This article will introduce you to all the Frank Ocean albums and mixtapes that have been released to date.
Few living artists have generated so much respect with so few releases as Frank Ocean. It is fair to say that the enigmatic singer, songwriter, and producer has become widely regarded as one of the premier recording artists of our generation.
Although Frank has not released an album since 2016, he has by no means been forgotten in popular culture. In fact, the lack of releases has made fans more curious about what he is up to, and hungrier than ever for new material.
Frank has tantalised us with a few single releases over the years, but we still await the next album – with many fans speculating that 2023 will be the year it finally drops.
This being said, it is easy to understand why Frank is taking his time. After releasing two of the most celebrated albums of the 2010s, expectations are dizzyingly high.
Without further ado, let’s dive in and take a look at the best Frank Ocean albums and mixtapes so far.
4. Nostalgia, ULTRA (2011)
Nostalgia, ULTRA is Frank Ocean’s self-released debut mixtape, released in February 2011. The record has an alternative R&B sound, and featured two singles – ‘Novacane’ and ‘Swim Good.’
The record samples heavily, with ‘Strawberry Swing’ sampling Coldplay’s song by the same name, and ‘American Wedding’ sampling the Eagles’ hit ‘Hotel California.’
The reason the record is not available on Spotify and some other streaming platforms is because of copyright issues relating to ‘American Wedding.’
‘Novacane,’ the first single from the record, was Frank’s first song to chart on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at number eighty-two.
The context of the record includes Frank moving to Los Angeles from New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which saw Frank’s recording studio flooded and destroyed.
Frank had become friends with Tyler, The Creator, and joined the Odd Future collective in 2010 before releasing the record.
Nostalgia, ULTRA was lauded by critics upon its release, and stands as an eminently respectable entry into the music industry. However, it would be fair to say that the record tends to get overshadowed by the artist’s later releases.
3. Endless (2016)
The visual album Endless is Frank Ocean’s least-known album. Although a cult classic amongst Frank Ocean fans, the record has by no means garnered the same attention and praise as his other releases.
Endless was released on 19 August 2016, just a day before Blonde. Unusually, it was released as a streaming-only video on Apple Music. The curious yet rather slow video depicts Frank in a workshop, crafting a staircase out of wood.
The unusual, visual format of the release, and the proximity of the release date to Blonde go some way to explaining the record’s relatively unknown status.
Musically, Endless has a fair amount in common with the much more famous Blonde. Floaty and ambient, the record slowly moves through moods. Like Blonde it blends R&B and soul elements with ambient and psychedelia.
However, the record generally has fewer melodic hooks than Blonde, with an overall feeling that is much more ambient.
Lyrically, Endless sees Frank explore themes that are characteristic to him as an artist – nostalgia, heartbreak, and existential angst.
The album is not available on any streaming platforms apart from Apple Music, but can be purchased on CD and vinyl. Although few people would consider it to be the best Frank Ocean album, it is well worth a listen.
2. Channel Orange (2012)
Channel Orange is Frank Ocean’s debut studio album. The album featured five singles, most notably including ‘Thinkin Bout You’ and ‘Lost,’ both of which became platinum certified. Those releases helped to see Frank’s reputation rocket, with his fan base growing around the world.
The record’s name comes from Frank’s experiences of synesthesia – he allegedly associated the colour orange with the first summer he fell in love.
The record has been noted not only for its brilliant songwriting, but for its many unconventional and avant-garde musical elements.
The record draws on a wide range of genres, and whilst an R&B or alternative soul record at its foundation, it draws in elements of electro-funk, ambient noise, and psychedelia.
Lyrically, the record is as unconventional and creative as it is sonically. It addresses themes of sexuality, desire, unrequited love, social class, and decadence. Some of the stand-out tracks include the tender and understated love song ‘Thinkin Bout You,’ and the soulfully cool ‘Super Rich Kids.’
The record peaked at number two on the Billboard 200 album chart. It was nominated for Album of the Year and won the Grammy award for Best Urban Contemporary Album in 2013.
The album is routinely listed amongst the best albums of the 2010s. For most artists, an album like this would easily be considered as the crowning achievement of their career.
However, most listeners will be of the opinion that despite Channel Orange’s obvious strengths, it takes second place to Blonde.
1. Blonde (2016)
Blonde is the jewel in Frank Ocean’s crown. The album has been praised by critics and fans as not only one of the greatest albums of the 2010s, but one of the greatest albums of all time.
The record featured just one single, the opening song ‘Nikes,’ which reached a modest position seventy-nine on the Billboard Hot 100. The song opens with distinctive pitch-shifted vocals, offering a striking and unexpected opening to the album.
The album is characteristically eclectic and avant-garde, blending elements of ambient, psychedelia, and indie into its alternative R&B and soul foundations. Its mood is relatively low-key and introspective throughout. With many songs taking unconventional structures, the album’s overall shape is really unlike any other.
Lyrically, the album touches on themes of growing up, trauma and loss, masculinity and sexuality. The lyrics range from the deeply personal and intimate (‘Self Control’ comes to mind), to abstract, philosophical musings (such as the meandering ‘Seigfried’).
The album is so full of stunning moments, that it is hard to summarise. From the sparse and futuristic ‘Nikes,’ to the soaring melody of ‘Solo,’ the record has some undeniably catchy and poppy elements.
These more ‘obvious’ moments are all the more effective against the backdrop of the album’s more subtle moods.
Some of these include the lush guitar and string arrangements of ‘Self Control,’ through to the tearful ‘White Ferrari,’ and the majestic ‘Godspeed.’
The record leads the listener through a series of rich sonic and emotional landscapes, giving something new with every listen. It’s for this reason that Blonde is generally considered to be the best Frank Ocean album to date.
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