Thursday, 5 January 2012

The Urbanite R&B Mixtape of 2011 - Nostalgia, Ultra

1. Nostalgia Ultra (Frank Ocean)

"I think I started something, I got what I wanted"

When thousands upon thousands of people began downloading Frank Ocean's Nostalgia: Ultra as soon as it was leaked on to a blog on February 16th, the 23 year old New Orlean's born singer/producer and songwriter did indeed get what he wanted.  The artist quickly became an internet sensation, with a cult following that increased even more when he joined Tyler the Creator and Odd Future.

The great thing about this is that Ocean leaked the mixtape himself, furiously taking to twitter after the act to reveal why he had taken such an unprecedented step:

"i. did. this. not ISLAND DEF JAM. that's why you see no label logo on the artwork that I DID. guess its my fault for trusting my dumbass lawyer and signing my career over to a failing company. fuck def jam & any company that goes the length of signing a kid with dreams & talent w/ no intention of following through. fuck em. now back to my day. i want some oatmeal and toast. brunch swag"

And thank God that he took this step.  Nostalgia; Ultra is an amazing mix of intelligent, emotion-filled lyrics over smooth and catchy R&B melodies.  You can't fault Def Jam for the producers they put on this album, as Ocean is given a hand by major label big hitters Tricky Stewart (Rihanna "Umbrella") and Midi Mafia (50 Cent; 21 Questions).  But quite how they could sleep on this masterpiece, letting it rot on the shelf, is frank-ly shocking (no pun intended).

The album begins with Ocean brilliantly covering Coldplay's 'Strawberry Swings'; changing the lyrics  and expressing a persona of paranoia and pessimism.   -

"the entire earth is fighting, all the world is at an end, just in case an atom bomb comes falling on my lawn, I should say and you should hear, I have loved the good times here".

With his voice sounding hurt and tired, it's a brilliant start to a mixtape that gets better and better.  Second track in and we're already at Novacane, an epic drug influenced story of getting high with a dentist student/porn-star that he met at Coachella ("I went to see Jigga, she went to see z-trip, perfect").  Sound weird on paper?  Well it doesn't when the song's melody kicks in and Ocean describes his chaotic lifestyle and relationship:

"sink full of dishes, pacing in the kitchen, cocaine for breakfast, yikes"

Yikes indeed.  So good at crafting a detailed story is our Frank that he does it throughout the mixtape.  On the devastatingly good American Wedding he nicks a beat off 1970s rock band The Eagles and tells the tale of a brief summer wedding to his teen girlfriend.  Describing the scene at the courthouse, as they write their vowels in a rush and "make out before the judge", you can tell in his voice that the marriage is doomed to failure ("it's an American wedding, it don't mean too much, they don't last enough").

Unafraid to tackle difficult subjects, Ocean is an emotional artist.  On There Will Be Tears he not only talks about growing up without having a father, but also the difficulty of hiding his feelings from his peers ("hide my face, hide my face, can't let them see me cry").  He even manages to sneak a few of his political beliefs into the record on the brilliant We All Try ("I believe that marriage isn't, between a man and woman, but between love and love").

The highlight of Nostalgia: Ultra is Swim Good.  We find him in the song dressed all in black ("like I'm ready for a funeral") driving around town in his lincoln town car, trunk full of broken hearts, ready to crash it into the ocean.  You'd think that with a topic as depressing as that, the song would not be a pleasure to listen to.  But Ocean has a talent in making the mundane sound exhilarating, of making the grim sound oddly addictive.

It is only natural now that Ocean is being tipped as a star to watch in 2012.  It will be interesting to see how he will better this though, as this mixtape confirmed him as a star in 2011.

Choons to download: The whole mixtape, here

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