Many know American R&B singer and songwriter Frank Ocean because of his successful “Channel Orange” album, or his singles “Novacane” and “Thinkin’ Bout You.” But Ocean has a hidden gem: his mixtape, “Nostalgia, Ultra.”
Ocean self-released “Nostalgia, Ultra” in February 2011 with 10 songs, most of which stick to his theme with lyrics about love, his childhood and his beliefs. Each song has a soft R&B melody or is a mix with a sample of another artist’s song. “Strawberry Swing” is Ocean’s rendition of the original Coldplay song, and “American Wedding” has his lyrics over the instrumentals of The Eagles’ song, “Hotel California.” He even does the promiscuous track “Nature Feels,” over a sample of MGMT’s “Electric Feel.”
He explains the meaning of the title of his album in an interview with Complex Magazine, "It’s a longing for the past...Ultra [is] because it’s also modern because of the sonics of it.”
Ocean’s lyrics give us powerful insight into his beliefs and experiences almost like he’s reading his diary. This especially applies to the song “We All Try,” in which he starts each lyric with either “I believe” or “I don’t believe.” The beginning of the song sounds like a record with its faint scratchy sounds, soft clicks and hisses. Then it booms as the beat comes in and rhythmic instrumentals flow in with Ocean’s unique voice. The song’s lyrics set forth a clear, powerful message. “I believe a woman's temple / Gives her the right to choose but baby don't abort / I believe that marriage isn't / Between a man and woman but between love and love.”
He also gives us a dark look into his thoughts with the song “Swim Good.” The track is considered to be a heartbreaking suicidal song because of the lyrics. It begins with a hearty organ sound that echoes in your ears until Ocean’s voice comes in to say, “That's a pretty big trunk on my Lincoln town car, ain't it? / Big enough to take these broken hearts and put 'em in it / Now I'm drivin' 'round on the boulevard, trunk bleedin' / And every time the cops pull me over, they don't ever see them.” The lyrics show that the cops don’t see the “trunk bleedin’” because Ocean’s the only one feeling the pain of heartbreak.
Ocean makes himself vulnerable with his lyrics when we’re given a key to his reflection of his thoughts in songs like “Songs 4 Women” and “LoveCrimes.” These two songs are lighthearted because of his use of classic instrumentals like drums, a piano and bass. It’s easy to nod your head to the beats he has, or even zone out and engulf yourself in the sea of his warm vocals. But the song on this album that caught the public’s attention was “Novacane.”
“Novacane” is about love, sex and drugs. The lyrics are as simple as they seem, with Ocean’s clever skills at weaving in and around the bouncy beat. The song is about becoming numb as a result of the use of drugs, specifically novocaine, a drug dentists use for their patients’ gums. This explains the lyrics, “She said she wanna be a dentist really badly / She's in school paying /
For tuition, doing porn in the Valley, at least you working.” What makes this line so special isn’t the connection of novocaine and dentistry, but that he’s more interested in her aspirations to be a dentist than anything else because he’s falling for her, hence his wish to be numbed by the pain of love.
It’s difficult to compare “Nostalgia, Ultra” with “Channel Orange” because his mixtape has more of a genuine, personal style to it, not just with his lyrics but also with how intimate and harmonious his voice sounds on each track. The only disappointing factor about “Nostalgia, Ultra” is that it’s hard to find the full album. It’s not available on Spotify, iTunes or SoundCloud. Since it’s a mixtape, it can only be downloaded on sites like datpiff and themixtapelab. Maybe that’s why many people don’t know about the masterpiece that “Nostalgia, Ultra” is and will be always.
Joanna McNeilly is a junior writing, rhetoric and technical communication major. Contact Joanna at firstname.lastname@example.org.