Saturday, December 8, 2012

Talented Newcomer Frank Ocean Scores Six Grammy Nominations

Frank Ocean

This post really has nothing to do with holiday music, but I was pleased to see the Recording Academy recognize"newcomer" Frank Ocean this week with six Grammy nominations, including Record of the Year (for Thinkin' 'Bout You), Album of the Year (for Channel Orange) and Best New Artist. For an organization that gets things wrong so often, this is welcome news indeed, as the 25-year-old Ocean is a phenomenal talent and Channel Orange, his first commercial release, is not only a smart and insightful collection of songs but it sounds as good as anything I've heard in ages. Ocean's been in the public eye for a couple of years now, which helps to explain why his first big label release debuted in the #2 position on the Billboard album chart. He's written songs for John Legend, Brandy, BeyoncĂ© and Justin Bieber, among others; he’s collaborated with Kanye West and Jay-Z; and he's a key member of the Los Angeles-based hip hop collective OFWGKTA (a/k/a Odd Future). Before recording Channel Orange, Ocean made two lengthy mix tapes of his material available for free on the internet. I became a fan after listening to the second of these two mix tapes, nostalgia/ultra, which is a truly inspirational collection of tunes. That led me to catch his performance at last April's Coachella Music festival, where he opened his set in front of thousands of hip hop fans with an astonishingly good version of an obscure Bob Dylan tune from 1962 called Long Time Gone (not to be confused with the David Crosby classic by the same name). That one move convinced me that this guy was going to shake things up in a big way, which he did soon after, although not quite in the way I'd figured. Two weeks before the release of Channel Orange, Ocean pre-released the album's liner notes, in which he wrote publicly about his love for another man. It was a beautifully written and remarkably courageous piece, and it turned the hip-hop community on its ear. Within days, several titans of the community rallied to Ocean's side, and within weeks of that, it had become almost a non-event, which left Ocean free to live as he is and allowed his music to be judged on its own terms. Yes, it's been quite a year for Frank Ocean, who was recently named one of GQ's Men of the Year and now has six well-deserved Grammy nominations. He should be a shoe-in for Best New Artist, and I think he deserves Album of the Year honors, too. I only hope the Grammy voters get it right this year.

We now return to our regular holiday music programming. Thanks for indulging me.

POSTSCRIPT (12/15/12): The season of annual "best of" lists is upon us, and Frank Ocean's already racking up the gold (as it were). Both Spin and The Guardian have named Channel Orange their album of the year, and Greg Kot and Jim DeRogatis of NPR's Sound Opinions each ranked Channel Orange at or near the top of their 2012 Best Albums list (Greg has it at #1, Jim at #3). You can listen to their insightful review of the album HERE. With any luck, Ocean will release some Christmas music in 2013 so we can write about him again.

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