Frank Ocean: The Odd Future of a New Orleans Native

This afternoon, Voodoo Experience announced that Los Angeles-based hip-hop collective Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All (OFWGKTA or Odd Future) will be performing at this fall’s festival.

Frank Ocean in kitchen. From frankocean.tumblr.com.

From frankocean.tumblr.com.

Odd Future are most easily characterized by their rabid fanbase, punk-rock attitude, and willingness to address controversial and shocking topics in their music. Although Tyler, the Creator and absent MC Earl Sweatshirt have been the breakout stars so far, another name has jumped to the forefront also.

Frank Ocean, a New Orleans native and Odd Future’s resident crooner, is rocketing up the Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop charts with his single “Novacane” (currently at #21 at date of publication). Older than the vast majority of OFWGKTA at the ripe age of 24, Ocean has a songwriting background that includes penning the track “I Miss You” off Beyonce’s new album, 4. Despite having evacuated from the University of New Orleans after Katrina, he somehow found a way into the Odd Future crew despite not growing up with the rest of the bunch. Rather than singing about killing and kidnapping, the songs on Ocean’s debut EP nostalgia, ULTRA are tender, trippy love songs that show a degree of devotion and maturity absent in other Odd Future releases.

Although he has been signed to Def Jam for almost a year, the label seemingly had no interest in releasing any of his music until he gave away nostalgia, ULTRA for free on Tumblr in February. Although the album has since been taken down, industrious fans can still find it for download on online mixtape paradise datpiff.com and around the internet.

It’s a departure from the brash, acerbic Odd Future sound, with beats coming from big-name producers Tricky Stewart and Midi Mafia, and humble, heartfelt lyrics (“Every time somebody asks me if I sing songs to get at women / I say ‘Yeah’ / they say ‘No fair that’s cheating’ / I say ‘Boy don’t judge, ’cause hell, if you were me, you’d be singin’ to her’”). His voice is casual yet passionate, just as capable of shiver-inducing trills as whispered bedroom talk.

“Novacane,” the big creepy single, is a strange psychedelic journey through a bad trip Ocean had while hooking up with an aspiring dentist/porn star he met at Coachella (“I still can’t feel my face / what are we smoking anyway? / She said, “Don’t let the high go to waste”). The music video, released in mid-June, is nightmarishly shot in a dark bedroom, with Ocean staring into the camera as he rubs topical anesthetic on his face, scantily-clad women cavorting in the background. It’s a mix of braggadocio, cautionary tale, and pure weirdness not usually found in a genre that’s often completely concerned with getting you naked.

Although many of the strongest tracks on the album employ samples (“Strawberry Swing” uses Coldplay, “Nature Feels” samples MGMT, and “American Wedding” has Ocean singing over the Eagles’ “Hotel California”), they will likely be absent from the upcoming re-release, aptly titled nostalgia, LITE . As well as singing the song-stealing hook on Tyler’s recent single “She”, Ocean will also be featured on two tracks on Kanye West and Jay-Z’s upcoming collaborative album Watch The Throne.