An R&B vocalist affiliated with the outlandish hip-hop crew Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, Frank Ocean (Christopher "Lonny" Breaux) was born and raised in New Orleans. The aspiring songwriter and singer had just moved into his dorm at the University of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. With his future under water, Ocean immediately left the academic life behind and moved to L.A. to give music a shot. He cut some demos at a friend's home studio, shopped them around town, and eventually landed a songwriting deal that would find him working for Justin Bieber, John Legend, and Brandy. Some of this work was alongside Christopher "Tricky" Stewart, a fellow songwriter and producer who would convince Ocean to sign a solo artist deal with Def Jam in late 2009. It was also around this time he met Odd Future and began writing music for the crew while making guest appearances on their mixtapes.
In February 2011, as Odd Future were making waves, Ocean broke out on his own with the Nostalgia, Ultra mixtape, issued through his Tumblr blog. Later in the year, he appeared on Tyler, the Creator's Goblin ("She," "Window"), Beyoncé's 4 ("I Miss You"), and Jay-Z and Kanye West's Watch the Throne ("No Church in the Wild," "Made in America"). Def Jam's plan for the release of Nostalgia, Lite -- an EP-length version of the mixtape -- was scrapped, yet the songs "Novacane" (produced by Stewart) and "Swim Good" (MIDI Mafia) were released as singles with accompanying videos. The former reached number 17 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop chart. The latter peaked at number 70. By the end of the year, several publications listed Nostalgia, Ultra as one of 2011's best releases.
While his association with Def Jam had been strained, Ocean nonetheless proceeded with the making of his official debut album, working beside the likes of Malay, Om'Mas Keith, and Pharrell Williams as fellow producers. The album, Channel Orange, was previewed for journalists at a handful of listening events. Some writers alleged that certain lyrics on the album revealed Ocean's bisexuality. Ocean subsequently published a screen shot of a TextEdit file (entitled "thank you's") that included details of a romantic relationship -- his first love -- with a male. On July 10, six days after the post, Channel Orange was released by Def Jam as a download, while the CD version was issued the following week. Along with featured appearances from Earl Sweatshirt, John Mayer, and André 3000, the album involved material about unrequited love, as well as class and drug dependency -- all delivered with Ocean's descriptive storytelling and understated yet expressive vocals. The album would go on to be an all-around success, receiving nearly universal critical acclaim, a spot on the Billboard 200, and a host of Grammy nominations. ~ David Jeffries & Andy Kellman