Frank Ocean first appeared above the hip hop parapet as a member of rap posse (and one of CMU’s Artists Of 2011) Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All. With a muted persona in contrast to the crew’s other brasher characters, Ocean played (slightly) elder sibling and R&B foil to the likes of Tyler, The Creator, MellowHype and the OF’s prodigal son Earl Sweatshirt, while also stashing solo singles like the love-numb ‘Novacane’ and ‘Thinkin Bout You’ via his Tumblr.
Whilst the oft-controversial OFWGKTA brand has since prospered, earning the collective fan-adoration and all the right blog inches, its associate MCs’ solo and collaborative releases – bar ensemble collation ‘OF Tape Vol 2′, which charted at number five in the Billboard 200 – haven’t quite matched the troupe’s initial promise in the commercial sense, at least not this year. Take MellowHype’s sophomore LP ‘Numbers’, which despite having Sony’s major label backing and a well-placed pre-release campaign, failed to graze even the 200′s topmost quarter, charting at 54.
I say MellowHype ‘failed’. Any wave made in the saturated rap scene is by no means a failing, especially for an alternative act. But the ‘Numbers’ numbers serve pretty well to illustrate the extent to which Ocean has surpassed his Odd Future peers in terms of straightforward sales and star power this year. His debut album ‘Channel Orange’ has proven to be the real diamond in the OF rough, attracting A-list guest stars, even starrier reviews and – since we’re talking commercial merit – selling 400,000 copies since its July release.
Adding intrigue to the public’s still-shadowy notion of ‘Frank, the artist’ is concurrent interest in ‘Frank, the man’, something that became a great talking point when Ocean shared a candid (if very abstract) letter in July about a past homosexual experience. Its timing was significant – Ocean came out just days prior to ‘Channel Orange’ itself – and bold, a brave revelation within a genre ill-famed for its homophobia.
So, that’s Frank Ocean. One number one LP, four solo Grammy nominations (plus an extra two for featuring on Kanye West & Jay-Z’s ‘No Church In The Wild’), and one XL ‘Gossip Girl’ paycheque. What a year.
See all of CMU’s Artists Of The Year for 2012 here.