Frank Ocean is tardy to the party. The world — yes, we do think everyone is a fan — has been waiting anxiously for his sophomore album to arrive and has seemingly started the celebration without him. Since his loyal supporters have been left to twiddle their thumbs until he chooses to come correct and release the LP, dipping back into his catalog to satisfy their craving for new music.
Never one to shy from wearing his heart on his sleeve, the singer introduced us to his lovelorn, soul stirring songs in late 2011, with his mixtape The Wonder Years. Ocean strengthened his movement with the Lonny Breaux collection — 63 songs were featured on the effort — plus his Odd Future affiliation and the release of his near perfect effort nostalgia, ULTRA. But it wasn’t until the crooner’s song “Thinkin’ Bout You,” that he would gain national attention, leading up to this first studio album, channel ORANGE, with Def Jam in 2012.
Along with Frank Ocean’s knack for double entendres and wordplay, he kept with his signature theme of love and loss on the LP. The day before the album dropped, Ocean took a chance and wrote a Tumblr post that told the story of his first love, which happened to be a man. Often taboo in hip-hop and R&B, Ocean braved himself, only to gain the admiration of his fans, label mates and artists such as Beyonce.
Since then, Frank Ocean’s stock has only gone up. Channel ORANGE became a certified gold album and is critically acclaimed. In the span of his career, he’s had collaborations with Kendrick Lamar, Andre 3000, Kanye West, Jay Z and Beyonce while simultaneously carving his name in the music industry as one of the best in the business.
In anticipation for his forthcoming sophomore album, a project we thought we’d get to hear in July (*sad face*) we put together a playlist to remind you why you fell in love with his work in the first place. Here are 20 Frank Ocean Songs That Made You a Fan.
Kanye West decided to share the spotlight by giving Frank Ocean some shine on his 2013 album, Yeezus — the singer is the only feature on the album besides God on the song “I Am a God.” After Ye’s self-described best verse in hip-hop, Ocean’s soulful voice fills the end of this song like sprinkles on top of an ice cream cone. The conclusion: together they can’t lose.
A few different versions of this song circulated the internet a few years ago, which left fans wondering which one was legit. But, a month after Ocean’s July 2012 release of channel ORANGE and two months before Kendrick Lamar’s good Kid, m.A.A.d city LP, the song was on our radar. K. Dot corrected blogs with a tweet and introduced many to a rapper named Mann. “Bend ya up, and bend ya back down / All the girls in my bedroom / They bend, they bend, they bend, they bend,” Ocean sings before Kendrick comes in with a solid verse: “High octane when I bring on my last name / Mr. Lamar aka the Cash King / Quicker than pre-cum won’t you give her a reason / To not meet up with me like a vegan.”
“Songs 4 Women”
After gaining traction on the mixtape, Lonny Breaux, Ocean released another, nostalgia, Ultra, in early 2011, shortly after he moved from New Orleans to Los Angeles. The project pushed his name far into the mainstream. On “Songs 4 Women,” Ocean breaks down his methods for getting the attention of the opposite sex and how he has to work with what he has — his voice. “If I was singing songs / Just to sing a songs / If I was singing ’cause it’s what the bitches wanted / I couldn’t play guitar like Van Halen / Had no secret chords like Saint David,” he delivers. This guitar-heavy Happy Perez-produced effort immediately makes us want to dance.
The singing recluse gets a bit raunchy on this one as he promises to give it “naturally.” Over the sample of MGMT’s “Electric Feel,” Ocean croons about making love and gets straight to the point in the first few words he utters. “I’ve been meaning to f— you in the garden / Been breathing so hard, we both could use the oxygen,” he sings. Imagine laying back in a garden and staring up at the clouds in the sky as this jam enters your sonic space.
“There Will Be Tears”
Frank Ocean manages to bridge his haunting voice with techno in the first half of this track, which is reminiscent of Passion Pit’s “Sleepyhead” or Owl City’s “Fireflies.” This song should’ve been an immediate favorite when it switches to an uplifting beat as Ocean sings about his ruffled relationship with his grandfather — the only father figure he’s known. “There Will Be Tears” also shows Ocean’s strong power for evoking imagery: “Hide my face, hide my face, can’t let ’em see me crying / Cause these boys didn’t have no fathers neither / And they weren’t crying / My friend said it wasn’t so bad / You can’t miss what you ain’t had.”
