Happy Birthday Frank Ocean: His Most Underrated Deep-Cuts
The iconic crooner turns 33 today
Frank Ocean's intentionally elusive character has been a key ingredient in his rise as one of the last decade's most influential artists.
"If I start to tell a story and then I decide not to tell the story anymore, I can stop. It's my story," he told W Magazine last September. "The expectation for artists to be vulnerable and truthful is a lot, you know?"
The idea of staying true to yourself may not sound inherently groundbreaking, but for the last near-decade, Frank Ocean has spoken almost exclusively through his music, at times sprinkling loosies online merely for the sake of getting something off his chest. "There's something that happens when you say what you're doing before it's done," he said to W. "You're accountable for that version that you talk about... It's usually better for me to make what I make, put it out or don't, and then talk about it freely."
While his biggest hits have transformed from personal testaments into anthems for heartbroken empaths, Frank Ocean's archival deep cuts have remained the real windows into his soul. On "Lens," he warbles about his struggles as a public figure, and on "Provider," he speaks cryptically on the importance of patience when it comes to curating authentic art. Here are some of Frank Ocean's other compelling deep cuts, as we wish the iconic crooner a happy 33rd birthday.
On the severely underappreciated return-to-form John Mayer project Paradise Valley, Frank Ocean coos about a passionate love affair over the chirp of late-night peeper. While the brief interlude is over in a little over a minute, it's a transporting few moments and conjures up the all-consuming sensuality that comes with a fleeting summer romance. The track was also a coy ode to French model Willy Cartier, who the singer was rumored to be dating at the time.
Bitches Talkin' / Songs For Women
Over a slick infusion of lo-fi surf rock and '80s synth-pop, Frank Ocean grinds out memorable bars and shows welcomed versatility as a rapper and singer. He explores a newfound love affair, and over the course of the song, watches it deteriorate as he prioritizes making music, but the singer never changes his mind. He understands his music will make women swoon, but at the end of the day, they remain unable to relate to his lifestyle.
The glitchy Channel Orange deep-cut "Pilot Jones" once again finds Frank offering stream-of-consciousness anecdotes about another relationship. The love affair is undoubtedly toxic, and Frank's voice weaves in and out of various tempos and pitches, his voice at times shaky and unguarded then clear and pristine.
His voice wavers and stumbles with an almost drunken elegance as electronic clicks and wurrs gently push him along. He is trying to bring himself down to his partner's level, a prospect he ultimately fails to achieve. It's an absorbing track that shows that Frank truly thrives when placed amongst deteriorating song structures.
An early album outtake uploaded spontaneously, "Blue Whale" finds Frank full-on rapping and speaking frankly on his relationships and his poor adjustment to fame. "This life goes on man that's one thing about it," he says with defeat. He knows there's no escape from this lifestyle he chose. The beat, produced by Pharrell Williams, flows like a gentle body of water, and it's a shame the track didn't get a final album cut.
With hard-hitting features from Jay-Z and Tyler, the Creator, it's a shame this 2017 loosie didn't get more attention. While the song's lo-fi vibe fits perfectly in Frank's world, Tyler, the Creator and Jay also sound right at home. Frank's buoyancy sounds optimistic, a refreshing departure from his signature slow-burn hums, and that's because Frank was hesitantly content at this point in his career.
"God gave you what you could handle," he calls out on the track's hook, his voice soaked in reverb; there doesn't seem to be anything he can't conquer on his own. It's a fleeting victory lap for someone as empathetic as Frank, and you know it won't be long before he's down in the dumps again. But the crooner tries to relish in this moment of satisfaction rather than question it this time around, and it's a welcomed change of pace.
Aided by bouncy drums and a breezy keyboard, Frank abandons his relationship commentary in favor of a deep reflection on drug addiction and the war on drugs. Here he croons with a breathy quip, a move he said was intentional in order to mimic how a "smoker would sing it." The track's narrative remains powerful and transportive to this day.
While almost every song on Blonde is by no means underappreciated, "Skyline To" finds Frank once again gliding freely in the clouds, nothing but improvisational guitars to push him along. The song's power is that it is merely a collection of ruminating thoughts Frank has had over the last few years, most of them soaked in bitter nostalgia. "It begins to blur, we get older," he cries. "Summer's not as long as it used to be."
"Skyline To" highlights what makes Frank such a compelling artist: his ability to take the mental struggles of the human experience and shape them into song.
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