut album “Nostalgia, Ultra” independently. The album was an instant success and gave him the support he needed from the record label and the respect of his peers and the music industry. Even so, the distance he felt toward his record label was never mended so he looked for ways to get out of his two-album contract.
A year after the release of Nostalgia, Ultra Frank, backed by Def Jam, released his second album “Channel Orange” which was an ever bigger success and cemented his position as a culture icon and a powerhouse in the music industry. With the success of Channel Orange, fans eagerly anticipated a new album but nothing came for 4 years. Finally in August of 2016 a livestream of Frank, who was building a staircase, was broadcast on his website. The livestream, which lasted a total of 140 hours, but was edited down to 45 minutes ended with the debut of his 3rd album “Endless” which fulfilled his contract with Def Jam. After paying back the $2 million dollar advance he received, he parted from Def Jam and that same weekend released his album “Blonde” with Apple Music earning around $200 million dollars.
Blonde became a cultural phenomenon. It received various awards and nominations and gave Frank the legendary status that he has today. But what about the album made it so compelling?
For one, Frank displays a vulnerability in his music that a lot of artists, especially Black male artists, do not often express. Frank shared his opinion on this with W Magazine, he said, “I believed for a very long time that there was strength in vulnerability, and I really don’t believe that anymore. “Strength” and “vulnerability” sound opposite as words. And so to combine them sounds wise, but I don’t know if it is wise. It’s just this realization that hit me: “Oh, right, it’s a choice whether you will be truthful or a liar.” If I start to tell a story and then I decide not to tell the story anymore, I can stop. It’s my story. The expectation for artists to be vulnerable and truthful is a lot, you know?—when it’s no longer a choice. Like, in order for me to satisfy expectations, there needs to be an outpouring of my heart or my experiences in a very truthful, vulnerable way. I’m more interested in lies than that. Like, give me a full motion-picture fantasy.” His lyrics highlight lost loves and the loneliness of growing up. His rich voice along with the powerful multidimensional lyrics make his songs easy to identify and connect with. The album makes anyone who has been in love, been through heartbreak, or simply been alive feel seen.
Although Ocean hasn’t released an album since, he hasn’t just dropped off the face of his earth. During an interview with W Magazine in 2019 he said, “I’m always working on music and other things. Right now I’m working on doing four underwater laps in the pool.” In 2017, Frank launched “Blonded Radio” with Apple Music and released his single “Chanel” under his own label Blonded. He also released Biking with features by Jay-Z and former Odd Future member and longtime friend Tyler, the Creator. He continued releasing singles in 2017 with “Lens” and was featured on various other projects throughout the year. Following 2017 he didn’t publicly release any more music but attended and hosted various parties and clubs in NYC and would occasionally play an unreleased track. He also ventured into other fields such as photography and business, opening his luxury store “Homer” in 2021. He was sent to headline Coachella back in 2020 but the pandemic was underway and Coachella was canceled. Tragically, in 2020 Frank Ocean’s younger brother passed away in a car crash to which fans and friends sent an outpour of love and support to his family and respected his healing processes.
Now, in 2023 Frank Ocean headlined Coachella which was his first performance in what felt like forever. If you’ve never listened to Frank Ocean listen to hits like “Lost” and “Thinkin Bout You” off Channel Orange, “Nights” and “Pink + White” of Blonde, and his singles “Novacane” and Channel” and be prepared to have your ears blessed.