“No Church in the Wild”
Frank Ocean’s voice breaks through on this Kanye West-produced beat (88 Keys and Mike Dean lend a hand too) that makes you feel ready for war. “Human beings in a mob / What’s a mob to a king? What’s a king to a god? / What’s a god to a non-believer who don’t believe in anything? / Will he make it out alive? / Alright, alright, no church in the wild,” the singer serves. You couldn’t escape this 2011 summer hit from Yeezy and Jay Z’s Watch the Throne, but you also didn’t want to.
On “She,” Frank Ocean teams up with the Odd Future leader, Tyler, The Creator, for a smooth track he produced. The rapper’s dark undertones combined with Frank Ocean’s melodic voice make for a solid listen. “Night light hits off, turnin’ kisses to bites / I’m a down to Earth n—-, with intentions, that’s right / You’ll be down in Earth quicker if you diss me tonight / But I’ll be the happiest if you decide to kick it tonight,” Tyler rhymes, showcasing his creepy side. Ocean matches his boy’s dark side with lines like, “The blinds wide open so he can / See you in the dark when you’re sleepin’ / Naked body, fresh out the shower / You touch yourself after hours / Ain’t no man allowed in your bedroom / You’re sleeping alone in bed / But check your window (swag) / He’s at your window.”
Frank Ocean is the self-described “crazy” one on this track. TROY NoKA delivers a knocking beat for “LoveCrimes,” a track that finds the singer admitting he wants to be the father of his lover’s child and use the last bullet he has in his nine to kill. “Talk to me and I better not hear a word,” sings Ocean in juxtapositions. “Do me baby / Oh I better not feel it girl.” And not one to shy away from drawing on different samples, the channel ORANGE creator, concludes the song with a speech from the 1999 thriller “Eyes Wide Shut,” about the stereotypes of men and women’s feelings towards sex.
At the end of 2013, Beyonce dropped an album out of nowhere, both shocking and pleasing the BeyHive all at the same time. But Frank Ocean must have been in on the secret, as he was just one of the short list of collaborators on the project (Drake shows up on “Mine”). When Beyonce isn’t singing solo, the two play off of each other like Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell (see: “Ain’t No Mountain High”), on this endearing song. “And I thought the world would move on,” sings Ocean as Beyonce follows up with, “I thought the world would revolve, without us, without us, without us.” This is a tough love that can’t be broken down.
Not much can go wrong with a sample of Percy Sledge’s soulful “When a Man Loves a Woman.” J.R. Rotem flips the sample while Ocean portrays the mindset of a man who’s lost the woman he loves, but he won’t give up on getting her back. “I sat down in my car, not to leave, just to park / I’m still not losing hope, though the sky’s getting dark / I wish you’d just peak out the blinds to my heart / But you turned your bedroom light on / Well at least that’s a start,” croons Ocean on the mid-tempo tune. (Fun fact: “When a Man Loves a Woman” was featured on the first episode of the ’80’s show The Wonder Years, which is also the name of Ocean’s first widely released mixtape influenced by the show.)
Based on the Academy Award-winning 1994 movie of the same name, this song is told from the perspective of Jenny, a troubled hippie and lifelong friend of the innocent Forrest Gump. She is also the love interest throughout his life. “Forrest Gump you run my mind boy / Running on my mind boy,” he croons. Many fans speculate that this track is about the unrequited love Ocean described in a very candid Tumblr post in 2012. Either way, the song is heart-warming with lines like, “I’m remembering you / If this is love / I know it’s true / I won’t forget you.”
The singer goes to church on this effort, which commences with an organ as he compares the pain of unrequited love to a bad religion. Producer Monte Neuble joins Ocean for the sounds behind the stinging words. The imagery is so strong that it had to be on this list of 20 Frank Ocean Songs That Made You a Fan. “If it brings me to my knees / It’s a bad religion / This unrequited love / To me it’s nothing but a one-man cult / And cyanide in my Styrofoam cup / I can never make him love me / Never make him love me,” sings Ocean in a heartbreaking tone.
In this single from channel ORANGE, Ocean uses double meanings in this two-part song showcasing his knack for storytelling. In the first half of the track, Queen Cleopatra is kidnapped from her home, a pyramid. We’re then taken to the future in the second part of the song, where Cleopatra is a woman working as a stripper at a place called the Pyramid. Ocean continues to sing from the perspective of an onlooker into her life. This time, he’s Cleopatra’s lover. “You showed up after work I’m bathing your body / Touch you in places only I know / You’re wet and you’re warm just like our bathwater / Can we make love before you go,” he croons.
