In just over a decade, Frank Ocean has managed to cement himself as one of this generation’s most talented musicians. Ocean burst onto the scene with Odd Future, featured alongside Kanye West and Jay-Z and has released multiple critically acclaimed projects widely regarded as some of the best of our time. Despite all of his successes, Ocean has taken a different approach to fame, often veering from the spotlight for years at a time. In fact, Twitter users will post “Frank Ocean spotted” tweets as if he’s a near-extinct animal no one has seen for decades.
It’s now been over six years since Ocean released his last project, the instant classic, Blonde. During that time we’ve only gotten a few loosies from the crooner, but it seems our excruciating wait for more music from Ocean is almost over. Rumours have begun circulating online that the singer is gearing up to release his highly anticipated album later this year after deleting all of his social media posts (which almost always means something new). In hopes of that being true, we’ve decided to go through our top 10 favourite Frank Ocean tracks and considering his stellar discography, we could’ve easily listed way more.
10. Novacane (2011)
Despite Ocean’s clear evolution as a lyricist since the track’s release, ‘Novacane’ is still a shining example of his excellent pen game. The track is a love song of sorts, but it’s a love song about a girl so gone on drugs that Ocean, wanting to be close to her, has no choice but to get gone on those same drugs. The simple stripped-back production gives us the chance to focus on the minor observations we may usually look past and discover that Ocean is opening up about his human connections. So ‘Novacane,’ then, is a song about personal connection but also about all the stupid numb human stuff that gets in the way of personal connection.
9. Ivy (2016)
There aren’t too many lyrics that have stuck in all of our heads quite the way “I thought that I was dreaming when you said you love me” have. This Blonde fan favourite gives us Ocean at his emotive best, dropping tear-jerking gem after gem. Oftentimes Ocean speaks from the perspective of the heartbroken, though this time it’s him who is the villain, and boy does he play it well.
8. Bad Religion (2013)
This Channel Orange classic is closely intertwined with Ocean’s coming out as bisexual the day before the album’s release. A broken down Ocean confides in his taxi driver and, upon receiving only religious platitudes, realises that begging is pretty useless, whether it’s to God or a would-be partner: “If it brings me to my knees, it’s a bad religion.” The Prince-like scream Ocean drops in towards the end of the song marks one of the signature moments on the album.
7. Pink + White (2016)
This utterly beautiful cut from Ocean was produced by Pharrell Williams and features Beyoncé on backing vocals, but even those aren’t the most notable things about this truly blissful track. The song’s heavenly keys and melodies alongside gorgeous bass plucks for the most vibrant and happiest point on the whole record. However, despite its upbeat tone, the lyrics are still just as melancholic as the rest of the album. Even in Ocean’s highest moments, he still knows deep down “it’s all downhill from here.”
6. Super Rich Kids (2013)
This one’s pretty on the nose with Ocean giving us a self-contained tale of the last day in the life of a spoiled teenager. He wakes up on the roof, talks candidly about his wealth, drug use and distant parents and then, in the evening, drunkenly slips and falls off the same roof. It’s a tragic look into how the monotony and triviality defines these kids’ lives, rendering all the material luxuries meaningless. Robbed of meaning outside the material, their lives have become a stupor of excess where nothing is enough anymore; “a million one, a million two, a hundred more will never do.”
5. White Ferrari (2016)
In this reflective cut, Ocean likens his relationship to a ‘White Ferrari.’ It’s beautiful and something he cherishes, working on it over several years. However, his partner doesn’t quite see it that way. Despite Ocean keeping up his “part of the deal” by caring for them, that love was sadly not reciprocated. In the goosebump-inducing outro the beat switches and glitches while Ocean tells us how his significant other sees life in a completely different, more pessimistic light: “I’m sure we’re taller in another dimension, you say we’re small and not worth the mention.”
4. Chanel (2017)
On ‘Chanel,’ Ocean showcases this talent in a song that is a potent mix of the existential and the material. Over a slow, shuffling piano, he peels back the layers of his hyperactive mind, cracking open insights on everything from sexual fluidity (“My guy pretty like a girl and he got fight stories to tell”) to the hazards of lean abuse, using a 21 Savage meme (“With a cup in a cup, Actavis, That’s a double edge, issa knife”). The production is understated, nearly fading away in the distance, but Ocean’s voice is a commanding presence that swells and fills the expanse.
3. Nights (2016)
Pretty much everything that can be said about ‘Nights’ has already been said, but that doesn’t stop it from still holding up as one of Blonde’s best all these years later. ‘Nights’ is a beautifully structured piece that starts as a happy groove that transforms into a psychedelic ballad, before concluding on a soothing and slow hip hop beat. As Frank‘s voice deepens it blends perfectly with the change in instrumental as the song progresses. After hearing that beat switch for the first time, and the inherent change in tone of the song, and for the rest of the album after that, you begin to scratch your head thinking if anyone other than Ocean could’ve come up with this track.
2. Pyramids (2013)
This 10-minute wonder towers over the middle of Channel Orange and for good reason: it’s like a whole album within an album, thematically and musically. It opens as a banger, then shifts from clubby to druggy and downtempo, soundtracking Ocean’s cross-millennia Black narrative. His Cleopatra character is all-powerful in ancient Egypt, then, once the song shifts to the present, becomes a stripper just as crestfallen as her client.
1. Self Control (2016)
This is the epitome of “staring at your ceiling at 3 am” music. We’ve all been there, heartbroken, lost and trying to reminisce on the good times, we play ‘Self Control,’ only to realise we’ve just made ourselves feel a whole lot worse. But anyway, back to the track itself. ‘Self Control’ is all about timing and losses all of which come by way of poor timing in love. Ocean makes as much clear from the opening lines about poolside conversations. His pitched vocal wavers as if he is nervous asking to make it one last time with an old lover, the subject of all of ‘Self Control.’ If you can get through this one without dropping a tear, you’re most likely not human.