By now, I think everyone and their (most likely pissed off) mother has heard of the LA County teen-phenom rap group Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All aka OFWGTKA, or, more simply, Odd Future. With sold out shows across the country and the ultimate hype man in Tyler, The Creator, as well as the enigmatic presence (or lack thereof) of 16 year old wunderkind Earl Sweatshirt, coupled with controversial lyrics and mastery of internet media, it's not really a surprise they've become as big as they are.
But with personalities like Earl and Tyler seemingly bearing all the spotlight themselves, it's easy to forget about the other nine active members of OFWGKTA.
For Frank Ocean (real name Christopher "Lonny" Breaux), that might just be what the doctor ordered. He has casually released a great mixtape without having to face any of the pressures of the blogosphere or mass media hype machine. After moving from his native New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Ocean quietly landed to LA and signed to Def Jam Records, by whom he was been almost entirely ignored. He has worked on music for artists like Justin Beiber and Beyonce, yet had become so fed up with his label that by the time Odd Future had begun to hit full "swag", he self-released his mix tape for free on the group's website, even going so far as to take care of the (completely fucking awesome, let's be honest) cover art himself.
In his own words:
"i. did. this. not ISLAND DEF JAM. that's why you see no label logo on the artwork that I DID. guess its my fault for trusting my dumbass lawyer and signing my career over to a failing company. fuck Def Jam & any company that goes the length of signing a kid with dreams & talent w/ no intention of following through. fuck em. now back to my day. i want some oatmeal and toast. brunch swag."
Nostalgia, Ultra. showcases a level of maturity and aesthetic that most of Odd Future's other releases are largely lacking - for all their punch and swagger, they lack Ocean's ability to bridge the gap between indie mix tape and a cohesive album. For all the rejection and anger he must feel towards the mainstream industry, Ocean has channeled everything he has learned into the best Odd Future release thus far.
Perhaps the best track on the album is the opener, "Strawberry Swing," which features a Coldplay sample from their track of the same name. He begins by singing an excellent melody while reminiscing about an idyllic childhood, before taking note of his own mortality ("We are all mortals, aren't we?/At any moment this could go"), and finally imagining human civilization taking off in spaceships as they leave "millions" and a burning world behind. Pretty heavy stuff for a 23 year old hip-hop producer whose peers are now infamous for glorifying rape, cocaine, violence, homophobia, and even necrophilia. Where other members of the group would simply go for tactics of shock and awe, Ocean digs a bit deeper. On "Songs For Women," he jokes that he couldn't "...play guitar like Van Halen...but you still came around, ate your lunch with me," before later admitting that, "Every time a nigga asks me/If I sing songs to get at women/I say yeah."
By the end of the song he realizes that fame alone cannot provide the basis for true love: "Now every time somebody asks me/If I sing songs to get my women/I say no, they say okay I don't believe it/I say nope, I swear I never do it...All these songs are for women/Songs for women/Songs for you baby/Songs for you."
And by the end of the song you, yourself, have probably fallen in love with Frank Ocean. Let's hope that we get the chance to fall in love with him for years to come.
Nostalgia, Ultra. (2011)