Ever the raconteur, Frank Ocean takes the perspective of a drug kingpin who’s in love (or at least infatuated) with his drug mule. The oddly upbeat song goes with the idea of moving too fast and feeling lost no matter where you are — Miami, Amsterdam, Tokyo or Spain. But nonetheless, the “lost” girl continues to work. The singer has admitted to selling coke in high school, which may have inspired this track. One of our favorite lines from this song: “Can’t believe I got her out here cooking dope / I promise she’ll be / Whipping meals up for a family of her own some day.”
Who else could make an anesthetic sound sexy but Frank Ocean? The singer uses the numbing agent as a metaphor to how he feels. “Novacane” is one of the few songs from channel ORANGE that received the visual treatment, which helped bring the tune to life. Ocean rubs the drug over his face, causing his skin to droop. He also hallucinates as pandas, tigers and a woman having sex all appear in his brain. Tricky Stewart, known for Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” produced this smooth yet groovy beat.
“Super Rich Kids”
Fellow Odd Future member Earl Sweatshirt joins Frank Ocean for “Super Rich Kids,” a telling of the spoils — good and bad — of living rich. The song reveals a well-thought out perspective of the real problems of the elite, while also showing that it’s almost trivial to focus on so much excess. Another genius juxtaposition by the Lonny Breaux creator. “The maids come around too much / Parents ain’t around enough,” sings Ocean while breaking down each syllable of every word. “Too many white lies and white lines.” The I Don’t Like S—, I Don’t Go Outside creator adds his take on the wealthy kids: “He mad, he snatched his daddy’s Jag / And used the s— for batting practice.”
In the 2001 rom-com Brown Sugar, a standout line is “simplicity provides a fine line between eloquence and plainness.” That quote is a perfect description for “Crack Rock,” featuring minimalistic beat that makes each sound seem necessary. Malay (“Thinkin Bout You”) and Om’Mas Keith take on the production here. This time, the singer is the drug addict. He also delivers his specialty — double entendres. One in particular, compares how crack can ruin your life, just like hitting stones to glass windows and walls. “Hitting stones in glass homes / You’re smoking stones in abandoned homes / You hit them stones and broke your home / Crack rock crack rock / Crack rock crack rock,” he sings. Nice job, Frank.
Suicide is the topic of discussion on “Swim Good,” where the singer serves as a bleeding heart. He sings about giving up his life by jumping in the ocean after loosing his significant other. His voice is steady over the drums and snares in the Midi-Mafia-produced beat. In the accompanying video, the audience sees the same car that’s featured on the cover of nostalgia, ULTRA. Chaos ensues in Ocean’s mind as he sees images of a woman while he speeds on empty highways. At the end, he meets the aforementioned ocean that he plans to dive into. But, we don’t see him jump. Ocean’s songwriting skills give way to his visual storytelling here too: “That’s a pretty big trunk on my Lincoln town car, ain’t it? / Big enough to take these broken hearts and put ’em in it.”
“Thinkin’ ‘Bout You”
This is easily Ocean’s most popular song and for good reason. The deep love ode captures his theme of unrequited love once again. This song sparked thousands of covers by aspiring artists as well as established singers like the Jonas Brothers, Tori Kelly, Ariana Grande and Yuna. The chorus seems to resonate with many music fans as well, who’ve quoted it all throughout social media. “I’ve been thinkin’ ’bout you / Do you think about me still?” sings Ocean before heading into his falsetto voice. “Or do you not think so far ahead? / ‘Cause I’ve been thinking about forever.” Tears may follow after listening to this track.
The Andre 3000-assisted track “Pink Matter” easily stands at the top of Frank Ocean’s catalog. The singer contemplates the purpose of many things in his life during a conversation with his sensei. “What do you think my brain is made for / Is it just a container for the mind?” questions Ocean over the waah-waahs of a guitar. “What if the sky and the stars are for show / And the aliens are watching live / From the purple matter?” In this song, we also get a glimpse of his fascination with Japanese culture as he seamlessly throws in reference to the Dragon Ball Z villain, Majin Buu. Then, there’s Three Stacks, who is the perfect eclectic addition to this chilling melodic song. “Since you been gone / I been having withdrawals / You were such a habit to call / I ain’t myself at all had to tell myself naw,” raps the Aquemini creator. “If models are made for modeling / Thick girls are made for cuddlin’ / Switch worlds and we can huddle then.” This song will certainly make you question some of the aspects of your own life. Listen with an open mind.