Frank Ocean might be one of those genre-defying post-soul men who are currently making sure that some of the most popular American music is also its weirdest, but he’s a storyteller at heart.
Along with Drake, the Weeknd, and Terius Nash, the Odd Future crooner helped expand the definition of what could be considered mainstream last year, with his debut mixtape nostalgia, Ultra (one of SPIN’s 20 Best R&B Albums of 2011) and its leftfield hit “Novacane” (one of SPIN’s 20 Best Songs of 2011). In a recent video interview with the BBC (via Rap-Up), though, the 24-year-old singer-songwriter revealed his upcoming first proper album finds its focus in a somewhat traditional place.
“It’s about the stories,” Ocean said of the yet-to-be-titled release, expected this spring. “If I write 14 stories that I love, then the next step is to get the environment of music around it to best envelop the story, and all kinds of sonic goodness — sonic goodies.” He also said of the album, “It succinctly defines me as an artist for where I am right now, and that was the aim, just to make something that represents where you are at the time.”
Ocean covered a wide range of topics in the 10-minute interview, which coincides with his placement alongside dubstep wunderkind Skrillex and Harlem rapper Azealia Banks on the BBC’s Sound of 2012 list of rising stars. In glasses and a dark-blue jacket, the smiling crooner discussed how Odd Future has opened him up creatively, how his mixtape was “a labor of love,” and what it’s been like working with Beyoncé, Jay-Z, and Kanye West (“pretty rad”!). As for what inspires him to make music, though, he says, “I guess it all starts with the stories for me.”
Ocean’s old-fashioned narrative instincts shouldn’t be a surprise. The Neptunes’ Pharrell Williams, who told VIBE last year he’d been working with Ocean for songs on the new album, has compared him to one of the mellowest singer-songwriters of the 1970s. “To me he’s like the Black James Taylor,” Williams said. “He’s lyrical — he’s got a great perspective and super sick melodies. I haven’t seen anybody bob and weave through chords with such catchy melodies in a long time — that’s why I liked working with him.”
Watch the interview and listen to a personal favorite nostalgia, Ultra cut, the swirling falsetto showcase “Thinking About You,” below. Fire and rain: