This 24-year-old New Orleans' native has written songs for John Legend, Justin Bieber and Beyonce; and collaborated with Jay-Z, Kanye West, Pharrell Williams and Odd Future. And now with his debut album, Channel Orange, he's made a statement.
Not only is his prodigious talent clear, it's also different. The tracks aren't as mainstream or "radio-friendly" as one might imagine (even though he's got Pharrell and Andre 3000 lending a hand). Ocean is happy to let the tracks breathe with spacious soundscapes between the hooks, and there's a beguiling fragility and sense of unease to the production, along with a sense of adventure. These ain't regular club anthems, they're thought-provoking. But that's not the only significant difference. Ocean recently declared he's bisexual and that declaration is reflected in the lyrical content. R&B and hip-hop is often piled with references to lips, hips, skin, and Ocean's songs are notable for their lack of body-part references, for any sexual objectification.
First single Thinking About You is a beautifully tender love song that's almost genderless, and his "baby girl" reference on Sierra Leone is actually to a baby. And that's not his only deconstruction of traditional hip-hop culture - Super Rich Kids makes a few strong observations, and Sweet Life is a great summer jam, but with the refrain "why see the world, when you've got the beach", he's definitely not afraid to ridicule.
Verdict: The new young R&B contender
- TimeOutBy Lydia Jenkin Email Lydia