Yesterday Frank Ocean announced his first solo tour dates. He’s already hit some pretty big stages, but it’s been in the company of Odd Future, and they aren’t an easy bunch to compete with when it comes to shining on stage. Their live show is just as much about the high energy and wild antics as it is about the music, and Frank Ocean is, by all accounts, a pretty calm dude. He describes his live shows as “thought-provoking” and “emotionally stirring.” It’s going to be interesting to see him have the stage to himself. According to his Tumblr, the dates are as follows:
11/05 – New Orleans @ House of Blues
11/06 – New York @ Bowery Ballroom
11/08 – Bittersweet @ Amsterdam
11/09 – Paris @ Social Club
11/11 – London @ XOYO
11/15 – Los Angeles @ El Rey Theater
If his appearance on Watch The Throne was his first step outside the world of Odd Future, these solo dates will be the confident but still wary second step, and a much more important one. It’s a little harder to impress the masses when you’re not in the company of Jay-Z and Kanye West, right? Right. But Ocean has been steadily coming into his own as not just another OF character, but an artist with a unique style of his own. Last month, when Constant Gardner was writing about the “Thinking About You” video, he said:
“We can all see that Frank Ocean is a little bit different to the rest of [Odd Future], obviously he is a singer as opposed to a rapper, but where the rest of the gang love a good dose of shock-value, his is a more subtle kind of Oddness. Tyler probably would have had the horse mutate into a rabid bear, and the bed-ridden child get egged by bikini clad prostitutes (maybe I’ll make an unofficial video), but instead we’ve got this well-shot and moving clip.”
He was right. Frank Ocean is a different kind of weird. Back before the soon-to-be-25-year-old had made a name for himself (a name besides Lonny Breaux), word was spreading about Frank Ocean’s Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape. Like a lot of casual Odd Future fans, I was in no rush to dive into this. For me, and for a lot of people, Odd Future could be summed up by three words: Tyler, The, Creator. Yes, you can put a little asterisk after “Creator” and add in a footnote about Earl Sweatshirt, but let’s not complicate things. This is sure to piss off a lot of Golf Wang fanatics, but let’s face it–Odd Future is Tyler, The Creator and a bunch of people whose names we know only because of their affiliation with Tyler, The Creator. Some of them happen to be very talented, but without the charismatic leadership of their attention-demanding leader, none of them are obvious standouts–well, until Frank Ocean stepped up.
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When I first pressed play on Nostalgia, Ultra, I braced myself. I was ready for rape and murder, or at the very least, drugs and slander. The first song to kick in is “Strawberry Swing,” a cover of one of the sweetest songs off Coldplays Viva La Vida. Despite the pleasant beginning, I was sure this was going to be some kind of joke, like at some point, the tape was going to cut to the sound of a girl screaming and a deep voice screaming, “Shut the fuck up!” while a bass-heavy, off-pitch beat kicked in. That never happened. Frank Ocean’s cover of “Strawberry Swing” is so beautiful it’s almost gut-wrenching. Its so perfectly captures the spirit of nostalgia that it’s hard to listen to it and not think about your first love or some careless moment that you never caught on film, so you try to keep it in your memory as clear as you can–one of those moments that every now and then, when things get really quiet, you revisit. If that memory had a soundtrack, it might be Frank Ocean’s cover of “Strawberry Swing.”
You can’t blame me for thinking that this Coldplay cover would be a joke. Odd Future? Coldplay? Other members of Odd Future have fascinations with super-celebs, but the nature of those are questionable. Tyler, for instance, often talks/tweets about Justin Bieber. When asked why he likes Bieber so much, he’ll say something like, “Cause that n***a’s got bitches!” He’ll insist that that’s just what he feels, and that there’s nothing more to it, but it’s the kind of thing that seems like a rebellion of sorts–an attempt to rebel against his own stereotype. Since Tyler is known for being the kid who rebels against everything, how can he possibly rebel against that? Bieber. “Yeah, I’m a rapper. Yeah, I rap about murdering people and raping women on some Clockwork Orange shit. But I love, love, love Justin Bieber.”
All the Odd Future antics just add to their appeal. They’ve even turned the “fuck (insert name here)” thing into an art. It’s to the point where, if Tyler, The Creator wanted to pick out a random celebrity, let’s say Dana Carvey, and say “fuck Dana Carvey,” it would probably be a trending topic within a few hours. Kids would swarm Dana Carvey YouTube videos and fan sites just to leave “Fuck Dana Carvey. GOLFWANG” comments wherever they could. Frank Ocean doesn’t have any of that. He doesn’t have the gimmicks, the smartass comments in interviews, the wild lyrics, the alter-egos… the weirdest thing about Frank Ocean is probably that he sometimes wears kimonos.
If you listen to Odd Future’s music, you’ll definitely catch some quick but powerful strikes of honesty that expose the cores of these young kids. They do put pieces of themselves out there, but they hide it in a merry-go-round of horror scenes and circus acts. Ocean, on the other hand, puts it all out there, unmasked and unfiltered. Maybe it has something to do with his background as an R&B singer, maybe it’s because he’s older and more mature, or maybe it just who he is as an artist or as a person. It’s not really important. What is important is that his talent is of a different nature than the rest of OFWGKTA, and to see him continue on his own path is exciting. He, along with The Weeknd, are making people that have long said “I listen to pretty much everything except country and R&B” reconsider.
While Odd Future has certainly carved out their own niche, Frank Ocean is still working on his. There are a lot of different directions that his career could head in. He could lose that raw edge and become a polished singer/songwriter like The-Dream. He could become the next go-to guy for hooks on rap songs. He could fail on stage and withdraw back into the Odd Future collective. The scenarios go on and on, but for now, watching his first few steps is probably the most interesting part of this whole story. Coming up in a collective like Odd Future isn’t the easiest way to establish your own identity, especially if it’s one as understated as Ocean’s, but he’s already managed to get that identity across on one mixtape. Now let’s see if he can translate that subtle oddness into a career.