Nostalgia, Ultra–Mixtape Review

Frank Ocean has been in the news a lot lately. Between his coming out as bisexual or gay (which it is isn’t known), his appearing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and then launching his official label debut on Def Jam, Channel Orange digitally, and Target refusing to sell that same album because they–allegedly--think nobody will buy a physical copy, the 20-something R&B singer, best known as the smooth milk that washes down the VERY bitter, very shocking pills that Tyler, the Creator and the other members of the LA hip-hop collective Odd Future give listeners (Warning: that last link is NSFW).

Ocean, real name Christopher Breaux, is actually the oldest member of Odd Future and has the most experience. Some quick Wikiing will tell you that he started out writing songs for, among others, Justin Bieber and John Legend, but wound up signing with the once-mighty, now-tepid Def Jam Records as a solo artist in 2009.

Frustrated with the lack of movement on the label’s part, Ocean, while gaining acclaim recording with Odd Future on various releases, recorded the mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra and released it to Tumblr without any self-promotion whatsoever.

The mixtape became a HUGE hit, finally kickstarting Ocean’s career and forcing Def Jam to actually work with him, resulting in the release of Channel Orange. Of the many accolades it’s gotten, my favorite has to be from A.V. Club, where reviewer Stephen Hyden called the album “dark, playful, a little tasteless, and absolutely riveting.”

That pretty much sums up my own feelings on this. Ocean’s vocals are awesome and his lyrics are like no one else’s in the R&B/rap world right now. My favorite tracks? “We All Try,” a hymnlike creed about perseverance in the face of homophobia and other ills, and “Novacane,” a tale of Ocean’s hooking up with a girl at Coachella and getting high on, well, novacaine.

Plans for tracks from this album to be released as an EP by Def Jam have been scrapped, but luckily you can still find it for free in many places. A lot of them are legit, don’t worry. 🙂 If you, like me, don’t have the money to spend on Channel Orange, but still want to hear some good modern R&B, this is the stuff. Check it out.


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